Okay, you've written a book. You've gone through hell submitting it and you have an offer. What next?
What's next is a contract. Please note that I'm not worrying about which publisher or is the publisher a good bet or whatever, all i am concernced about is that document in front of me the contract. I made all those other choices before and here Iam.
A publishing contract is a different kettle of fish from any other kind because it deals in intellectual property--a work of 'literary creation'. An author is dealing with an entity that wants to profit from his personal creation, and that author better watch his ass, otherwise somebody unscrupulous will bite it off.
The publisher wants the publisher's best deal, the author is going to have to give on some things and grab at other things or it won't be a marriage made in heaven. the publisher has options, he can turn the book down if the contract does not please him. the author's best protection is that same option--just walk away. A book that finds one professional buyer will probably find another. And a contract that deprives the author of his creative work and the profit therefrom is a mugging not a sale.
Let's not consider working for hire--like ghost writing or writing a Hardy Boys or Tom Swift story. That will be sold for cash to the publisher and the author has seen the last dime he'll make off of it. that's that oddly colored horse that is always the exception to the rule.
The copyright is the author's to begin with. that copyright was created the instant the first letter hit the page, or the digital recording device in most cases. If a publisher wants the copyright, the author should say no sale. What you want to sell to the publisher is the license for a specified period of time, for particular rights of reproduction. If the publisher is not going to exploit certain rights (like movie rights or electronic rights, or audio book rights, etc) those rights need to stay with author. the publisher may want a piece of the action if the publisher arranges the sale of rights, and that's fine-- but the lion's share is the author's not the publisher's. If the publisher functions as an agent for some rights they are entitled to the agent's cut 10-20% depending on the particular rights in question.
That specified length of time should not be for more than a few years at most. A book on the shelves is going to make most of its sales over the short haul, and when sales slow down, it's time to put it out of print. If it's still doing business at the end of the two or three years in question then both publisher and author must agree to continue the relation ship or end it.
What happens when it's out of print? there is no question, the rights revert to the author. if the publisher demands keeping the rights after release, then walk away.
Royalty rates ought to be based on the cover price--eight to fifteen percen, depending on the print rights in question—a lower rate on mass market than on hardcover or tradeback editions. Electronic royalties are different. There is no paper, ink and printing cost in that, and royalties should be at least thirty percent to fifty percent. And for the record, I’d rather have thirty percent on the publisher’s cover price than fifty percent on net price to the e-book distributor and sales sites like Fictionwise, but I can live with net on those sales.
Royalties aren’t worth much on books that do not get placed in front of the reader’s eyes. Bookstores are essential. It’s best to place yourself with any house that has real distribution than with any house that doesn’t. Small presses have greater difficulties with that, but never sign with a small house that isn’t working its tail off to get proper distribution.
You wrote a book. You worked hard—it ain’t easy, and many who start will never finish, that makes your work a commodity, treat it like it deserves as you seek a venue for readership. Just having your book in your hands is no real accomplishment. Anyone can do it, just take a disk down to Kinko’s and ask for a perfect bound book, they’ll do it for you. You can do that and never encumber your rights in any way shape or form.
If you’re writing for your own gratification; that’s great. I don’t understand that, mind you, but if it’s good for you I’m glad. I am writing because I want to be read. Any craftsman wants his work to be appreciated. Writing is a craft; therefore I want to be appreciated and that means readers.
I hope the rant was valuable to someone.
Keep writing and reading,