I Have Contract in Hand, Now What?

February 9, 2010 · 7 comments

Normally, this would be a Writing Tip Tuesday post, but I have several questions in the queue and I want to get to them before I start posting the short stories for the contest. (10 more days to submit; tick-tock!)

Dear LDSP, I finally have a contract in hand, (AAaahhhh!!!) but have no idea how good it is. Do you know, 1) is 5% of the net received by publisher for the first 5000 acceptable? Also, 2) how long is the “full term of copyright”? This contract seems relatively innocuous, but what do I know. 3) Is there someone you could recommend to have look a contract over?

  1. Royalties vary from publisher to publisher. 5% of net, IMHO, is low but I’ve been hearing that a lot lately in the LDS market, especially for first time authors. Here is a fairly clear explanation of how royalties work (retail vs net). Keep in mind that many LDS fiction titles never hit that 5,000 mark, some do not even crack 1,000.
  2. Copyright. I’ve had several questions lately about basic copyright, so first let’s define it.

    Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. (www.copyright.gov)

    This means, as I said yesterday, that as soon as you put your ideas into a fixed form—write on paper, typed into a computer, recorded on a tape—your work is protected by copyright. You, as the creator of that work, own the copyright.

    When you go through a publisher to have that work published, you are essentially selling or licensing to a third party the right to publish (copy) and distribute (sell) that work in various formats. Payment for those rights come back to you in the form of royalties and/or advances against expected royalties.

    The term, or length of time, that those rights are available to that publisher is defined in your contract, as are the various formats that the publisher can sell.

    Current U.S. copyright law states that the “full term of copyright” lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. Therefore, according to your contract, the publisher will have the right to publish and sell your book for your entire lifetime, plus 50 years.

    However, before you panic, usually there is an out-of-print clause or a minimum sales clause in there somewhere that states that if the publisher lets your book go out of print, or if sales of the book drop below a certain point for a given amount of time, the rights will revert back to the author. If you don’t have a clause like that, try to get one added.

  3. One of the benefits of having a good agent is that it’s their job to look through your contract and make sure it’s legal and fair to you. In the LDS industry, we don’t have agents. Too small. If you have access to a copyright contract attorney, that’s your best bet—but it’s also expensive. Try to find someone who has a little experience with publishing and contracts to read through it. And if you don’t understand your contract, by all means, have your publisher explain it before you sign.

Comments on this entry are closed.


Moriah Jovan February 9, 2010 at 7:27 am

I'm not RECOMMENDING this book because I haven't read it, but I have heard good things about this:

How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis.

It's old, though, so…

I also found this (you know, since I was already practicing the google fu):

Contracts Companion for Writers. Can't vouch for this, either.

Angie February 9, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Great advice. All the contracts I have dealt with were for short stories and are pretty easy to understand.

Rebecca Irvine February 10, 2010 at 8:30 am

According to the lawyer I had look over mine, my contracts were both pretty much boiler plate, standard versions. And he said the 10% rate was pretty standard.

Marny February 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm

If you know any authors in your market space, you could also ask them about contract clauses (if they have a decent understanding). There will be a boat-load of authors at the science fiction symposium at BYU this weekend; drop by and talk to some.

Anonymous February 11, 2010 at 11:33 am

Copyright law in the US is currently

“endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author's death.”

If you use a pseudonym the term is 70 years after publication date.

Lyle Mortimer

LDS_Publisher February 11, 2010 at 11:34 am

Thanks for updating me on that.

Kent Larsen February 15, 2010 at 8:08 pm

In my experience here in New York City, standard royalty rates start at about 10% of list (i.e., gross) on sales of hardcovers, 5-7% of list (or gross) on paperbacks.

5% of net is equivalent to about 2.5-3% of gross at national publishers, and perhaps as much as 3.5% of gross in the LDS market (because publishers in the LDS market don't sell at discounts that are as large, and don't sell to wholesalers, who require larger discounts, very often).

Personally, I don't think these low royalties are very fair to authors, and I would encourage authors to ask for more. BUT, I have to recognize that the author usually doesn't have much power in the negotiation, and has to take what he or she can get.

I tried at one point to get authors to send me copies of their contracts so I could review them and put together a comparison of the different publishers in the LDS market, but so far I haven't collected enough contracts to make a reasonable comparison. If I can get contracts from a few more publishers, I think the analysis could be very helpful to LDS authors.

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