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Why your book contract needs vetting

Help for writers

From our contracts expert:

You are a first-time author without an agent and you receive a contract to publish your book - just how do you evaluate it? Is it fair or biased against the author by prevailing industry standards? Is your publisher looking out for your interests as well as his own - or wording the clauses in a way only advantageous to the company? Would you, for example, know which rights to grant - for how long and on what terms? Do you understand the nature of advance payments and standard of royalties offered? Or what terms you can expect for ebook editions, translations, serial rights - and so on.

Writers Services can offer a clued-up view of publishing agreements designed to inform you of what an agreement offers you and what you are expected to give in return. As a result you will be able to raise issues and ask pertinent questions which may lead to an improvement in your terms. At the very least you will be better informed. It is advisable not to enter into long term arrangements for publication of work you have created without proper understanding. Knowledge is power.

From Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage.

We've been offering our Contract Vetting service for many years and it's always surprised me how relatively few writers take advantage of it. There are not many ways that a first-time author can get advice of this kind, and lawyers are very expensive and not always up-to-date about what is going on in publishing. It's a real risk not to make sure that your contract reflects a deal you are happy with and which is fair and workable for you. The whole area of subsidiary rights can be a minefield and publishers have been known to take advantage of unagented authors. Two articles from our Inside Publishing series, Subsidiary Rights and Advances and Royalties bring you up to date and provide more information on these areas.

Contract vetting service