Contracts: Resources for Writers

The first step of any book deal–be it with a publisher or agent–is the contract. Publishing your book is an important decision, and more importantly, it’s a business decision for both sides. We don’t negotiate contracts for our writers, but we do want to make sure you have the tools you need to be as successful as possible. So, we’ve gathered some resources on contracts, both Agent-Writer contracts, and Publishing contracts, for your convenience.

Author-Agent Contracts

“7 Dangers to Avoid in a Literary Agency Contract” from Writer’s Relief

“SFWA Model Author-Agent Contract” from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

“Author-Agent Contracts” from Writer Beware

“Signing With a Literary Agent? Here’s What Should Be In Your Contract” from The Write Life

“Frequently Asked Questions About Agents” from the Association of Authors Representatives

Publishing Contracts

“Publishing Contracts 101” from Writer’s Digest

“Book Publishing Contracts Checklist of Terms” from Morse Barnes-Brown Pendleton

Model Book Contract from the Authors Guild

“Improving Your Book Contract” from the Authors Guild

“Writer’s Legal Guide” from the Authors Guild

Copyright Advice from the Authors Guild

5 Top Legal Issues for Authors & Publishers from The Book Designer

Before joining AUTHORS I worked with a mid-size publisher and negotiated over 100 contracts with writers, some with agents but most without. I’d like to impart a few pieces of advice: 

  • It’s a business decision. The contracts are written from the perspective of the publisher, so they are going to lean in the publisher’s favor, and that is not a personal attack. While it is your creative property they are licensing–and I’m only talking about traditional publishers with this–they are putting up the money to make the book happen.
  • Do not have your real estate lawyer be the only person you ask for legal advice. Just like any skilled profession, lawyers have their own specialties. That doesn’t mean that they will not be a valuable resource for you, but if you are going to ask advice (in all likelihood paid advice), go to someone who knows publishing and copyright law inside and out, because it’s law that changes more frequently that you think. The Midwest Book Review has a list of publishing attorneys. The Authors Guild also has a contract review service for their members, as does the National Writers’ Union
  • Write out your concerns by section and send them via email. The person you are negotiating with will probably prefer that and it’s too easy for meaning to get muddled on the phone. Almost every time I negotiated a contract that involved some level of acrimony, it was usually because the writer called me the second they received the contract and started speaking very passionately if not full on yelling about portions of the contract. This did not make me very sympathetic to their concerns because now I was on the defensive.  In almost every case, they had misinterpreted the clause–which is easy to do with any legal language–or they were conflating different sections or both.  Emotions can run high with contracts and letting things get to the point of yelling usually isn’t productive; it just is a whole lot of negative energy that doesn’t need to happen for you to get what you want.

Most importantly, remember that even though negotiating contracts can be hard, they can be the path to your book’s future.