Know your rights

As an author, you need to be street-smart and savvy; you need to know your rights. There was a time when writers would quite happily sell their soul to get published but no longer, you need to know what rights to include in a publishers’ contract and what to leave out.

Firstly, you need to have an agreement with your agent – this will cover the agent’s commission – usually between 10%-20% – some charge a flat fee, others charge different commission for different rights. It should also state any additional deductions such as photocopying, copies of books etc. Most agents don’t make any further deductions – but check this out. It will also include how and when payments are made to you and how you can get out of the agreement, if needs be.

Next, the publishing agreement: your agent will agree the main terms and conditions before the agreement gets to you – this will include the advance, the payment schedule, the royalties, the rights granted and the territories granted. So what will be in a publishing agreement?

1/Copyright – what does it mean? Copyright is a form of intellectual property. Ownership of copyright in a book means that the owner is able to license others to exploit the book in various forms. The author is generally the owner of the copyright to their book and will retain ownership in his/her own name. The author is then able to grant a publisher(s) rights to publish the book in a specific territory.

2/All the details – date of contract, the author and the publisher, the title (or working title) of the work. The delivery date and the length of the work – if not already delivered.

3/Grant of Rights – the rights granted should be defined clearly – it should include the territories in which the publisher can publish the work, the languages and the length of licence. The Author should retain copyright and grant the publisher an exclusive licence to publish the work in volume form and in the English language. Publishing agreements will last for the full term of copyright i.e. until 70 years after the author’s death. Some publishers will accept a limited term of licence of 20 years which can then be renegotiated at the end of the 20 years, if the book is still in print.

4/ Publishers’ obligations – the publisher should agree to publish the work within a specified time – often between 12-18 months from delivery of the complete manuscript. It should state that the publishers will publish at their own expense and risk and at the approximate published price for the first edition. The commitment to publish is vital – if the publisher fails to publish the book, they are in breach of contract – without this, the publisher will not be contractually bound to publish.

5/ The money – the author should receive an upfront payment – or advance – and this is often divided into thirds – one third on signature of the contract, one third on delivery and one third on first publication.

6/ Royalties – these should be calculated on the UK published price i.e. the price of the book. Often the royalty will increase when the sales rise above a certain number. An example of a set of royalties for the hardback edition are: ‘10% on the first 2,500 copies sold, 12.5% on the next 2,500 and 15% on all copies sold thereafter’. For sales abroad, the royalties will be based on the price received i.e. the money the publisher after everyone takes their cuts – but should be the same figures as for the home sales. Royalties for the paperback edition will often begin at 7.5% rising to 12.5% after a certain number of copies are sold.

7/Territories – often an agent will try to restrict these to simply the UK and British Commonwealth and sell the US and translation rights separately (then you will have contracts with those publishers as well). If the rights are included in the UK contract, then it should specify what percentage you will receive of the income from any books sold in those territories.

8/Other rights (or subsidiary rights): most agents try to hold back as many sub-rights as possible – especially in the case of film/TV and multimedia rights where often, the rights can create a lot of extra income for the author. There are a number of sub-rights that publishers are traditionally granted and the author will receive a percentage of the income from any such sales – these include serial rights (when a book is serialised in a newspaper/mag.), anthology/quotation rights, radio reading rights, audio rights, electronic book rights and large print rights. Never include the following: film/TV rights, dramatic rights, multimedia rights (digital rights other than straight text), merchandising rights and strip-cartoon rights.

At LWC, we would always recommend authors seek professional help to negotiate agreements. Publishing contracts are tricky and complicated, and you need to ensure they are correct. So if you are lucky enough to find a publisher, your next step is to find an agent or employ a media lawyer (v expensive) or a consultant (ask LWC) but know your rights!

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