Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Publishing Contracts

Another Good Reason to Avoid Traditional Publishing


With this post, I’ve written 29 articles dealing with what’s called Traditional Publishing.

The Real Price of Traditional Publishing

Printing Press Image courtesy of Tracy Olson ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/designkryt-45681

For those who haven’t had to find out about different types of publishing, “traditional” involves finding an agent (who usually gets 15% of whatever you make) who shops your book to the publishing companies—when accepted by a publisher, an advance against possible royalties is given and the author is then pretty much kept out of the loop for the rest of the book’s life

By the way, those advances against sales have been getting smaller and smaller.

Also, nothing beyond the advance is paid to the author until royalties from sales pays off the advance.

Plus, if the book doesn’t sell well, it can be yanked from the stores within two weeks.

Then there are all the wicked things that happen behind legal language in author contracts.

And, the marketing of the book (unless you’re already famous) is minimal

Naturally, some folks have made a lot of money with traditional publishing; yet, many more have been cheated out of earnings and bullied into concessions they should never have had to consider

By the way, I’ve written 126 articles about Self-Publishing… 

However, there’s an author named Dean Wesley Smith who spent 40 years with traditional publishers, then did it all himself, then helped start a mid-sized publishing company. He’s written the article, The New World of Publishing: The Real Price of Traditional Publishing.

Here are a few excerpts:

“In the last two years I have seen a couple dozen author contracts from various traditional houses. ‘Life of Copyright’ is always a non-negotiable contract term in the United States if you are a normal-level writer.”

“The ‘life of a copyright’ at the moment in the US is the life of the author plus 70 years.

“An example: I finish the book I am working on. I am 65 years of age. Say I live another 30 years to 95. Then add 70 years and the life of the copyright for the novel I just finished will be 100 years.

“That’s what the ‘Life of Copyright’ term in a contract means.

“That’s right, your great-grandkids might be able to get your book back that you sold for a few thousand in one hundred years or so. But at that point the book will drop into the public domain and not be worth anything to them.”

And, then, after going through some examples of money-making with traditional vs self-publishing, he says:

“The real price of traditional publishing is total loss of control over your work.”

If you’re looking to someday publish, or you have friends who are, Dean’s article is a must read

Another author who’s been in the traditional trenches and is doing very well with self-publishing is Joe Konrath.
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Protection from Publishers ~ Critical Info…


In the on-going media war between the traditional and indie camps of publishing, much is made of the author maintaining control and many claim the Indies are slipshod due to lack of traditional publisher oversight.

Then there are articles like the two we’ll look at today.

Letting a publisher handle your editing can become a nightmare, as related by Victoria Strauss on the SFWA-site in, Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts: How to Protect Yourself.

But there’s another article that has deeper insight into how egregious publishers can be in the terms they expect writers to accept.

Joe Konrath has the post Unconscionability which early-on says, “I’m going to point out some of the more one-sided, onerous terms in a standard publishing contract. And make no mistake–these are practically universal, and for the most part, non-negotiable.”

If you have any leanings toward having a book published by a traditional publisher, Joe’s post is a critical read!

I’m going to list the terms of contract he analyzes and hope it draws you toward reading his full post

Though, you might want to ponder these contractual terms and see if you can spot what’s wrong with them before you go to Joe’s site :-)

1 – “Author grants and assigns to Publisher the sole and exclusive rights to the Material throughout the Territory during the entire term of the copyright and any renewals and extensions thereof.”

2 – “Books 1, 2, and 3 will be held in a joint and open account, and Publisher shall not pay Author’s share of royalties and subsidiary rights income on any Book of the Work until Author’s share of royalties and subsidiary rights income for all Books exceeds the total advance.”

3 – “Hardcover: 10% of the invoice price for the first 5000 copies, 12.5% thereof for copies from 5001 to 10,000, and 15% thereof for copies in excess of 10,000.

“Mass Market Paperback: 8% of the invoice price for the first 150,000 and 10% thereof for all copies thereafter.

“On Ebooks: 25% of the amounts received by Publisher, excluding taxes and invoiced shipping and handling charges. if any.”

4 – “Publisher shall pay Author, as an advance against sums due to the Author hereunder, as follows:

“In as many small pieces and over as long a term as possible.” << these are Joe’s words, not the contract :-)

5 – “Publisher shall provide Author with semi-annual royalty statements showing the amount due to the Author, by April 1 and October 1 of each year for the six-month period ending the preceding December 31 and June 30th, respectively.”

6 – “Publisher may retain a reasonable reserve against returns in any accounting period. If Author receives an overpayment of royalties resulting from copies of the Work reported sold but subsequently returned, Author shall repay such amounts to Publisher to the extent that Publisher is not able to deduct such amounts from monies due to Author at the end of the royalty payment period after the period in which the overpayment is discovered.”

7 – “Unsatisfactory Material: If the Material for a given Book is not, in Publisher’s sole judgement, satisfactory in all respects, Publisher may terminate this Agreement upon written notice.”

8 – “Competing Works: During the term hereof, Author shall not publish any book on the same or similar subject matter as any Book of the Work that would directly compete in the marketplace with sales of that Book of Work. Author shall not undertake to write another book for another Publisher until the Material for the last Book of the Work is delivered.”

9 – Joe’s Favorite Unfair Clause – “Out-of-Print Termination: If a Book of the Work is out-of-print, Author may serve Publisher with a written notice requesting reversion of the rights granted hereunder. Publisher shall, within six months of receiving such notice, do one of the following: (i) declare in writing its intention to reissue an edition of the Book in question within six months; or (ii) enter into a licence providing for the publication in the United States of a new edition of the Book in question within six months; or (iii) revert in writing to Author the rights granted to Publisher herein for such Book. A Book of the Work shall be deemed out-of-print is, after two years from the date of first publication, no edition of that Book of the Work is available in the United States from Publisher or a licensee of Publisher and there is no license in effect which provides for the publication or reissue of an edition of that Book of the Work in the United States within 12 months from the date of notice.”
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