Some additional clauses in contracts deal with publicity, book excerpts, pay to play, and co-author or co-publisher deals. Here’s what to expect and how to deal with them
Often specific details about publicity aren’t included in the contract, but the general idea is that the author agrees to help support the book through PR efforts. In turn it is to the advantage of the author to do as much PR as possible, and often authors hire their own PR people to supplement whatever the publisher does, which often isn’t very much beyond sending out review copies for a book by a non-celebrity author.
Whether the contract calls for it or not, an author is normally expected to provide a photograph and complete an Author’s Questionnaire, which includes questions about personal and social media contacts and suggestions for sources of contacts (such as the members or leaders of organizations in the subject area of the book). In addition, you will usually be expected to use your best efforts to promote your book through the social media and participate in marketing the book.
Also, the publisher may ask you to be available for publicity purposes, such as being on call for 10 days starting on the book’s publication date or appearing on any and all radio, TV and other publicity venues the publisher feels will increase the book’s sales. The contract may also state that you shouldn’t engage in any actions that will detract from sales, such as getting caught engaging in illegal or unethical activities, which you don’t want to do anyway, since this may subject you to shaming on the social media or arrest. So if this kind of language is in your contract, there’s nothing to object to, since you want the same results – more sales.
The publisher may also ask for the right to publish without any payment a short excerpt from the book (say up to 2000 words) to help promote it, and you will normally have this right, too. Many contracts won’t have these specifics, but if it does, it’s fine, since such efforts will help the book.
Book Excerpts in the Publisher’s Other Works
In some cases, generally for non-fiction books, the publisher may ask for a non-exclusive right to use brief excerpts from your book in a compilation it creates or hires a writer to compile and edit, or which is written for it by another author. Then, the publisher will typically indicate a price you will be paid for an excerpt, such as for $100 for up to 15 pages, $200 for up to 30 pages, and $300 for up to 45 pages, and you will get all of this money, without a percentage to the publisher. Since this payment for excerpts is basically found money, should the opportunity arise, such an agreement is fine.
Co-Author and Co-Publishing Deals
If you are writing the book with another person who is named as a co-author, normally all of the authors will be asked to sign the agreement. This clause simply restates the obvious, that it is assumed that all of the authors equally share in the rights and responsibilities, although if the contributions and royalty shares in the book aren’t equal, this should be spelled out, such as indicating that a certain percentage goes to each author (or if you have an agent, the agent will commonly receive the payments and pay the amount due less the agent’s commission to each author, though sometimes you can arrange to have the payments sent directly from the publisher to you, any co-authors, and the agent – which is ideal, since you get your money right away.)
In the event you are have set up a corporation and the contract is with the corporation, you normally have to agree that you will be personally responsible for any obligations of the author.
Sometimes the agreement will specify how the author’s credits should be listed where there are two or more authors, such as stating they will be credited alphabetically. But if there is one lead author, that name should go first; if more than two, the other authors can be listed alphabetically or in an order based on the relative contributions of each author to the book. If this clause is included, revise it to indicate the way in which you are apportioning credits or leave it open, so you can later work out the specifics with your editor. If there is only one author, the clause won’t apply.
Still another clause in some contracts will indicate that you agree that the publisher publish this book under an imprint or with another publisher or entity, if the publisher wishes, but the publisher will remain responsible to fulfill all of the terms and conditions described in the contract.
The Pay-to-Play Clause
So far only a few traditional publishers have a clause which commits you to buy a certain number of books, but this clause can be a problem if the purchase commitment far outweighs the amount you get up front as a royalty. Commonly, such a requirement is only imposed on new writers or writers who have had a small number of sales on past books with that publisher or with other publishers, based on the rationale that the publisher wants to limit its risk if the book doesn’t sell as well as expected.
Another reason is that this requirement might motivate the author to do more promotion and publicity to sell more books or well more books through speaking engagements, workshops, and seminars. The publisher may also describe this as a “win-win arrangement for both the writer and publisher,” as one publisher’ rep told me, since it helps to motivate the author to more actively market and promote his own books.
But whatever the publisher’s rationale, this is a bad deal for a writer, unless you are already doing a number of programs where you are fairly confident you can purchase and sell the number of books required. For example one writer who made most of his money speaking, normally sold at least 2000 books a year, so this purchase requirement was fine, though the publisher didn’t do anything else to promote his books beyond sending out some review copies. But if you are not in a position to sell all of these books, you can end up with hundreds or thousands of books you can’t sell but are obligated to buy.
Thus, if there is such a clause, do the math to determine exactly how much the publisher expects you to buy at what price. Then, you can deduct that from any future royalty payments to determine the balance payable to you, or more commonly, the balance which you now owe to the publisher.
For example, a typical pay-to-play clause may say something like: “The author agrees to commit to purchase at least 2500 books at the wholesale price of 50% off.” The specific number may vary, but generally ranges from 1000 to 10,000 books. In some cases, you may be able to get the clause eliminated, as I was with one publisher that initially wanted a commitment of 1000 books.
In other cases, you may be able to get it reduced, such as when one publisher reduced the number required from 3000 to 2000 books but wouldn’t go any lower, while offering me an advance of $5000. Even so, since the books were priced at $29.95 retail and I could buy them at 50%, that’s $15 a book or $30,000 for 2000 books, or $25,000 after deducting the $5000 royalty. So no deal.
In effect, such an arrangement is akin to a self-published book, where a traditional publisher is trading on its name to get writers to agree to this expensive deal, where you could well end up with thousands of books in your basement or garage. But if you decide to self-publish, there are much less expensive paths to that end – from free to about $1000-1500 for design and set up; and you buy as many books as you want. There is no large upfront commitment. Thus, if you can’t get this clause eliminated or get the number of books reduced to the number you might realistically sell or give away for promotions, consider this clause a deal-breaker and walk away.
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