Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Contract Advice

Hey gang,

Know you're all glad another semester is behind you and summer is just around the corner.

Have a question for the group. I've been approached about writing a how-to book for a company to sell. They're well-known in their field but this would be the first book in their publishing wing. Great brand, in other words, but not a lot of experience. The topic is right in my sweet area so that's great. I'm flattered they asked.

My question: what should I be looking for in terms of the contract? I want to protect as much of my intellectual property as possible - which is to say I'll want to repackage some of this at some point and I would prefer they NOT repackage it. But I'm not sure how to do that. They're not offering an advance but a hefty commission and I imagine some speaking gigs to help promote the book as well.

Thoughts? I'm out of my element here.




Gwen Jones said...

Hi Fletcher -

First thing: my warning light would go on when they said you wouldn't get an advance. An advance is the risk they take in deference to projected sales. If they're not willing to take a risk, what does that say? Also, I would want to talk about copyrights. When you sell to a publisher, the publisher owns the copyrights, but you can always ask to put a clause in the contract (especially under these circumstance, and since they're not a standard publisher) that you would want the copyright to revert back to you in a specified time (perhaps 3 years, or when the book goes out of print). Also, how much royalty are they willing to pay? Digital publishing, which often pays this way, pays around 38-50 percent royalty, and that's quarterly, payable within 30 days of the last day of the quarter. You also have to ask yourself, if this company is willing to have you write a book for them, maybe the subject is good enough you can do it on your own and sell that to a "legit" publisher who specializes in that type of book. In any case, before signing anything, especially if this project looks like it would generate a lot of revenue, perhaps it would be worth it to connect with a literary agent, or an attorney who specializes in Intellectual Property rights. If you have something this valuable that a big company is interested, it seems to me it's worth protecting.

Hope that helps,
Gwen Jones

Fletcher Dean said...


Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it very much. Gives me more to think about. Mostly, it makes me think I need to retain some help here. I actually have a good product now - a revision of my masters thesis which has received good feedback from the handful of agents I've tossed it to. Which is to say none have picked it up but most have asked for the full package of outline, sample chapters, etc. So, I may look again for an agent to help here. It would be worth it to make sure my work's protected. Any thoughts you have on agents, of course, would be great, too :) Again, thanks for the advice. Much appreciated!

B. Clements said...

Fletch, this sounds like a "Work for Hire" project, which is one of the categories under which copyrights are classified. Work for hire is always the copyright and property of whoever does the hiring. If this is a book you want control of, then don't do it as work for hire. Find another publisher. Best advice is to contact an agent who represents authors in your field, tell the agent you've been approached about doing a book for hire, and let the agent represent you. If the publisher doesn't want to deal with an agent, then you don't want to deal with them.

Fletcher Dean said...

What I needed to hear, Brian. Many thanks!

Jane K. Cleland said...

You might consult Jeff Herman's book, AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING, for reputable agents who represent your kind of material.

ACW said...

Fletch - I second Brian's response. This sounds more like writing a book that will serve as promotional material. You give it away when you do that. I would protect your expertise and copyright...unless they wanted to sponsor you to put out the book and do some sort of split. But this sounds like they are looking for words, not expertise, and I would protect what you've got! But Gwen, I did get a lot out of your thanks! A