Know Your Contract Terms

It’s thrilling to get a publishing contract. Whether it be for a magazine or a publishing house.  It’s a buzz like no other.

I just signed my first contract for payment on my short story ‘(eom)’. I carefully filled out my part of the form and read through the clauses. The contract was straight forward, with nothing hidden.

This entire process got me thinking about the definition of publishing rights and what kind are out there.

Several good sources exist for, the SFWA Contracts & Copyrights or The Passive Voice (a lawyer with a blog and great observations).

While I am no expert in contracts, we writers MUST be aware of what the components of the contracts we sign mean.  Here are some basic terms (all definitions have been provided by :

Grant of rights––The ‘grant of rights’ clause gives the pulisher permission to publish the manuscript and sets the terms by which the publisher will hold the rights (exclusive or limited).

Copyright––The copyright clause allows the publishing house to copyright the book in the author’s name.  Make sure you get the copyright in your name because all a publisher needs is the legal right to publish, not ownership of the copyright itself.

Option–– This guarantees the publisher’s right to publish an author’s subsequent book(s).

Permissions–– The general rule is that permission must be granted on all material still under copyright protection unless it falls under the “fair use” doctrine of the Copyright Act.  My suggestion?  When in doubt secure permission.

Royalty and royalty payments––A royalty is a payment made to the author in exchange for granting the publisher the right to publish and sell one’s book.  Most book publishing operates with a continuing royalty arrangement calculated as a percentage of the publisher’s income from the sale of the book.  The royalty is calculated in different ways, and it is of utmost importance to understand what this portion of the book contract says.

Subsidiary rights––The subsidiary rights section of the contract will stipulate what rights belong to the publisher and what rights are controlled by the author.  These rights are called “subsidiary rights” or “sub rights” because they are usually subsidiary in importance—less important than the primary right an author initially gives to a publisher to publish and sell his or her book.

You are your best advocate. Know your stuff!

  • Educate yourself on the type of contracts and terms in the publishing industry.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a contract expert or a lawyer if you have concerns.
  • Let your artistic side be productive, but don’t forget this is a business and you are your own CEO.




  • I’m hoping for the day when I can put this advice into practice! While it would be nice if everything was always fair and above-board, you hear horror stories about people who get cheated in the publishing business. Thanks for the good advice and links. 🙂

    • You’ll get there, I know you will. I can’t wait to hear your experiences. 🙂

  • Thanks so much for positing this. Legal language is gibberish to me, so this little glossary is very helpful. 🙂

    • I love the fact we can share our knowledge and help each other out.

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