Tuesday, 6 July 2010


When you get your first publishing contract, your eyes will be so awash with tears of joy that you won't be able to read it. When the tears have dried up and you're celebrating properly, you'll be so addled with champagne that you will laugh inanely at all the long words and not know what they mean. When you've sobered up, you'll be so excited about impending glory that you won't care if the contract was drawn up by a dalek egged on by Godzilla.

And even if none of that were true, you won't understand the contract anyway. Bits of it will make sense - for example your name, and the bit where it states your deadline - but other bits will be gobbledygook.

My strategy on receiving a contract is to glaze over and sign it because I have an agent who has already negotiated it for me and what she says goes.

But what if you don't have an agent? Or what if you actually do want to know what you are signing? (Which is a very good idea and of course I do, despite my apparent glazing over.)

Well, I have a simple answer for you (and very simple for me). Go and visit the blog of Stroppy Author, who has had about 130 books published and, as she says, has argued with many publishers over the years. She has been writing a long-running series of posts called "How To Read a Publishing Contract", and if you scroll down to the labels and choose the label of that name, you will find them all. Very detailed, very excellent and very useful. More then that, actually: essential and could save you lost earnings.

She says her blog is mostly relevant to children's authors but, in fact, this particular strand is equally applicable whatever books you write.

I told her she should bundle her posts into a book but she's got too many other books to write at the moment. So, get it while it's free!


Talli Roland said...

Thanks, Nicola! I love the Stroppy Author's website - it's so helpful.

A great book is 'Negotiating a Book Contract' by Mark Levine. While it's more American focused, it breaks down each section of the contract and explains what you should look for. Very useful for people like me who don't speak Legalese!

Catherine Hughes said...

Can't wait for that day! As someone who did a Law degree, I've always wondered how much sense I'd be able to make of a publishing contract. Not much, I suspect, so I will be reading what Stroppy Author has to say!

Cat x

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, Nicola - and many thanks for the link.

The other thing you can do is send your contract to the Society of Authors, with a cheque for the embarrassingly modest (considering the quality and quantity of legal advice you're about to get) membership fee. They will go through it with their legendary fine-toothed comb, and get back to you with their opinion of the good, the bad and the ugly, almost before you've sobered up...

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Thanks for this fantastic resource! That was very generous of you to share this. Can we link this for our blog's Friday round-up to help spread the word? Thanks so very much!

Ellie said...

Where do you find the time to do all these wonderfully informative post, Nicola?

Thank you for sharing Stroppy Author with us.

Stroppy Author said...

Crabbit, thank you so much for directing your lovely followers in my direction. I'm sure they will all have their own publishing contracts to untangle in due course, if they pay good attention to your wise words.

Emma's advice is spot on - the Society of Authors offer a brilliant service. I think it's useful to understand it all yourself, too, but if you don't want to then you can't go wrong taking SocA's advice.

AinCP - please do!

Anonymous said...

Ooh! Sounds interesting (I don't know why I enjoy reading about contracts) - goes off to check it out :)

Nicola Morgan said...

Talli - I agree re Stroppy. She knows what she's talking about. Mark L's book sounds good - thanks.

Emma - yes, absolutely. (As long as your contract is for a book that fits the criteria - with a proper publisher, for example. Some self-publishing authors qualify but then there's no contract to consider. What writers have to be careful about is contracts with companies that look like publishers but aren't - you won't get SoA membership then.)

AinCP - as I always say, of course please include in your round-up. I think you're using an auto-generated comment, because each time I point out that you are of course welcome to link the message doesn't seem to get through. If there's a human there, hello, and welcome!

Ellie - I have no idea!

Catherine - indeed :))

Stroppy - hello and welcome here. You should write a book.

Jesse - maybe you should be a lawyer?

Derek said...

It's also worth considering joining the Society of Authors. They review contracts as part of your membership and they can offer guidance on what changes to ask for. After that, it's all down to negotiation!