Author Contracts

Welsh Books Council

Author Contracts

A publishing house should issue the author with a draft contract as soon as it has decided on its production schedule. The terms of the contract will vary according to the nature of the work and will be open to negotiation. It is normally the editor’s responsibility to conduct these negotiations on behalf of the publisher. The contract will be signed before the publisher begins typesetting the book.

A standard contract will provide the following core information:

  • a title which identifies the work
  • the scope of the rights conferred by the contract (in terms of licence or, unusually, assignment of copyright), territory and language, duration of licence, format, etc.
  • provisions for subsidiary rights (paperback, book club, serial, anthology, broadcasting, electronic, large print, translation, etc.)
  • a warranty and indemnification against libel, injury and infringement of copyright
  • the schedule for delivery of the manuscript and publication, with procedure for approval and revision
  • details of payments, royalties, advances and statements
  • schedule and cost apportionment for author’s corrections
  • responsibility for securing permissions and preparing supporting materials, including index and illustrations
  • an option clause (giving the publisher first refusal on a future MS)
  • terms of termination of the contract and reversion of rights to the author.

The contract will also usually contain clauses on production (including print-run) and distribution, the number of free copies the author will receive, the assertion of copyright and moral rights, the author’s undertaking not to publish ‘competing works’, remaindering, print-on-demand, and other matters particular to the publication in question.

Guides

Works on publishing contracts include:

C Clark & L Owen, Clark’s Publishing Agreements (8th ed. Bloomsbury 2010). The eighth edition of this standard work, containing full, annotated examples and the latest information on electronic and software rights. 

Hugh Jones and Christopher Benson, Publishing Law, (4th ed. Routledge 2011)

Ingrid Wintemitz, Electronic Publishing Agreements (Oxford 2000) (with disks). Covers all aspects  of the field, with precedent agreements, including Drafting Electronic Publishing Agreements, Database Publishing Agreements, Acquiring Rights, Agreements for Publication in Electronic Form of a Printed Work, Agreements for Use of Text in an Electronic Product, Permissions Request Letters, Agreements for the Co-development and Co-publication of an Electronic Product, etc.

There are several guides to good practice in this area written specifically from the  perspective of publisher or  author. Guides which prioritise safeguarding the author’s interests include:

  • The Writers’ Guild (Welsh Committee) Model Contract
    The Writers’ Guild has drawn up a model contract specifically for Welsh-language authors and publishers, although most clauses reflect the Guild’s standard Minimum Terms Agreement (see The Society of Authors, below). This model contract is available here or from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (Wales), Room 23, 13 Market Street, Pontypridd CF37 2ST Tel. 01443 485106 Fax. 01443 485106
  • The Society of Authors
    Quick Guide: Publishing Contracts
    Quick Guide: Translator-Publisher Agreements
    These are step-by-step guides. They are available free to members and for £10 post free for non-members from:
    Society of Authors
    84 Drayton Gardens
    London
    SW10 9SB
    Tel. 020 7373 6642
    info@societyofauthors.org
    www.societyofauthors.net/guides-and-articles

 

The Society of Authors also supplies to its members a copy of the Minimum Terms Agreement (MTA) which, in association with the Writers’ Guild, it has successfully negotiated with a number of leading publishers. Although it is binding only on dealings between a limited range of publishing houses and the members of the Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild, it has had a significant impact on contracts generally and is still used as a reference point in negotiations and disputes. However, as the most recent MTA is at least 15 years old, some clauses no longer represent current norms.

  • Irish Writers Union Model Contract. 
    The IWU provides an on-line model contract at www.ireland-writers.com  The clauses relating to royalties, subsidiary rights, settlement of disputes and governing law differ somewhat from UK practice and legal obligations.
  • Michael Legat, Understanding Publishers' Contracts, 2nd edition (Robert Hale 2002).
    This 192-page guide offers advice on each clause of the contract and includes full examples.

General guidelines for authors can be found at www.publishing-services.co.uk/faqs_contracts.php

Date last updated: 21 Jun 2013