Problems with Publishers' Contracts
A Report from Adler & Robin Books, Inc.

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Don't sign anything you're unsure about.

Book publishing contracts are fraught with pitfalls for writers. As you would expect, contracts are written from the publisher's perspective, and for the purpose of benefiting the publisher.

Contracts are often the sum of a publisher's past mistakes and problems. If something went wrong in the past--a disappearing author or a messy libel suit for example--the publisher will work into its contract clauses to prevent those problems from occurring again.

Most of the time, the process of writing and publishing a book go smoothly. Publishers recognize this, too. As a result, they may be willing to be flexible about their contracts. But you have to ask for changes. Insist, sometimes. Otherwise, you will be stuck with a bad contract.

A special warning about print-on-demand.  You've no doubt heard about print-on-demand. (Print-on-demand lets a publisher print exactly the number of books ordered.)  This can been a boon to writers, by keeping a book in print virtually forever.  Or it can be a terrible thing.  Why terrible?  Let's say your publisher decides to keep a book "in print" by using a print-on-demand service. Without print-on-demand a publisher might put the book out to pasture, with the rights reverting back to you.  But with print-on-demand, a publisher could keep the book "in print" forever, even if the publisher is selling only 250 books a year.  (For a large publisher, selling 250 books a year for say 1,000 books, isn't bad.)  For individual authors this isn't good.  It's very important that you specify in your out-of-print clause that the book is out-of-print if it sells less than a certain number of copies, perhaps 1,500, over a 12-month period.  

Here are some of the most egregious contract pitfalls that we see. Your contract may, or may not, have these clauses (hopefully not!)  Look out for:

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