Questions you should ask about a publishing contract


I attended the workshop “Publishing Contracts: What Authors Need to Know” by Melissa Levine, Lead Copyright Officer at the University of Michigan Libraries. Part of her talk involved looking at sample author contracts.

Here are some of the questions we raised during the workshop:

  • What does “timely fashion” mean with regards to manuscript submission deadlines?
  • Contracts usually indicicate that the author will be responsible for submitting manuscripts for updated editions of the work. What if after so many editions, you simply don’t want to write a new edition? What does the contract indicate?
  • What comment or input would you have on the design of the cover? Some covers for academic books can be hideous or bland. You as an author may want a say in your work’s cover.
  • How long do you have to make corrections to proof sheets? When you submit a manuscript, the publisher will send you pre-publication proofs. What will your deadline be, and what fees will the publisher assess if you submit changes after the deadline?
  • Would it be possible to license rather than grant your exclusive rights to the publisher? While the move would be largely symbolic, you would still end up owning the copyright to your own work. If the publisher owns the copyright, you have absolutely no say in how your work is used.
  • What does “net” mean in a phrase like “net receipts?”
  • How often will royalties be paid and an account statement be sent?
  • What does the contract say about legal fees in case a lawsuit is brought against your work?

The most important advice Melissa offered: If there is anything in the contract you don’t understand, ask.


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