Here is a riddle for you. What is harder than obtaining a publishing contract in the children’s book world?
Saying no to said contract.
I know what you’re thinking. Who in their right mind would say no to a publishing contract after spending years of blood sweat and tears working on a story? After sacrificing time and money at workshops to learn the craft? After getting rejection upon rejection, or worse after sending your manuscript out, and hearing nothing at all?
Why say no? For the same reasons you would say yes to a good contract. Not all publishing contracts are built the same way, and they always favor the publisher, which they should. After all, publishers are in business to make money. It’s up to you, the author/or illustrator, to make sure that the contract you are signing is the best deal you can get. Here are some things to look for when you are offered that first contract.
The Vanity Press.
Hopefully you did your research on the publisher you submitted to and know they are not a vanity press. A vanity press is a publisher that wants money from you to publish your book. If a publisher asks you for money run away, fast.
This is pretty much the first thing every one looks at.
“Show me the money!”
The amount of an advance can vary widely depending on the publisher, the book, and the author. But as a rule of thumb, the bigger and more established the publisher, the larger the advance. Understand though, the bigger the advance the longer it takes to collect on your royalties. Just because your advance is small doesn’t mean you should automatically say no, especially if the contract makes up for it on the backend of the deal through licensing agreements, percentages, that sort of thing.
Are you keeping them? If you keep them, do you have the ability to do anything with them? Is the advance large enough that you are willing to sign them away? Remember, we live in a world market. World rights are a nice bargaining chip.
This is your story. Your idea. Anything that comes from it, you should get a piece of. Period.
Right of first refusal.
This is when a publisher gets first say in anything new you write. Right of first refusal can also hide as a non-compete clause. Anything that prevents you from selling another story should be struck from your contract. If they refuse to remove it, walk away.
This is the percentage of money that is made either from the sale of your book or from other works related to your book, i.e. television, radio, movies, tee-shirts, toys. Basically, if your publisher is selling something that came from your idea, make sure you are getting a percentage of it. The percentage will vary between publishers, authors, the work being sold, the position of the moon, the season of the year… Ok maybe not all that, but there are many variables that will determine the amount your royalty will be. A couple of things to understand when it comes to royalties. First, you will not receive a royalty until you sell enough books to pay back your advance. In other words, the bigger your advance the longer it will take to collect on your royalties. Second, your royalty is not based on the cover price of your book. It is based on what price your publisher sells it to the bookseller. In other words. if your book is sold for $16.95 at Barnes & Noble, and you make a 10% royalty off the sale of your book, you do not make $1.70 (rounded up). You need to find out what price the publisher sold your book to B&N, and unfortunately it wasn’t $16.95. It was probably closer to $10, which means your royalties are about $1 a book. This is what I meant about determining whether the advance is worth selling your book for, or are you making the cash up on the back end.
If your advance is low but your Royalties are a high percentage, then cool. Or vice versa: if your Advance is high but the percentage is low then at least you make your money up front. But if both Advance and Royalties are low then you really have to ask yourself if it’s worth signing that contract. There is a ton of work after you sign the contract that you, the author, have to do to sell your book, and if you only make 25 cents a copy, it gets tiring fast.
This is your story, your baby. You worked hard on it. I understand how tempting it is to say yes to your first offer. You want your name out there, you want to feel that book in your hand. You think, who am I to be so demanding? I’m a no-name author. Remember though, the publisher wants something you have, your story. Don’t give it away just to say you are published. Don’t be scared to negotiate your contract. The publisher isn’t going to walk away if you question it or ask for something to be changed. They may say no, but then it will be in your court to decide whether to walk away. Though it may seem like a hard thing to do, it might be in your best interest to say no.
Have you asked for a change in a contract? Have you walked away from one? Share your experiences in the comments.
Interview: Mary Flower, Publishing Contracts Consultant by Joyce Audy Zarins