Today we’re talking about publishing contracts. 

You might think that this is information you don’t need to know if you’re an indie author, but I’m telling you right now that it’s important for every author to understand. The most common places you are likely to encounter publishing contracts as an indie author is when you participate in anthologies or co-write a book with someone. You will be, or you should be, signing a detailed contract that dictates the terms of your work being included in an anthology. You should really also have one if you’re doing a co-write, but I don’t think that’s a very common occurrence. 

For the purposes of this episode, I will be using the terms publisher and organizer interchangeably in reference to anthologies. For co-writes, the publisher is whoever’s account is being used for the distribution. 

Publishing contracts can be incredibly confusing, but I am going to do my best to break it down into very simple and easy to understand terms, so that if you choose to participate in an anthology, or you seek representation with an agent or publisher, you have more knowledge in your foundation.

I will be including a link to a very lengthy guide on Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts that was developed by the Author and Berkeley Law if you would like more in depth information. 

According to the Author Alliance, there are four major steps that you need to do when it comes to any contract. These steps are very helpfully shortened into the acronym RUNS.

R – Read everything

U – Understand what it means

N – Negotiate what you want

S – Save a copy of the signed agreement

If you are handed a contract, you absolutely must read all of the terms or you could be handing over rights that you don’t want other people to have, and you could be setting yourself up for exploitation. Even if the organizer has no malicious intention, a poorly constructed contract can create problems for everyone.

If there are terms within the contract that you don’t understand, that you feel need elaboration or clarification, be sure to bring those up with the organizer. Do not EVER feel pressured to sign a contract that you don’t agree with or that you don’t understand. It’s always better to walk away from a bad contract than to sign onto a project that you are uncomfortable with or that gives you unfavourable terms.

The information in this episode will be focused primarily around the copyright laws of the United States, mostly in part, because that is most of the information available, but the basic definitions and general information will be useful for all authors to understand, regardless of their country of residence.

When you are approaching these contracts, keep a very close eye on the rights that are being asked for. If there is not a plan to use those rights, then the publisher should not be taking them from you. For example, if your anthology is not going to be an audiobook, then your contract should not be giving the publisher audio rights. 

Also keep the reverse in mind. If the publisher only asks for electronic rights, but they are talking about a paperback, you need to push for a clause to be added to the contract regarding print rights. 

In the event that the anthology or co-write gets flagged by the distributor, such as Amazon, if the publisher does not have the applicable rights, and cannot prove that they have those rights with the signed contracts, then their account could be terminated, which is a big problem for them, and a big problem for everyone who was expecting to be paid for the anthology.


Let’s walk through some of the basic terminology you are likely to encounter.

Joint Work

This is something that would come into play with a co-write, but not an anthology, at least not to my understanding. Joint work is where all participants are contributing their work with the intention of creating a cohesive piece, in which the work of individual authors is not easily distinguishable. In these cases, all co-authors, regardless of the amount of work contributed, are entitled to equal portions of the profits. Additionally, each author can authorize use of the copyright without the permission of their co-authors, but all are entitled to any royalties earned.

Exclusive Rights

The right to make copies, to sell, lend, or distribute copies, to prepare derivative works (such as audio book, revised editions, sequels, prequels, etc.), to perform the work publicly, to display the work publicly.

When you sign a contract, you are handing over either all or some of these rights to the publisher. They can be subdivided by rights to specific formats, specific geographical areas, and/or specific lengths of time. For example: You might sign over the electronic and print rights to an anthology to publish within the United States and Canada, and for a period of three months. 

Exclusive License

This is different from exclusive rights. An exclusive license gives the publisher permission for specific things and allows them to stop you and other third parties from issuing competing versions of the work. This does not transfer ownership of the copyright. 

Non-Exclusive License

This allows you, the author, to grant rights to an infinite number of individuals to produce and sell the work in question. Publishers tend not to like this kind of license, as you can imagine. 

Subsidiary Rights

These may also be referred to as ancillary, secondary, or derivative rights. They include electronic rights, paperback rights, audiobook rights, foreign rights, translation rights, dramatization rights, commercial exploitation rights, serial rights, and book club rights. Generally how you decide which of these rights to hand over to a publisher will be heavily impacted by the experience the publisher has with using those rights effectively. 

Let’s break those rights down a little bit more. 

Electronic rights includes not only standard ebooks, but also enhanced ebooks and multimedia versions of the book. If you are looking at long term publication, rather than a short run with an anthology, you may want to consider ensuring that the electronic rights include only existing technology, and then terms can be renegotiated in the future if an applicable technology is developed.

Paperback rights include the trade paperback, mass-market paperback, and hardcover, and allows the publisher to print and sell the book in those forms, or to license another company to do so on their behalf.

If you would like additional information on the other rights listed you can find them all in the linked document by Author Alliance. 

The Manuscript Clause

This clause lays out the obligations of the author. It should include the delivery date, the approximate length of the manuscript, the delivery format, and any additional material to be delivered.

When looking this information over be sure that there is a reasonable amount of time for the publisher to complete the finished work, and for you as the author to complete your portion of the deliverables. If there are additional materials or services that must be engaged, such as professional editing, cover production, etc. the contract should specify who bears the financial responsibility for them. If there is no mention of editing in the contract, be sure to inquire with the publisher what their standards are, so that all of the participants are fully aware of their obligations to produce a polished piece.

Revert-Back Clause

This is a protection for the author. The contract should state that if the publisher fails to use the rights granted within a specific time then those rights are automatically reverted back to the author.

Rights Reversion

All rights not specifically granted to the publisher are reserved by the author. Be sure that this is stated in the contract so that your author rights are protected and the publisher is only acquiring the specific rights they need to produce the anthology.

Warranty and Indemnification

These protect the publisher from legal liability if they get sued for copyright infringement or other legal violations. To comply with these clauses you as the author must proclaim that your work is not plagiarized, that it does not violate any trademarks or privacy rights, that your work does not defame anyone, and if your work is a piece of non-fiction you must ensure that the work is accurate. If you fail to uphold these clauses, then the publisher usually reserves the right to terminate your contract.


Royalties are the amount of money authors get from the sales of their books. The contract should specify where your payment is coming from and what type of royalty they are using to calculate that amount. Are the royalties based on the published price, on the publisher’s net income for sales of the book, or are they based on the net profit of the publisher? In the cases of anthologies, royalties are likely to simply be an equitable division of the payments received to the publisher account via the distributors.

Be sure that somewhere in the contract it states that you are entitled to see the royalties statements regularly, with a specification on what qualifies as regularly, or upon request. This helps keep the publisher accountable and lets the authors stay informed about how much money they can expect to be paid.

The contract should also explicitly state the price the work is going to be sold for. Any alteration to this price that is not explicitly stated within the contract already will require a new contract or addendum to be signed.

Please be advised that these clauses may not be laid out specifically with these terms. That will depend on the composition of the contract, and sometimes whether or not the publisher is familiar with these terms to begin with. Regardless, you need to be aware of, and understand the contents of these clauses, so that you can recognize their presence in a contract, and also recognize their absence.

Most contracts, when it comes to anthologies, are going to be significantly simpler than contracts that you’re going to approach a long-term publisher for. There is tons more information when it comes to understanding publishing contracts, but I’ve tried to focus exclusively on the things that are going to be most relevant and valuable to those of you participating in co-writes and anthologies.

What To Look For

Before we end things, let’s do a quick run through of things to look for.

Dates: When is your manuscript due? When is the book going to be published? When are any payments due to the publisher for buy in? When will you be paid? When do the terms of the contract end?

Formats: How are you meant to deliver your manuscript to the publisher? What format is the publisher intending to publish and do they have any applicable rights to do so?

Credit: Will all contributing authors receive equal credit?

Payment: How will you be paid? How are you expected to pay the publisher for the buy in? How often should you expect to be paid? How will the royalties be divided amongst the participants?

Promotion: What is everyone expected to do to promote the work? Are there any forms of accountability or consequence if anyone fails to fulfill their promotional obligations?

Rights: What rights are the publisher asking for? Do they need those specific rights? Is there a protective clause for rights reversion and a revert-back clause?

Buy In: How is any buy in being used? There should be mentions of the cover, the formatting, and promotional efforts in the contract.

Confidentiality: Has it been made clear that participants are to protect the private information of one another should they encounter it? 

Indemnity: Has it been made clear that authors are responsible for ensuring their works are free of plagiarism and defamation? Are other participants protected from the fault of a single participant? 

That’s all for now. You can find all of my books and platforms below. If you have questions or suggestions for future episodes, please do let me know. And if you’d like early access to these you can join my Patreon where I share them with people as soon as they’re ready to roll. Thank you so much for reading and I’ll see you soon for another episode!



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