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Book Contracts

Kathie Hightower

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Here's what I asked about book contracts:

I have a publisher reviewing my book proposal. I'd like your input on the following questions:

  1. What royalty arrangement(s) have you negotiated?
  2. What buy-back schedules/rates have you negotiated?
  3. What electronic and other rights have you negotiated?
  4. Do you have an intellectual properties lawyer to recommend who understands the speaker world?
  5. What is the best book/resource you can recommend concerning book contracts?

(Note: A later discussion about book contracts appears here.)

-- Nancy Mueller

The best resource I found is a book called Be Your Own Literary Agent by Martin P. Levin (Ten Speed Press, 1996 -- though there may well be a later edition out now). After reading through his book and getting the lingo for book publishing, I negotiated my own book contract.

Originally, I had hoped to have a literary agent negotiate it for me for a one-time flat fee rather than a share of the royalties, but I couldn't reach the agent until after I had started negotiating. Once I spoke with him and told him what I had done in the negotiations so far, he said I was doing just fine, made one small recommendation (what, unfortunately, I don't remember), and concluded by saying he would only get in the way. Because I went with a smaller publisher and was a first time author and it's a book for a very specific (rather than a wide) audience, I didn't have the leverage that another book targeting a wider audience might have. Still, I was able to negotiate a small advance.

-- Kelley Robertson

1. What royalty arrangement(s) have you negotiated?

2. What buy-back schedules/rates have you negotiated?
70% discount off retail list price on orders of 200 or more.

I'm located in Canada and my publisher is Stoddart. I think one thing that helped me negotiate a good buy back price was my willingness to commit to selling a certain number of books. Another author I know negotiated a cost plus rate. As a sales and negotiation trainer I always advise people to ask for more than they think they can get. This gives you more room to make concessions and, in some cases, attain more than you originally thought possible.

-- Mike Larsen

If the answers you receive raise questions, maybe I can be of help.

You asked for big-type questions, but as the saying goes, "What they giveth in big type they taketh away in the small type." My book on agents has a chapter on contracts. Richard Curtis discusses them in How to Be Your Own Literary Agent and other books cover them as well like How to Be Happily Published.

In general, I would say that if you don't want an agent, find a literary attorney or agent who will go over the contract on an hourly basis. Although not an attorney, Dennis Dalrymple in New York is also an expert on contracts whom we have consulted.

I would also suggest that you not start negotiating an agreement until you decide how you want to do it.

-- Patrick Lee

If you didn't attend Barbara Glanz's book publishing session at the NSA Convention in Orlando, the tape might be helpful. It dealt with a number of the questions you asked.

-- Daniel Feiman

Ed Poll is an attorney, published author, speaker, coach, consultant. He is the perfect person to talk to, and I have copied him on this email.

-- Kristin Anderson

Negotiate on Author's Discount. Standard is 40%, however I've negotiated 60%. Stress that as a speaker, you will be doing a lot to promote the book.

-- Debbie Elicksen

I am launching a book to a general audience in about three weeks. I have self-published this book for one very strong reason -- creative control. Because of my marketing background and the fact that book publishers do very little to market books, I figured I'd have to sell it myself anyway so I might as well publish it.

When collaborating on a book last year with Brian Lee, CSP, I contacted Peter Urs Bender about some of the questions you ask about. You might want to talk to him directly or his collaborator, Michael McClintock in Toronto (416) 491-6690. Brian also self-published his book.

Because my book involves celebrity interviews and pictures, I did retain a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property and sports and entertainment law. It's recommended to have a lawyer peruse your work although, most publishers have their own legal departments that do this to cover themselves. My lawyer represents several high profile individuals from musicians, authors to athletes and his name is Wayne Logan at Logan Law. (403) 237-8080 (direct line) and wayne@remarkablelaw.com. Wayne also looked over the distributor contract for me and gave me his recommendations.

-- Suzy Allegra

1. What royalty arrangement(s) have you negotiated?
My royalties depend on where my book is sold -- regular avenues (retail stores) I get 20% of retail (which equals 10% of wholesale). I had 4 publishers interested in my book and this was the best royalty arrangement, by far. For catalogs, book clubs, Costco type stores, I get far less--only about 7% of retail!

2. What buy-back schedules/rates have you negotiated?
I can buy my books at 60% discount (off retail).

4. Do you have an intellectual properties lawyer to recommend who understands the speaker world?
Yes, Ivan Hoffman (www.ivanhoffman.com). He's great (and expensive -- but no more so than other lawyers, I think!).

5. What is the best book/resource you can recommend concerning book contracts?
I didn't use any books; I used Ivan.

Make sure you double check your contract for everything that was agreed upon verbally...

-- Suzanne Ginge

Lloyd Rich is a very knowledgeable books/intellectual property attorney based in Denver. He spoke at a book conference I attended, and he was great at following up with my questions via email and letter. (My husband is an attorney and was impressed by his thoroughness, too.)

Lloyd, a former book publishing executive, seems to really like writers and speakers -- his free Publishing Law Update Service (sent via email) always addresses an intellectual property concern. He's a tenacious negotiator, too, and knows what you can expect when negotiating a book contract with a publisher.

Try him at http://www.publaw.com, rich@csn.net, 303-388-0291 or 1163 Vine Street, Denver, CO 80206.

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