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Stupid publisher tricks

by Durant Imboden

Before you sign a book contract, read the fine print.

For the most part, book contracts are fairly straightforward. Royalty rates, control over subsidiary rights, and other key points are usually spelled out clearly and mean what they say.
Still, some contract clauses can lead to grief for the author later on--especially if the author hasn't read the contract carefully or doesn't know what the clauses mean. Here are two examples:

General accounting

It isn't unusual for a publisher to slip a "general accounting" clause into a first-time author's book contract. This means that royalties from subsequent books can be used to recover advances on an early book that doesn't sell well.

Let's say that you write a novel for a $5,000 advance. The book earns $2,500 in royalties, leaving $2,500 in unearned advance monies.

The publisher then advances you $7,500 for your second book, which is a success and earns $10,000 in royalties. Normally, you'd get a check for the $2,500 difference. But with a general accounting clause, the publisher can apply that $2,500 in royalties against the unearned portion of your first book's advance.

Literary agents routinely insist that publishers delete such clauses. You should, too.

"Book Clubs"

When a publisher licenses rights to a book club, the publisher generally gets a substantial cut of the proceeds, and the royalty rate is less than it would be with a standard edition. Normally, this isn't a matter of concern--it's just the way book-club deals work.

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