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Posted on: March 10, 2010

Demystifying Contracts: What Every Writer Should Know
Posted by Chuck

At the SCBWI 2010 Winter Conference, agent Edward Necarsulmer IV (of McIntosh & Otis) gave a presentation called “The Real Deal about Contracts.” At McIntosh & Otis, Necarsulmer handles his clients’ contracts with publishers. Other agencies have contracts departments. Either way, both agents and authors should understand the ins and outs of contracts and the process of negotiating rights with a publisher.

Donna Gambale blogs at the First Novels
Club and is the author of a mini kit,
Magnetic Kama Sutra. She’s currently
revising her young adult novel, Multiple Choice.

What’s a contract?

At its most simple definition, a contract is a legal document saying what the publisher is going to say or do, and what you, the author, are going to say or do. It should be fair and clear on both ends.

Oftentimes, a publishing house will offer a basic contract to an author, and it’s the agent’s job to negotiate better (and more specific) terms. The agent explains everything to the author and discusses his/her options before continuing negotiations. With each revision, the agent goes through the contract with line-by-line vigilance, making sure the author has what he/she needs and what the publisher promised.

How money works

The most obvious part of a contract involves negotiating author advances and royalties. Of course! Check out this post for complete details.

Primary rights

Primary rights include the original edition of the book and paperback reprint rights, but they may also cover foreign territories/translation rights. The standard grant of rights is for the publisher to print/publish/sell/distribute your book in the English language. Your agent would probably want to retain foreign rights, but that depends on a cost/benefit analysis. Meaning, is it worthwhile to attempt to sell your book to foreign markets?


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I am an aspiring picturebook writer with some magazine credits just no picture book contract yet. I know it is coming and I am more than willing to work for it.

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