Contracts for novels

I have been looking into novel contracts while waiting for the final OK from all the authors in the anthology. That will go out first, naturally.

The Christmas anthology will be postponed but not cancelled. I vastly underestimated the time needed to organise a book with multiple authors but hey, it’s my first go. The Christmas book will be prepared next year with a slated release date in mid November 2017. It’ll happen, but not this year. There will also be a Halloween collection next year, which I’ll start preparing around April.

The Easter collection remains a possibility but I’m not rushing into it.

Once the first anthology is out, the next Underdog Book will be a novel called ‘Cultish’ by Hugo Stone. A delightfully demonic and depraved work of fiction. Next, a novel called ‘The Goddess of Protruding Ears’ by Justin Sanebridge. These, naturally, require a different form of contract from short story collections.

Both of these depend on the authors actually agreeing to, and signing, author contracts. They are not yet absolutely definite, both could change their minds and go elsewhere. I hope not, since I’ve already arranged editing, but until that contract is signed I have no hold over them.

With this in mind I have been checking existing sample contracts to see what’s required. The standard contract runs for five years and at the end of it, the author can decide whether to sign up for another contract or take the book to a different publisher. Copyright to all works always remains with the authors: unlike certain publishers, Underdog Books will never seek to reassign copyright. We only ever buy the right to use the story, never the copyright.

I know there are a few readers well versed in legalities. So let’s see if we can work something out based on a site giving advice to authors in contract signing. I’ll use their headings…

It’s important to note that everything in a contract is negotiable. Every clause can be changed. If we can’t reach agreement on a final contract we go our separate ways and move on. Still, if both parties are reasonable about it, there should be no problems.

Grant of Rights

Underdog Books is only interested in the rights to exclusively publish, in English, worldwide in print and eBook formats. Film or TV rights, plush toys or action figures depicting your characters (Hugo, don’t even think it), cartoon spinoffs, translations into other languages, anything like that we’ll deal with when we get to it. This publisher isn’t taking those rights in the novel contract. If you want to republish in Sanskrit, Mandarin or Welsh, it’s none of my business.

Competing Works

I don’t care. If you write something similar and publish it elsewhere at the same time, you’re only diluting your own audience. I will be using print-on-demand and eBooks, I won’t have a stock of unsold books so you’d only be hurting your own sales figures. I’d advise you not to do it but it won’t be a contract clause.

Author’s Warranty

A statement that the works isn’t plagiarised or fan fiction or contains anything that might get me legitimately sued. This is important – but as the article states, it won’t be some draconian ruling that locks you in if some deranged lunatic decides you telepathically stole the novel he was thinking of writing one day. Our legal department (that’s also me) will have a supply of response slips with ‘Just fuck off’ printed on them in nice friendly letters. I do not intend to take frivolous lawsuits seriously.

Manuscript Preparation

The manuscript has to be complete before submission. I can’t pay an advance on the basis of a half written one, no matter how masterful and brilliant it seems to be. I just don’t have that kind of resource. Get it finished first.

Here’s a tip from my own early mistakes. Don’t keep ‘fixing’ Chapter One. You might find that when you have the whole story, you’ll ditch that chapter entirely anyway. Getting stuck in an editing loop on the first chapter is a very good way to never get any further.

Viability and Publication Delay

Not really an issue here, there won’t be a contract until the novel is complete.


Copyright remains with the author. Always. Underdog Books doesn’t want it. Only the rights to exclusive publication within the limits already described.

Proofing and Editing

There will be editing and there might well be changes to the manuscript. These are intended to improve the book and you lot know me well enough by now to be sure there won’t be any politically-correct editing going on. There is no charge to the author for this, it’s all my problem.


Yes, I will set publication deadlines but bear with me on this, I’m still on the learning curve here. I intend to have both Cultish and The Goddess of Protruding Ears out early next year. I would say ‘by Christmas’ but I’m learning my limitations at the moment. Both books are pretty much print-ready, so early next year is definitely on.

As I gain experience in how long this stuff takes, the publication dates will get more accurate.


Okay. This is the one the authors are really interested in. I’m going to base mine on a percentage of the actual book price. For hardbacks, I would suggest you don’t ask for more than 10%. Paperbacks, somewhere between 10 – 40%. eBooks, we’re talking 50%.

Why? Well, there is a base cost to printing and distribution. Then I have to recover costs of editing (yeah, I pay for that) and sometimes cover art. Plus I have to make a profit although I intend to keep that to a minimum to keep costs down. If you, the author, want a big percentage of the cover price it will have the effect of increasing the cover price. You’ll make your book expensive and harder to sell. This is especially true of hardbacks. I can do them for you but they start out expensive and boosting the price with a high royalty demand will kill them.

It’s up to you. Royalties are negotiable but seriously, if you push up the book price you’ll find it harder to become the famous author you really want to be.

This is far less of a problem with eBooks of course. There are no print costs so a 50% royalty is achievable without getting into silly prices. That’s 50% after VAT of course, since VAT is payable on eBooks but not on print books, and VAT is at a different rate depending on which country buys the book.

Royalty negotiations will come out with a different percentage for hardback, paperback and eBook versions. I do, however, want to keep all those final prices reasonable. You’re a new author, I’m a new publisher, nobody has heard of either of us. Let’s stay within the price range where people will take a chance.


An advance is what it says it is. An advance payment of royalties. It means you don’t get any more until your book has earned the amount of royalties you’re already been paid in advance.

Underdog Books can’t pay an advance except in exceptional cases and then not very much. Most authors don’t want it anyway. If the book does not ‘earn out’ (get the advance covered in the time of the contract) then it looks bad on your author CV and I’d be wary of offering another one. So think hard before asking for an advance and be aware that I might not be in a position to offer one. One day I might be… but it it not this day.

Foreign Sales

Worldwide rights mean I treat foreign sales the same as UK sales. The only variation in that would be the VAT charged on eBooks which depends on the country the buyer resides in. Other than that, the buyer pays postage so the royalty on the sale is the same no matter where the book ends up.

Deep Discounts and Book Clubs

I intend to stay away from these and sell at low prices right at the source. The deep discounts can hit both author and publisher hard and basically, screw that.

Sale of Rights

I won’t be selling the rights from the contract. I will only have English language rights in print and eBook. All other rights stay with the author. You can negotiate them separately.


Quarterly sales reports and payments are normal, it seems. I’ll go with that. That’s how I’ll get the income from the distributors and I’ll set my payment dates to just after theirs so the authors get paid as soon as possible.

Reserve Against Returns

Not applicable. I’ll use print-on-demand so there won’t be any shelf stock lying around.

Author’s Copies

You can expect a box full of freebies from a big publisher. I’ll maybe be able to run to four or five copies. Other than that, you can buy copies from me at print costs rather than full price – but of course they won’t count as royalty sales.

Revised Editions

Nope. Revised editions are a separate contract and should be instigated by the author. Not something I’m ever going to insist on.

Out of Print

Does not apply. I use print-on-demand and eBook. If you don’t like sales figures and want to terminate your contract early, we can come to some arrangement. Otherwise, the book contract ends five years after you sign it.


Okay, I have to device an author contract out of that lot. More like a template really, since authors can negotiate any of the points so every contract will be individual.

All comments welcome. I have to do this soon.


6 thoughts on “Contracts for novels

  1. FWIW, I’ve signed a lot of contracts as a writer, and have also been involved in small press publishing. So, gratuitously, here’s my take:

    Grant of Rights. “We’ll get to it later’ doesn’t wash. You’re asking writers to sign a blank check, not letting them know if you’ll demand a cut after-the-fact. Most writers want to retain subsidiary rights (esp. for film, tv, audio) even from big houses. Suggest you cede some or all of them outright, or say which you want a cut of and then either set the %s or at least say that if the occasion arises, %s to be negotiated on a mutually acceptable level.

    Warranty: publishers usually add that there’s nothing in the ms that’s potentially dangerous (like a recipe for arsenic soup). If you like, I can look up the exact boiler plate wording. However, “fuck off” isn’t always enuf to get a lunatic to do so. Therefore it’s standard to get the author to indemnify you for any penalties plus “reasonable legal fees” in case you’re sued. That also keeps the writer from lying to you that the work isn’t plagiarized in whole or in part.

    Editing: In my experience, book (as opposed to mag/newspaper) publishers clear the edits with writers, even down to changes in punctuation which gives the writer a chance to object, or find a third way more pleasing to him, or withdraw the work.

    Royalties: the %s are always set in the initial contract by the publisher , not the writer (tho as you say, they can be bargained about later).. 10% is quite mutually acceptable for hc; but from your pov giving “up to 40 ” for ppb is too high. Are you aware that the major print distributors usually demand 50% of the cover price or they won’t take you on? Only a few–and then etailers like Amazon –will let you give them less, often on a complicated scale.– Have you reckoned in the actual per unit printing costs? and that they might unpredictably rise? What about costs of promotion, let alone artwork? It’s one thing to break even if it’s a labor of love, another to lose on every sale.

    And not btw, if you don’t tell your distributors that the books are “non-returnable” you’ll lose a bundle. I know two small houses that were bankrupted bigtime by that mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll specify the rights I’m buying in the contract. No open ended options.

      You’re right on the warranty, I’ll have to be very specific there.

      Also on royalties. The only way to give the author a high percentage is to push the book price up. It could make the print book expensive.

      The non-returnable tip is a big help. I wouldn’t have thought of that…

      Liked by 1 person

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