by Nomsa Chirisa

Landing a publishing deal for your book is a dream come true. Congratulations! This is the part where you get support from the publisher to publish the book and get your story out there where it belongs. It’s an exciting opportunity and you have to make it a success. But, to begin the publishing process, you need an agreement with your publisher.

It’s the same thing as signing a marriage certificate on your big day. The Author-Publisher agreement will govern the publishing of your book. Oftentimes, I’ve had challenges with my independent authors who tend to think that a few verbal meetings seal the deal. They usually stumble when I ask, “how are you going to recall this agreement years later?” What they do not realise is that publishing agreements, or any other serious agreements, are not just a matter of saying yes or no; they entail more than that and they are sealed by signing a contract.

What is a publishing contract?

A publishing contract is an agreement between the publisher and the author to publish a work. It is usually signed after a series of meetings and it’s legally binding but is also contractual – it can be terminated, but this is followed by penalties.

Publishing contract explained

A publishing contract is explicit by nature. It outlines all the information pertaining the book and details how it is going to be published, and the obligations of all parties involved in the project, including the dos and don’ts.

Some of the clauses in the publishing contract are:

  1. details of the publisher and author
  2. nature of work (working title, genre, extent, audience, underlying theme)
  3. obligations of each party – duties and responsibilities
  4. rights – copyrights and publishing rights
  5. deadlines – delivery of work to the author or publisher
  6. payment – royalties or independent publisher services and the terms
  7. warranties and indemnity
  8. confidentiality
  9. termination – including the costs or penalties

5 reasons you need the publishing contract

When you have agreed on all issues regarding the publishing of your book, you sign the publishing contract and it will become your go-to reference document.

Here is what the publishing contract will do:

  1. binds the author and publisher to their obligations, duties and responsibilities
  2. protects each party in case of disputes
  3. sets out who owns the copyright and which publishing rights
  4. acts as assurance for the viability of the project
  5. seals the verbal agreement between the author and publisher

What you should watch out for in a publishing contract

“Look at how the contract talks about three main points; time, money and ownership.”  –  Katie Lane

1. Payments and rights

With a traditional publisher, you get royalties for your book. While there are many ways to calculate them, the amount is more or less the same – 10%, with some of your publishing rights signed off to the publisher. Do your research and know what you are entitled to as a writer and how often you will get the royalties. You save yourself a great deal of surprises.

However, if you go the independent publisher route, you do not have to worry about royalties, but your contract with the publisher will detail the payments you will make to the publisher and the schedules. Your rights are also safe with you as the creator of the work as you retain the copyright and publishing rights over your work. Sign the contract only if you fully agree with what’s on the document.

2. Reasonable time frames

This is one area which is often overlooked by most authors. Writing is a process which takes time, so is the same with the publishing process. As your contract clearly stipulates the deadlines for each stage of book publishing to be completed, do not forget that you have a life outside writing or other writing projects that you might be doing. Cater for those in calculating the time required to write, rewrite or revise your manuscript so that you agree to practical and reasonable deadlines. One thing you should avoid is doing a rushed job. Agree to deadlines which will allow you to do your work to satisfaction, but also creating a balance with the other book publishing processes to follow.

3. A fair deal

We all want a fair deal in life, don’t we? There’s nothing wrong with it and that is what your contract with the publisher should provide. This reminds me of pro bono editorial services that I once did for one writer in exchange of a credit of my name as the editor on their copyright page. However, the author texted me one weekend stating that she was unhappy about what we had agreed on, regarding her crediting me as the editor of the book.  She wanted a fair deal, and had she not highlighted that, she was going to spend her life with sour feelings towards the copyright page which would have borne my name on it as the editor. Before you sign the contract, make sure you are getting a fair deal for your work and that all your doubts are addressed and settled to your satisfaction as the creator of the work.

4. Termination

Because a contract is a project which the publisher and author invest in, its termination carries penalties and costs. You will realise that most contracts will state if the author/publisher have or do not have the right to terminate the contract, but circumstances which may be beyond your control or your publisher’s will eventually lead to the termination of the contract. You may want to ask yourself this; What do I stand to lose if I terminate the contract? What costs will I incur? What consequences will I likely suffer or what actions are likely to take place?

Make sure you clearly read and understand your options for breaking the deal, if ever it comes to that, and weigh them over staying in the contract.

5. Jargon

Well, in the publisher’s industry, there’s jargon which the publisher will use to draft the contract. That should not intimidate you! Seek clarity where it’s not clear; ask questions where you do not understand; seek legal advice; do your homework – anything to get you acquainted with the details on paper. At the end of the day, jargon is the publisher’s daily song and we cannot run away from it.

6. Negotiation

Another thing which you should be open about in your verbal agreement before signing the contract is negotiating with your publisher – you both express your requests openly in order to reach an agreement that will best suit your book.


Before you sign the publishing contract, read it thoroughly and carefully, and be sure that you understand and agree to every detail you are signing for, even the one you think is silly. After all, it’s an agreement and no one is imposing anything, and it’s between you and your publisher but of all things, make sure that the contract protects you and your interests – it doesn’t make you do what you do not want to do with your work. So, know what you can do, say, or not under your contract. It’s a done deal! The journey to publishing your book begins and it’s an exciting one – it’s like waiting for that bun in the oven to rise and brown.





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