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A client in our book ghostwriting business recently called to tell me a publisher was interested in offering him a book deal. Of course I’m always happy when clients see success with projects we’ve helped them create, and this time was no different. We talked about the merits of accepting a book deal, which got me thinking about several things to consider when deciding if a book offer from a publisher will be a good fit for you. When I landed my first book deal (which I later terminated) and even my second one, I didn’t know much about book contracts. But now, as an experienced author and editorial consultant to other authors, I have learned just how important it is to read through the contract and negotiate your points — or skip the contract and stick to self-publishing.

Many authors self-publish to get their works in front of readers, just as our client did. Some of those find that their self-publishing success draws the attention of traditional publishers, who come with book deal offers in-hand. But just because a publisher offers you a deal doesn’t mean you should take it. It all depends on your interests, goals, and plans for your book. Even if you have a literary agent, you could still end up signing a bad contract, if you don’t know what to look for. So here are several considerations when entertaining a book deal offer:

  1. Money offered. This is an obvious consideration. Every author who gets offered a book deal wants to know how much the publisher is willing to pay. Sometimes the advance makes it easy to consider a deal. Sometimes, the money offered by way of advance and royalties isn’t really enough to consider signing over your rights. It just depends on what you are looking for and what the publisher is offering. More and more publishers are offering smaller (if any) advances these days.
  2. Distribution. Will the publisher be able to provide better distribution than you feel that you can? This can be a huge consideration because you may feel that the publisher’s already-established distribution channels will help you gain access to more readers. Or you may decide that your distribution is sufficient or that you can line up the distribution without the traditional publisher as a middleman.
  3. Marketing. What kind of marketing will the publisher put into your book? These days, more and more traditional publishers are leaving marketing up to the authors. So if the authors don’t market the books, then the books won’t get marketed. So if you are already marketing your book or find that the publisher will not put any marketing effort into the book, you may find this will not work for you.
  4. Restrictions. Are there any restrictions in the contract that you feel you can’t deal with? Remember, everything is negotiable, so if you find something in the contract you don’t like, negotiate it. If it can’t be negotiated and you don’t like the restriction, then you may choose not to sign. Restrictions may include but are not limited to genre in which you are allowed to write or even the name you are allowed to use when writing. If you write in more than one genre, for instance, the publisher may include a provision in the contract where you agree not to publish in any other genres while under this contract. Or, if you are a nonfiction author, the publisher may want to restrict the types of books or topics you publish. If you are an expert in multiple areas, this could have serious ramifications and restrict you from publishing works on those topics.
  5. Rights. What rights are you signing over? Do you keep your movie rights? What about digital rights?
  6. Creative control. When you sign a book deal, you are giving creative control to someone else. They own the publication rights, so they get to decide what the final product will be. (The publisher gets to decide what the manuscript says, by requesting/requiring certain editorial changes that you may or may not agree with and the publisher gets to decide on the cover. A cover you may or may not agree with.)
  7. Duration of contract. Is the publisher offering a one-book deal, two-book deal, or something else? You may at first think that the longer the deal, the better. But what happens if you find that you don’t like the publisher? Or that the publisher doesn’t publish the book at all? If that happens, are you then stuck with this publisher through two or more books, anyway?

As you can see, there are many things to consider when looking at a book deal offer. There is no right or wrong answer across the board. It just depends on what is right for you at that time. Maybe having a traditional publisher take over the project and produce it will be a good thing because it can give you greater distribution and marketing help. Or you may find that you’d prefer to keep all rights to your book and sell it yourself or wait for a better offer.

What has been your experience in dealing with publishing contracts?