Pop Quiz: Which of these are HUGE red flags in a publishing contract?

a) Charging for editing.
b) “Life of copyright” contract length terms.
c) Asking for rights other than ebook and print formats.
d) “Net” not clearly specified.
e) Taking ownership of copyright for length of contract.
f) Nebulous “editing” clauses that allow the publisher to make changes without the author’s approval.
g) Typos in the contract itself.
h) Taking rights “not yet invented.”
i) Nebulous “out of print” terms.

The answer, of course, is “all of the above.”

Unfortunately, I’m looking at two contracts (from the same publisher) sent to me by friends. I wish I was making the above list up, but I’m not. They are all in the contracts, and then some. There are even more red flags in the contracts than the ones I’ve listed above.

Please, do your research. Always read and understand contracts before signing them. NEVER sign contracts for “life of copyright.” Make sure the contract specifies a limited timeframe, like 5 years or 7 years or something similar. NEVER assign your copyright to someone else in a contract (unless you’re going into a pre-arranged work-for-hire situation). NEVER sign a contract with a “publisher” who charges you for editing. NEVER sign a contract where “net” isn’t clearly stated. (If it states that “other” charges can be deducted from “net” don’t sign it, because that’s a gateway to allowing the publisher to tack on other “expenses.”)

If you’re signing a contract with a publisher, all money should flow TO the writer, not away. The publisher assumes the burden of expenses related to publishing the book. There should NEVER be ANY charges in the contract. The ONLY exception to this rule is if they specify authors can (NOT “will” or “must”) purchase discounted print copies from them. That’s IT.

There should NEVER be charges for covers, editing, “office expenses,” promotion, etc. EVER.


Repeat after me: EVER.

Otherwise, you might as well be self-publishing, or using a vanity press service.

Do. Your. Research.

Read. The. Contract.

NEVER sign a contract you do not thoroughly understand.

And NEVER sign a contract based on verbal agreements that appear NOWHERE in the contract. Get EVERYTHING in writing. EVERYTHING.


Because in a court of law, the only thing that will protect you is what you have in writing. Make sure that contract isn’t the worst weapon against you.

I’ve blogged about contract red flags before over on my WriteYourAssOff.com blog: Contract Red Flags.


Feel free to comment about red flags you’ve run across in your time, or questions you might have.

Pop Quiz: Contracts

2 thoughts on “Pop Quiz: Contracts

  • December 19, 2013 at 4:45 am

    The more stuff like this I see, the happier I am with my decision to self-publish. I’m sure my decision had nothing to do with me finding the passive rejection of no sales easier to deal with than the active rejection of a publisher’s FOAD letter. 😉

  • Pingback:A Bad Publishing Contract Deconstructed, Part 1 | TymberDalton.com

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