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Advice: Book contracts

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Dark_Knight, Jan 3, 2015.

  1. Dark_Knight

    Dark_Knight Member

    In the past month, I've been fortunate enough to have an idea for a book fall in my lap. It entails a traumatic event a friend of mine went through, and he's asked me to write about the experience for him. We've had quite a few bites from publishers off the feelers we've sent out, and now we're getting down to the financials: signing a contract and working out payment.

    That's the issue. I've done my share of freelancing for newspapers and magazines and haven't had much of a problem negotiating pay, but this feels like an entirely different deal. So far, we've already spent at least 48 hours hashing out what happened, and we're NOWHERE near close enough to get serious about writing––there has to be at least another 100-plus hours just sorting through notes and records alone. And he, along with a few publishers, want to have a draft completed by April.

    So, to those of you who have dealt with book contracts and payments before, how did you negotiate your contract?

    A proposal he submitted to me is a percentage an advance (10%), as well as a percentage of the book's sales (5%). Does that seem fair? My immediate reaction was that seems a little low considering I'll be doing all the writing. Then again, he's a good friend looking to share his story, and this is a great opportunity for me to write my first book and add that to my résumé.

    Another flag that immediately jumped out was that in his proposal––which, should be noted, was written from a friend of his in the publishing company––is that there are no guarantees that my name will be submitted as the author of the book, depending on how much additional work the publishing company has to do once the draft has been submitted.

    I feel completely out of my element here. On one hand, I really want to help out a friend and get my first book published. On the other, I don't want to agree terms and completely burn myself and get paid much less than is reasonable.
  2. SoccerFan

    SoccerFan Member

    That royalty/payment structure seems a bit off (both the terms and the language). You usually get an advance on royalties ... an advance is a firm number, not a percentage, and is typically paid in a couple of installments (50 percent upon signing the contract and the other 50 percent upon acceptance of the manuscript, for example). Next, royalty structure varies and depends on hardcover or paperback book sales, although there are standard ranges for these areas. However, there are a bunch of other areas that require special attention.

    Understand that publishers/acquisition editors want the contract to be most favorable to them, which often means least favorable to the author. That's why authors prefer having literary agents handle their negotiations, but it's not absolutely necessary. You can hire a lawyer that has experience with contracts -- or you can seek out help with an entity like the Author's Guild.

    Anyway, PM me for more information. I've signed two book publishing contracts with traditional publishers and would be happy to answer questions and share my experiences.
  3. ringer

    ringer Member

    10% is extraordinarily low, imo. Book writing will consume your life -- and you (not your friend) will have to deal with all the editing and re-writing. I wouldn't settle for less than 50%. I'd actually try to shoot for more than that. Already, you said you've spent 48 hours just discussing it. It's only going to get more labor intensive. And you'll likely be turning down other opportunities (read: income) you can't even foresee.

    Another time-consuming factor: doing business with a friend. There will likely be significant battles over deciding what should go in and stay out of the story. Especially if your friend is not a writer and/or doesn't understand that he won't be the only source of information. Reporting will be necessary to see the full scope of the incident (i.e. which means talking to other people affected by it -- and he may not like what they have to say).

    Bottom line: when negotiating this, try to forget that he's a friend. Business is business.

    Lastly, you should make sure the contract requires that you get a co-author credit. Think about it: if he's a friend, why would he deny you that? And he refuses: then what's the point of writing it? (10% of an advance that might not even cover your costs or lost income?)

    Good luck! And if you can, let us know what happens.
  4. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Don't know if it's true but I've heard that book royalties are a pipedream for most books as they barely cover the advance. Better be a hell of a story if you plan on making money based on proposed deal. You need an agent.
  5. Screwball

    Screwball Member

    Unless you are Stephen King or Elizabeth Gilbert or someone similar, with a proven track record of book sales, the chances of any significant advance are next to nil. You'll have to submit on spec, which means you will be doing a lot of work to prepare a proposal. The overwhelming odds are that the proposal will be rejected. (Nothing personal, just the odds). If the proposal is accepted, you'll probably be looking at a percentage of profits. Either way, you'll have done a lot of work without any money coming in from a publisher. Best to figure out how to protect yourself -- maybe charge your friend a flat fee for your work, with a small percentage of royalties if the book takes off. And, yes, you both should consult an agent.
  6. Dark_Knight

    Dark_Knight Member

    Ringer, the percentage seemed extremely low to me, too. So what's realistic to ask for, 50 percent? A flat fee plus royalties like you said, Screwball? I've already had to turn down other freelance gigs because this is consuming so much of my life already, not to mention working full time on top of it all. I'd be interested in talking to an agent, but they're wanting to hash out a contract by the end of the week. And, from what I'm being told, they're targeting a tentative release date by April...
  7. swenk

    swenk Member

    Strongly suggest you consider taking a flat fee to write the book, plus 30% of any additional proceeds (royalties, subrights, etc). I'm assuming you're a work-for-hire with no control over the size of the deal, promotion, or sales. You're in charge of the writing: Decide what that's worth to you, and let your friend factor it into his decision about the advance he takes.
  8. ringer

    ringer Member

    WHO wants to hash out a contract by the end of the week? Is a publisher ready to sign a deal without seeing a sample chapter and book outline? That's highly unusual. Or is this your friend applying pressure? If it's the friend -- then you can already tell what this project is going to be like. He doesn't care what your schedule is.

    Remember, you're going to be doing ALL the work. Figure out what you want your salary to be for two years, and base your fee on that. Significant royalties may never kick in. Often, X number of books must be sold first, and sometimes publishing houses do a piss-poor job of promoting the book, which automatically kills that number.

    If the dude insists on creating a percentage, do not settle for less than 50% -- unless the guy is famous and name recognition would likely lead to huge sales. Otherwise, you're going to be doing 90% of the work for 20-30-40% of the pay, and there will be no joy in mudville.

    Hold your ground. Keep us posted.
  9. Fire Marshall Bill

    Fire Marshall Bill New Member

    Good advice and info here.

    I'm in the closing stages of a book project and I can attest that it will consume your life.

    Get a deal that you can be happy with and one that will compensate you as well as possible.

    I had some written material to work with, did about 40 short interviews, and I'd estimate it took nearly 300 hours for a 350 page book.

    Always take the over when estimating the time involved, especially considering that you're writing for another party (I was as well). It makes it a longer process.

    Good luck. It can be exhausting and gratifying and everything else in between too.
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