In this post, I’ll take a closer look at the terms and conditions you’re likely to encounter if you take out a contract with an all-in-one package provider. I’ll advise which clauses are reasonable and which you need to avoid.
Any company you work with needs certain rights over your book, such as the right to print and (if applicable) sell it on your behalf. However, never sign a contract which hands over all rights whatsoever. As the term suggests, this concedes total control over your book. This might include things such as film/TV rights and rights to foreign editions.
Although these are highly unlikely to affect the average self-publisher, there’s no reason why your package provider should have control over them. An all rights whatsoever clause may not be a practical issue in many cases but it is a red flag. It raises questions about the scruples and business practices of any company who insists on owning all rights to a book you’ve written and are paying them to publish.
I’ve heard it implied that you need to be the publisher of record (ie use your own ISBN) in order to secure your rights. This is nonsense. If you publish with a reputable company, there won’t be a problem. You simply need to make sure that your rights are retained and that the copyright is held by you, the author, not the publisher.
Another issue in this area is rights over other books. Make sure there are no terms giving your package provider the right of refusal on future books you may write. I find it hard to believe that any company would have the cheek to charge a thousand pounds to produce your book and have you sign a contract saying they have first dibs on any future work but it’s not unheard of.
Any rights given should be non exclusive. A traditional publishing house invests a lot of money producing, distributing and marketing a book and can expect, in return, to be the sole publisher/distributor.
However, if you self publish, you’re paying for production and therefore, should retain the right to sell your book anywhere you want. Even if you decide to distribute via the package provider’s online bookshop, this should be a non exclusive deal which allows you freedom to sell your book elsewhere at the same time, should you so desire.
If you’re determined to publish with a company that insists on exclusivity, check how long it lasts. At the very least, it should be limited to a specific time period with the option to renew, should both sides wish to.
You should be able to cancel your contract, either immediately or within a reasonable timeframe (eg thirty days’ notice) without penalties and have all unsold stock returned to you. You may, of course, need to pay postage for this.
Ownership of Internal Layout/Cover PDFs
You probably paid several hundred pounds for these designs. Therefore, they should belong to you, not the company who created them. Imagine if you hired a carpenter to make a table. You would expect to own said table at the end of the process and be able to use it however you liked.
Equally, your book PDFs should be sent to you on completion, not least so you can use elements, such as the front cover, for promotional purposes. Your package provider will retain their own copies to allow them to print your book.
If you terminate the contract, you should retain full ownership and the right to use the designs however you want. Always avoid contracts which state you have to return PDFs on termination.
The only slight caveat to this is that you may need to remove any imprint/logo or ISBN tied to the package provider. Unless you own software which can edit PDFs, you’ll need to hire a designer to do this for you. It should, however, be a relatively simple and inexpensive procedure.
In addition to the specific points mentioned above, look out for just plain peculiar or blatantly unfair clauses. These might include the right of the publisher to edit your book without consultation or you being responsible for legal costs in any dispute, no matter who wins. Read through the contract and query anything that looks odd or unfair. It may be that there’s a perfectly logical reason for it but if you’re unsure, always check before signing.
Above all, your contract should be written in plain English, not some legal jargon you’d need a lawyer to decipher. If you don’t understand something, ask and if you don’t get a clear answer or are made to feel stupid, look for another company.
If all of this talk of contracts makes you nervous, just remember most companies aren’t out to trick you. In fact, they take pride in offering a top-notch service. They want you to be happy so you’ll recommend them to others.
In my next post, I’ll focus on one of these companies: Matador.