Session 6 – Contracts (12.11.15)

This session centralised around contracts within academic and fiction publishing. The examples we followed were that of Manchester University Press (MUP) for academic publishing; Bluemoose for fiction. Interestingly, there were quite distinguishable differences between both forms of contracts, with Manchester University Press’ contract being much more extensive than that of Bluemoose’s. MUP set out their contract in clauses (sectioned off into categories), whereby Bluemoose’s was one list.
A significant difference is the rights the fiction author has compared to an academic writer; for example, whilst many of the legalities remain similar, TV/Film rights and such like mean the fiction author has much more entitlement, realistically, to such rights on the grounds that academic work will not likely get televised. The only exception to this rule would be academics writing for the general public market, known as crossover publishing (Dark, 2015). For example, authors such as Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking write for the general market in their specialized field of study, and make a living out of this from the royalties of book sales and TV coverage. But as a general rule, in fiction, more money is invested towards the book and there is more than just the author to give royalties to; so too does the literary agent.
This will be valuable knowledge when working within the industry and the legal side is a vital aspect of it.
In terms of the control of contracts, there is no clear dictator. It depends on both. There is a reliance of both publisher and author – and the agent in fiction – to work and maintain a symbiotic relationship. However, it is not uncommon for a rocky relationship to develop when dealing with contracts. For example, for both MUP and Bluemoose, it is expected that if they are to publish an author’s first book/publication that they have the right to see their next book before any other publishing house. In other words, they have the right to accept or refuse their next work. And this can cause disagreements.
Advances may be paid in one go, on signature, but don’t be surprised if the publisher proposes paying half on signature and half on publication, or in thirds. This is to stop authors running off with money given in advance. As Chris Holifield states, ‘an advance is literally an advance payment and royalties on sales of the book are set against it.’ (Holifield, 2013). Publishers tend to offer advances than royalty payments; this is most likely to affect academic writers as they often do not have a finished work and would have the incentive to receive money for writing it, especially if the Academic Press approached them.
Publishers sell books to booksellers at a discount off the published price, which can vary from 35% for small independent bookshops to 70% (Holifield, 2013). For example, at MUP, Tony Mason explained that for a book which cost £14.99, they would aim to sell that book to Waterstones for £8.99.
In addition, we glossed over other areas of contract clauses such as subsidiary – the added on rights – and remaindering rights – books that aren’t sold and are sold on elsewhere for a vastly reduced cost. These examples were useful to know as it allowed me to gain knowledge into these areas, and considering contracts are a highly important part of the publication process, this was a very valuable insight indeed.

Dark, Tom. (2015) [talk during university visit]. 16 November 2015.

Holifield, Chris. (2013). Advances & Royalties – Inside Publishing. [date accessed 19 November 2015].


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