Book publishing contracts

I’ve had one contract with a publisher that went really well. Now I’m on my second contract with a different publisher, so I’ve made some notes about what you should look out for. Please note these contracts are with Chinese publishers, so I’ve included Chinese terms:

Book format
Size, number of pages, whether it’s paperback or hardback etc. This is important because you need to make sure the contract only covers rights to this work, and that that you won’t be left out of ebook etc sales.

Publishing rights (专有使用权)
The publisher is only buying the right to publish the book for a specified period of time, in a specified language, to be sold in a specified country or region. Make sure this is all clear, and that you’ll be paid if the book is published in any additional languages or regions. This is usually done through selling the rights to a foreign publisher, and the payment is split 50/50 between publisher and author.

When will the book be published?
The contract should have the deadline when you (the author) have to hand over the manuscript. The publisher should then state the book will be published within six months of receiving the manuscript. If this is not possible, a future publishing date can be discussed. If this publishing date is missed a second time the author has the right to annul the contract. In my case the publisher delayed by 18 months, but I didn’t have a better option so stayed with them – I’m glad I did, I ended up with a better looking book and much higher sales than I otherwise would have. But it’s a gamble.

Royalties (版税)
Here’s what I was offered so far:

First contract
10% of retail price X number of books printed, to be paid within 60 days of the book being published. Reprints were the same deal, and this was after tax. Plus five free copies, further copies can be purchased at wholesale price (22% off).

Second contract
8% of retail price for the first 10,000, 9% for the second 10,000 and 10% after that. Half of this money was to be paid up front (an advance), within 30 days of the contract being signed, the other half to be paid within 3 months of the book being published. Note the initial payment was based on an estimated retail price, the second payment based on the actual retail price. And most important of all, this amount was before tax, a very different deal from the first contract. I also got five free copies of the book, and further copied could be bought direct from the publisher at 50% off.

Other stuff
In China the contracts I’ve seen all had a big section about how the author is liable for any libel, illegal content, or ‘divulging of state secrets’. This is followed by a section where you have to swear the work is your own, and if it’s plagiarised you (the fake author) are fully responsible. These seem to be standard cut and paste items.

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