April 15, 2008
Putting Out a Contract
* Handling Multi-Author Contracts. Woll says, "I have been involved in too many contracts in which . . . the joint relationship between . . . authors has become strained or broken down entirely" (p. 132). No one takes responsibility, or each author tells you something different. If an agent is involved, that can help—or make it more complicated. The publisher "must know precisely who has the final contractual authority [and] . . . can provide definitive, legally binding solutions."
* What About Undelivered Manuscripts? Woll offers several options.
* The Problem of Returns. Many publishing contracts allow for a royalty reserve for potential returns. The reality is, however, that a book's return rate declines as time passes. Instead of a flat percent, Woll recommends a sliding scale: a higher rate the first year, a lower rate the next year and a lower rate still thereafter. Authors and agents, in his experience, are fine with this system since it reflects the reality of the marketplace. "Some mass-market publishers withhold 60% for the first few royalty periods, which tells you the state of that market" (p. 140).
I recommend an annual review and (if needed) revision of your standard author contracts for new projects. That one you've been using since the 1930s (or 1990s) probably won't do the trick. The publishing world changes constantly, and you learn things constantly. Contracts should reflect that.