Publishing contract with a new publishing house
November 28, 2013 9:59 AM   Subscribe

A publishing house expressed interest in a story of mine but I know nothing about this side of writing and wanted some Meta Advice regarding royalties and rights.

The publishing house in question is a brand new entity (which is probably why they jumped on my story so quickly - they need writers) and I have no way of checking their background, since they have none. Under normal cicumstances I'd research them and see how they treat the authors, artists, etc. Here, I have no such possibility.

Here are my only questions:

They sent me a sample contract, offering 10% of net price for print copies and 45% net for digital downloads. Is that fair for a work of fiction?

They get exclusive rights to my work and the contract is in force for three years. Am I thinking right that after three years I can take the story elsewhere?

The contract states that I have the sole responsibility for obtaining official copyright through the copyright office if I chose. I live in Britain and thought that the copyright was automatically mine. Since they'll be selling it also in the US, would that mean I'd have to obtain copyright there?

That's it. General wondering about some points I should know about but don't.
posted by I have no idea to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Be VERY wary if they're new or claim to be. It's always possible it's an old scammer, back with a new name.

Some places to start checking on them:
Preditors and Editors
Writer Beware
Internet Publishing list - Piers Anthony
Absolute Write's forum "Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check"

I have no [certain] idea how copyright works in Britain, but my understanding was that it was as in the U.S. - that copyright occurs as soon as the work is created, which includes typing it and saving it in a computer file. If you get no answer here on that, again, I'd recommend Absolute Write.
posted by stormyteal at 12:05 PM on November 28, 2013

Seconding Absolute Write as the place to go to ask this question with specifics. The subforum linked is expressly for that.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:13 PM on November 28, 2013

Yes, please spend some time at Absolute Write reading the forums.

I've read so many threads there by people were excited to be published by new companies, waved aside the warnings ("Everybody needs to start somewhere!") and came back a few years later with sadness. Books that weren't published, books that weren't distributed, books with introduced typos or missing pages or even the wrong title on the cover. Also, most small publishers have zero marketing budget, which means that even if everything goes right, they expect you to drum up readers yourself.

There's a saying you see a lot at AW: "If a book's worth publishing, it's worth publishing well."

Why not take the time to learn how commercial publishing works and start querying agents? It could be a brand new career for you.

Good luck!
posted by Georgina at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is this a story or a novel? If a story, is it going to be part of an anthology? Two to three years is fairly standard for rights reversion (and yes, that means you can then publish it all you want in other markets, though you need to let new markets that you're selling second or reprint rights, not first print.)

Also, WHEN does the clock start on that rights reversion? If it's on execution of contract, great. If it's on publication-- they can literally keep your story forever, if they don't get around to publishing it.

Usually, anthologies pay *some* kind of advance. The anthology I edited, I paid my contributors up front, and then if I make royalties, they get a pro-rated percentage of 50% of any royalties paid me (so, since I had 18 authors, they each get 1/18th of half the royalties.)

I can't imagine what they would do with a story outside an anthology-- print it as a single? Seems to me like a good way for them to tie up your rights for a couple of years without making you any money.

If this is a novel, those percentages just sound weird to me. I'm pretty sure all my royalties are percentages of gross, minus returns and advance. Net can disappear in the magic of funny accounting. Hardcover, I get (around) 12%, paperback, around 7-10%, digital, 25% of sale price.

I've never had to register my own copyright-- the publisher has always done that for me.

Honestly, I would be very wary of this contract. And look at it like this: if the story is genuinely good, someone else (that you *can* vet) will want to buy it.
posted by headspace at 7:07 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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