Book Review: Negotiating a Book Contract

Vision 66

Book Review:

Negotiating a Book Contract by Mark L. Levine


Erin M. Hartshorn

Copyright © 2012, Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved


It's possible that you're tempted to skip right over this review. You're planning to have an intellectual property (IP) lawyer negotiate for you, you want an agent, or you already have an agent. In any case, you won't be doing the negotiation. The truth is, though, that it's going to be your signature on the contract; what it says binds you. Which means it's in your best interest to understand exactly what the contract says, what it means, and what changes you might want to think about asking for.


This book is written to cover all the major provisions of a contract -- the obvious ones, such as royalty rates, advances, and options, but also the more technical ones, such as competing works, warranties, and subsidiary rights. Additionally, the most recent edition of the book has been expanded to include a specific section on electronic rights, as well as one on the agency clause, as those are areas where Levine frequently received questions.


The format of the book is simple: each segment of the contract is broken into a separate section with numbered paragraphs that give specific advice ("Make sure your contract specifies ..."; "Ask the publisher to add a sentence ..."; "Be certain that you understand each right ..."), or discuss points to watch for and various aspects of negotiation (what goes into determining an acceptable advance, for example). The arrangement makes it simple to find advice on specific portions of a contract, or to read through a contract point by point with the book in hand.


Also included in Negotiating a Book Contract are: a sample letter to enumerate changes desired in a contract and a separate section on author-agent contracts (well worth reading if you have an agent, or are planning to look for one).


Sections I found exceedingly interesting included the long segment on subsidiary rights, the section on what happens upon termination of a contract, and the one on defining "out of print" -- truly a tricky prospect in this day of print-on-demand (POD) works and e-books. For example, in the section on what to watch out for with subsidiary rights, Levine points to a) being specific with what you're granting, b) watching out for words like "including," c) arranging for reversion of rights in any form that are not used within a specific time frame, and d) making sure you're not licensing commercial or merchandising rights, along with half a dozen other things.


When I am offered a book deal, I plan to start by re-reading this book, then reading the contract with this book open next to it, making notes as I go. I'll probably still talk to an IP lawyer and have him or her do the negotiation for me, but I'm not into confrontation. I am into making informed decisions, however, especially before I sign my name on a dotted line. This book can help with that.


Levine also answers questions regarding contract language on his Website:


Negotiating a Book Contract by Mark L. Levine

Asphodel Press; Rev Exp edition (July 30, 2009)

ISBN 978-155921-383-7