Writing Tips - Chapter 8 - Contracts and Negotiations

Writing Tips - Chapter 8 - Contracts, Negotiations and Final Edits.


This is where you really need an agent. When it comes to contracts, publishers are not trying to trick you with evil clauses hidden in the small print, but the contracts are drawn up with their best interests in mind.

I'm not going into major detail on this, but unless you are an expert in copyright law and understand the complex world of rights, options, reversion and royalty escalators, then get an agent who does.


I'll cover this briefly, because this is what most unpublished writers focus on, because it's the only thing that's ever reported. Every now and then you hear of someone getting a whopping advance payment - £100,000 or more. Great, eh? Not necessarily. 

An advance is the amount of money the publisher believes they will get back from your royalties. It's not the total amount of money they hope to make from their profits, it's how much they can make back from your cut. The publisher has to make a profit, so if you are getting 10%, they might be getting a much bigger cut - let's just say 30% for now. To earn back your advance payment of £100,000, your book needs to make a profit of £400,000. And as that only covers 40% of the income, your little book has to gross £1,000,000. If the book sells at an average of £5, that's 200,000 books to be sold at full price for you to clear your advance.

Until that point, you don't get a penny in royalties because you've already had them - that was your advance. If you do earn out, then happy days. The publisher had made a fortune and you now have a regular income - so long as the book continues to sell.

If your book sales don't clear your advance, you don't have to pay it back, but the publisher could drop you as a bad investment.

In realistic terms, a small advance is not a bad thing. If the accountant is happy, the publisher is happy. 


As I've already said, publishers always write the contract in their own favour. Everything is negotiable, but it's a fine line between digging your heels in and simply being annoying. An agent understands the subtle game of give and take. We want this, so we'll back down on that. It's a balancing game, and if done well, you both get a contract you're happy with. If not done well, the publisher might draw a line under it and move onto another author. So unless you want to just go ahead and sign all those rights away, get an agent.

Working as a team

The publisher is investing in a product to make money, so they want it to be the best it can be. The first person you'll work with is the editor. It's the editor's job not only to make the manuscript bullet-proof in terms of grammar, but to make sure it hits the market square on the jaw. You can, of course, take a stand if you feel any structural changes go against the heart of the story, but generally speaking, any revisions are to make the book more appealing, or to patch up any plot-holes and inconsistencies.

Here is a screen shot of Buttercup, taken at this stage. I had two editors working on it, so two sets of comments.

It seems incredible that after that structural edit and a detailed copy edit that you can still be getting so many things wrong.That's not really the case - most of these comments are minor suggestions. Sometimes, a scene that is clear in the author's head, just doesn't make sense to someone reading it for the very first time. And even then, mistakes still slip through.

Cover Art

The publisher will brief a designer. The designer will brief the illustrator and they'll work alongside the editor to produce a cover. They might involve you, they might not. Your opinion is important, but it's also nice to take a step back and be surprised at what someone else comes up with.


If you're working on a book which includes illustrations, the insides are a big deal too. The editor, typographer and illustrator all work together on these, and again, they might keep you in the loop.

Proof Copies

A proof copy is an early edition, printed way ahead of the publication date. Depending on the publisher this can be anything from an unformatted e-book, to a paperback with a simple black or white cover, to something that looks and feels like the final thing. Either way, it's a real buzz to hold that thing and feel so close to publication.

The proof copy goes out to reviewers and bloggers in the hope of gaining a bit of a buzz. It is also last chance to mop up any errors that have slipped through the net. I found a beauty in Buttercup Sunshine - This has been through my own copy edits, two editors and a third party copy editor, yet we all missed a paragraph where Mr Blackberry is referred to as Mr Buttercup. - Doh! 

The Author Twilight Zone

The last part of the journey can be quite frustrating. I've blogged on my main page about The Author Twilight Zone. This is the part where the contract is signed, the book is edited and the cover finalised - you might even have a copy of the proof... but you can't say a word.

Not yet.

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