Book publishing contracts, what to consider

Global Publication September, 2015

Grant of Rights

Every book publishing agreement has a grant of rights clause. Rights in a publishing agreement can be divided into two types: primary rights and subsidiary rights. The primary rights entail the right to publish the book normally in print and electronic format. These rights are typically granted by the author to the publisher. Subsidiary rights are a different dynamic. Subsidiary rights include the rights to make adaptions of the book, the right to translate the book to foreign languages, the right to grant others permission to publish excerpts from the book, the right to publish audio books, the right to produce films based on the book etc. As a general rule the author should only grant these rights to the publisher if the publisher is best placed to exploit them. If the publisher is granted any of these rights it is very important that the agreement caters for rewarding the author for the exploitation of the rights.

Clearances / permissions

It should be clear from the agreement whose responsibility it is for obtaining permission from third parties for use of their works in the book. Normally obtaining clearance is the job of the author. Whilst this makes sense because the author is best placed to know which third party material has been used, the author is not always equipped to obtain permission. The middle ground is to ask the author to identify all third party text materials used in the book and for the publisher to handle the obtaining of permission. The cost of obtaining the clearances can be offset against the royalties payable to the author.


There should be a clause dealing with when the author is expected to deliver the manuscript. This clause should also be clear on what type of content is expected from the manuscript and what happens if the publisher is not satisfied with the content. The publisher should be obliged to notify the author of its objections, and to give the author at least one opportunity to revise and resubmit the manuscript.

Competing works clause

It is always in the best interests of the publisher to have a provision in the agreement restraining the author from authoring competing works. The author’s ability to write competing works or materials may negatively affect publisher’s ability to exploit the book.

Revision clause

There should be a provision in the agreement to the effect that the author will provide, as necessary, any revisions and updates to the book. Alternatively, the publisher may wish to reserve its right to elect an alternative author to do a revision of the book and to continue to use the authors name for such revised book.

Warranties and indemnities clause

The author should provide the publisher with an indemnity against any claims made by third parties against the book, such as for copyright infringement, defamation, invasion of privacy etc.

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