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Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Contract with a Publisher

Ask Questions Before Signing Image Copyright 2016 Joan Y. Edwards
Ask Questions Before Signing Image Copyright 2016 Joan Y. Edwards

“Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Contract with a Publisher” by Joan Y. Edwards

Questions to ask and information to know before you sign on the dotted line with a publisher. There are many things that came to my mind when I decided to write this article. I know that my list is not the end-all list. I know there are other factors for you to consider. However, if you find the answers to the questions posed here, I believe you will be on the path to a good publishing experience.
8 Things to Investigate Before You Submit to a Publisher
Consider this background check on your potential publisher.
  1. Check out their website. Look at the book covers. Are they eye-catching? Do they have at least ten books in your genre?
  2. Check Whispers and Warnings on Writers Weekly: http://writersweekly.com/category/whispers-and-warnings
  3. Look for testimonies or complaints for the company on line. Search company name + scam (fraud, rip-off, lawsuits,”Better Business Bureau”)
  4. Do they charge fees for editing, illustrating, ISBN numbers or for any other reason? Traditional publishers will not charge you fees for anything. Vanity publishers or publishers to help you self-publish may charge fees. Usually, you don’t want to choose a publisher who charges fees. This is your choice. Believe in you.
  5. Buy one of their books or read one from the library. Check it for professional formatting and editing.
  6. Follow them on their company Facebook or LinkedIn pages. Sign up for their newsletters.
  7. Read their submission guidelines thoroughly and follow them with precision. Read their guidelines aloud. Check to make sure all requested items are in your submission package. If you don’t follow the guidelines, you’re sabotaging your success. Many publishers want you to submit your manuscript electronically; others prefer paper copies sent via snail mail. 
17 Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Publisher Before You Sign a Contract
Here are 17 questions I think are worth asking before you sign your publishing contract.
  1. Do you have a return policy for bookstores? If the publisher doesn’t have a book return contract with the distributors, it may be difficult or impossible to get your books on the shelves of bookstores. About this book return policy. On behalf of the publishers who do not offer book returns any more: As I understand it, the contract says booksellers can return books from now to infinity and beyond. That’s not quite fair. It seems to me that having a 60 day return policy would be good, but not a lifetime return policy. When a big named national bookstore chain went into bankruptcy a few years ago, they nearly washed out a lot of small publishers because they returned so many books. The books weren’t necessarily returned in good condition which meant that they couldn’t be sold to anyone. The publishers had to return the money the booksellers paid for the books which was thousands of dollars. And all of it came out of the small publisher’s bank account at the same time from different bookstores. This was bad news for everyone – the bookseller and the publisher. Many of these small traditional book publishers had to do away with the return book policy for books for this reason. Some required loans to keep afloat.
  2. Will your publisher send galley proofs of your book for review by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, or other reviewers before the book’s release? Who will review your book for them? How will you obtain reviews. Will your publisher assist you in obtaining more than 25 reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, GoodReads, or other places where people buy books online. In 2013, Jeremy Greenfield stated that in 2011 more books were sold online than in physical bookstores according to Bowker Market Research. It’s possible that you don’t need your books in every brick and mortar bookstore. Perhaps you’ll only need to get them in your local bookstores.
  3. Will you be able to get your books into local bookstores on consignment? What cost will you have to pay for your books personally? What percentage discount will you receive? Bookstores demand a 40% discount for your books. If you only get a 30% discount when you buy the books from the publisher, you’ll be up a creek without a paddle in making enough profit when you bookstores take your books on consignment at 40% off. Some book stores charge a fee of $25.00 to $30.00 to carry your books in their stores on consignment.
  4. Who is going to buy your books? Who does your publisher see as the market for your book? People can order books from a bookstore with the ISBN number and probably will not have to pay for shipping. If they have Amazon Prime they will get free shipping. If they have the Barnes and Noble membership, they will get free shipping.
  5. Does your publisher have ways to get your books in libraries? How? How many of their books are in your local library? Libraries seem purchasing more digital copies because of tight budgets. Contact your local library and see if they’ll order a digital copy of your book.
  6. Who is your book distributor? Ingram and Baker and Taylor are possible ones. The printer and the book distributors both take a hunk out of the money your publisher receives when a book sells. The publisher has pay them a percentage of it.
  7. How will the publisher market your book? Online, in stores, and other ways? See if they can mention ten ways. What are ten ways you personally plan to market your book?
  8. Will the copyright be yours or yours and publishers? Writer’s Relief says to find an intellectual property lawyer who specializes in publishing to review your contract. 
  9. Is there an out clause for both you and the publisher in your contract? Writer’s Relief suggest that you ask an intellectual property lawyer who is skilled and experienced with reading over publishing contracts to give you his advice. Publishing companies go through changes. I signed with a company who stopped publishing children’s books a week or so after I signed my contract with them. If the publisher has been in business for a long time, chances are they’ll still be in business a few years down the road. If they’ve always published your genre, chances are they’ll still publish your genre. If they don’t, you should be able to opt out of your contract. Keep your eyes and ears open.
  10. Will your book be print on demand or bulk publishing (hundreds or thousands of copies at a time)? What size book?
  11. As the author, will you give me any free books? I received 2 free books. Kathleen Burkinshaw received 15 free books. Thanks for suggesting I add this question, Kathleen.
  12. Will they do an eBook, paperback, or hardback? Which copy will be first? Second? Third? What time frame? Some companies do the eBook first. Others do the hardback or paperback first. Some don’t do an eBook.
  13. If the publisher asks you if you’re willing to change your manuscript, ask them what kind of changes are they talking about? Are they only punctuation and grammar? Are they character and plot changes? Will you need to add chapters or take away chapters from a non-fiction book? Ask them to be specific so you can make a good decision.
  14. What is the maximum word count or number of pages for your final edit? Books cost more according to the number of pages. In an effort to keep the cost down, you and your publisher may limit the number of pages in your book.
  15. Will the editor be available by phone as well as by email? I suggest that you ask if you and your editor and the main editor of the imprint talk together to discuss the plans for editing your book before the editing process begins and then monthly to make sure all of you are on the same page.
  16. What is the scheduled release date? If the release date is many years away, are you willing to wait? Do you have enough patience and fortitude to carry you through a long process to publication. The waiting process for one year is stressful. Each segment of 6 months may add strain and stress to you personally. If the editing process takes longer than planned, this might put the publication date even farther down the path. How will you handle this emotionally?
  17. What percentage royalty will you receive on the amount of money the publisher receives for books sold? 8% for paperback? Would you get 50% for eBooks? Is your royalty higher than 8% for eBooks because there’s no shipping charges, printing charges, etc. What percentage for hardback copies?
Things you may not know
Authors pay for shipping books to them from publisher.
You may also have to pay the tax for your state of residence for the books that you order.

The state where you live expects you to turn in sales tax money to them for the books you sell.

I hope this blog helps you be more aware of things to look for and inspire you to ask more questions before you sign a contract with a publisher. I wrote these as an author; however, they would probably help an illustrator, too. I wrote them to help you to keep on going and not give up.


You inspire me. Thank you for reading my blog.
Please share questions or information you believe writers and illustrators should know before they sign the contract with a publisher.

Giveaway Ended September 9, 2016.

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Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2016 Joan Y. Edwards
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