July 7th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
Must Have Contract Clauses

I’ve spent the last four weeks negotiating a new three book contract for my Hunt Chronicles trilogy.  Publishing contracts are usually long, convoluted, and written in legalese, making them a pain in the neck to wade through but wade through them you must.  In order to help me make sure I’ve covered all the major bases, I have a short little checklist of clauses that must be in every contract that I sign.  I thought I’d take my column today to share that list of clauses with you.  They are by no means the only clauses that will be in a contract, but represent rather the baseline minimum that I’m looking for in the document. In no particular order, these are…

Description clause: This section of the contract spells out just what it is you are selling to the publisher.  It can be very detailed (including things such as an attached synopsis or chapter outline) or it can be rather vague, with just a working title and a short description of the work.  For instance, the description for my novel HERETIC simply stated “a contemporary horror novel based on the legend of the Knights Templar.

Delivery and Acceptance clause: This section of the contract spells out what is being delivered and when.  It should state how long the manuscript needs to be and the date on which is is due.  Sometimes it will also define just what procedures are necessary for the publisher’s acceptance of the manuscript.

Grant of Rights clause: The grant of rights defines what geographical territories are covered by the contract.  For U.S. contracts, this will typically be English language rights in a given territory (say, North American rights) or world rights.  This is a particularly important part of all of my contracts as I write original novels for publishers in multiple countries and need to be certain that I don’t give up rights that can earn me additional income down the line.

Subsidiary Rights clause: Subsidiary rights are any rights in addition to the print rights defined in the Grant of Rights clause.  These can include print rights in other languages and territories, electronic/digital rights, audio rights, film and theatrical rights and the like.   Remember that every set of rights you retain and later sell to another publisher can earn you additional income and so you want to be careful about including too many of these in the primary grant of rights.  If you do release subsidiary rights to the primary publisher, any sales made on your behalf will then credit against your advance, however.

Advance clause: What I like to call the “show me the money” clause, the advance clause stipulates how much you will be paid for the work in question as well as the schedule on which that money will be paid.  Typically, an advance is broken into multiple payments – an example would be 1/3 when the contract is signed, 1/3 when it the manuscript is delivered and accepted, and 1/3 on publication.

Royalties clause: The royalties clause defines the royalty percentage based upon type of publication (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback) and the number of copies sold.  Most publishers will pay royalties on a sliding scale – the more copies have been sold, the higher the royalty percentage.  For instance, my very first contract with Simon & Schuster had a royalty percentage based on the first 150,000 mass market copies sold and a different percentage for everything over that.  Rates for hardcover and trade paperback publication were included, but never came into play.  This clause should also spell out when royalty statements and checks will be issued.

Out-of-Print/Termination clause: This clause is an extremely important one as it defines just when the rights to the work revert back into your control.  With the advent of electronic publishing and print-on-demand publishing, it is technically possible to keep a work “in-print” indefinitely, so care should be taken to be certain that a specific definition is included herein.

Duty to Publish clause: The duty to publish clause basically outlines just how long the publisher has to put the work into print and what happens if they fail to do so.

There are quite a few other clauses that you will see in a contract – option clauses, clauses that govern how and when you can examine the publisher’s books, copyright clauses, correction of proof clauses, indemnity clauses, etc – but those noted above are the ones that I focus in on first when looking at a contract for the first time, particularly since they are the type of clauses that can make or break a deal for me.

(And for the curious among you, The Hunt Chronicles – EYES TO SEE, HANDS TO HEAL and A SOUL TO LOSE – will be published in hardcover by Tor beginning next year.)

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5 comments to “Must Have Contract Clauses”

  1. Carrie Vaughn
     · July 7th, 2009 at 4:56 pm · Link

    Congratulations on the deal, Joe! That’s awesome. And may the contract review be as painless as possible. This is my very least favorite part of the whole business.

  2. Joe Nassise
     · July 7th, 2009 at 5:23 pm · Link

    Oh I hear you, I hear you. I dislike this part too. Looks like we’ve got it all squared away though and I’m excited to have my work back in English again!

  3. Thad McIlroy
     · July 16th, 2009 at 5:58 pm · Link

    This is a great first stab at Must Have Contract Clauses but I think most writers would benefit from a more in-depth account on understanding author contracts. Some publishers are open to negotiation on these issues; others are very inflexible.

    There are quite a few books available, but I don’t think it’s necessary to provide THAT MUCH information to be helpful.

    The British Society of Authors has some good material online ( but the best stuff is reserved for paying members.

    There a good article here ( that examines how the changes in publishing (eBooks, etc.) raise a whole new series of issues that authors need to be aware of when signing a contract.

    But I couldn’t find a good all-purpose guide available for free on the Web. Can anyone help?

  4. Margery
     · July 7th, 2011 at 2:40 pm · Link

    Right on—this hlpeed me sort things right out.

  5. U shaped Desk
     · November 20th, 2014 at 2:17 am · Link

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