Book Contract - Outlined

The Clauses of a Book Publishing Contract Explained

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Book contract wording and book contract terms vary by publisher, by imprint, and by individual deals. In addition to the specific terms the author and publisher have agreed upon for things like the type of book, the advance against royalty amount and the delivery date, the standard book contract encompasses a lengthy number of clauses covering important points in a book's life cycle and an author's livelihood.

Following is a list of the typical clauses of a book contract, along with brief descriptions as to their purpose: 

The Work 

The nuts and bolts of what is to be delivered. "A novel of approximately 40,000 words"; or "A cookbook with 100 recipes and 50 color photographs." 

Description of the Work 

Further important details of the agreed-upon content ("a mystery novel in the Spooky Attic series, featuring the character Detective Dusty," or "recipes for everyday family-friendly dishes that take no more than 15 minutes to cook").

Grant of Rights: Territories

The publisher likes to get World Rights to any and all editions of the work, for the duration of the copyright (currently, the author's life plus 70 years). 

Advance Against Royalties

Outlines the payment schedule for the upfront monies given to the author. It's important to know how book advances work.

Delivery and Acceptance of Manuscript

Details delivery dates of the full text of the book, penalties or out clauses if the manuscript isn't delivered, etc.

Proofreading and Author's Corrections

Basically, helps puts the kibosh on any extensive (and expensive) editorial changes once the book goes into copyediting/production. 


Concerns the publisher's obligations to bring the book to market within a certain timeframe. 

Promotional Materials / Promotion by Author

Concerns the author's obligations to the books promotions (cooperation, use of materials/photos in promotion, etc.) For high-profile authors, this clause sometimes includes a guarantee to actively appear and promote the book for a certain amount of time (say, two weeks).

Author Copies

Authors are usually contractually entitled to a limited amount of "free" copies of their book, usually 20 – 25, and then allowed to purchase additional copies at a discount (generally 50% of the cover price). Note that many contracts stipulate these copies are for personal use and explicitly not for resale. If you're an author who intends to sell your book (say, at readings or book signings), make sure to negotiate this point to come to a different resale agreement.


Dictates how the copyright notice should appear (if you're the author, it should be in your name, not the publisher's.) 


It is generally a long and complex section.  

Subsidiary Rights

Subsidiary rights also make up an extensive portion of the book contract.  

Settlements of Accounts

Concerns the accounting of royalties, timing of payments and royalty statements, etc.. 

Competitive Works

Prevents the author from writing a competitive work for another publisher at the time of the book's publication. 

Warranties and Indemnities

Guarantees concerning the authorship of the work, that the work isn't libelous, etc. 

Original Work

Concerns the trafficking of original materials and any reparations made for lost or damaged original work. 

Inserts, Back of Book Advertising

Prevents the publisher from selling any part of the book for advertising space. 

Next Publication of Author's Work 

Stipulates that the book contracted will be the next work of the author (i.e., he or she won't publish something before it comes out). 

Option (for subsequent work)

Outlines the publisher's first right of refusal for the author's future work. 


Dictates procedure if the publisher decides to no longer keep the book in print. 

Out of Print 

Dictates the reversion of rights to the author if the publisher decides to put the book out of print. 

Governing Law

Dictates whose law (ex. New York state) governs the contract agreement.


Covers third parties, like heirs, executors, etc. 


Gives the author's literary agent the right to act on behalf of the author and the work with the publisher. 

Reserved Rights

Assigns rights not explicitly stated in the contract to the author. 


Details what happens in the event the publisher declares bankruptcy. 

Full Agreement

This is the signature section. 

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for authoritative legal advice. If you are negotiating a book contract, you should seek the counsel of a literary agent and/or an attorney. The Author's Guild has a contract review service for members.