Answering Questions on Contracts, Part 1 of 2

Last week I did a post giving a cursory glance at a few important clauses in publishing contracts. It would take a whole book to go into detail on contracts, so on this blog I’m just trying to get you familiar with some of the basics. Today I’m going to answer some of the questions that came in on last week’s post. (I answered some of the questions already, in the comments.)

Kevin Dillon asked: What is the traditional/usual price for the advance for first time author?

→ The reason I didn’t give examples of specific numbers is because I wasn’t kidding when I said that advances are all over the map. Even for first-time authors, there is a huge range of advances depending on type of publisher, genre, and author platform—but it always comes down to the perceived strength of the book in terms of the sales it will generate. In my 3 years of agenting, I’ve done contracts for single-book advances from $1000 to $120,000.

R.D. Allen asked: I’ve heard that you should only talk about a single work in a query letter, but then I hear about people getting a three book contract. Is it normal to get a contract for more than one book, or is it rare?

→ You only pitch a single book in a query (although you can mention it’s the first in a planned series) but keep in mind there’s a LOT that happens between the query and the contract! An agent who sees strong potential for a multi-book contract will pitch it as a series if they believe the author is strong enough and can deliver multiple books in a timely manner. Also keep in mind this varies between publishers. Some tell us “We prefer to start authors with single book deals” and others say “We try to do series as often as possible.” (See this post from editor Alan Rinzler.)

T. Anne asked: Does WordServe handle all foreign rights/film rights themselves?

→ No, we work with sub-agents when doing foreign or motion picture rights.

Rhyanna asked: What if an Author wants to donate to military—those stuck on ships, subs, etc. Would the Publisher be willing to negotiate on this charitable contribution?

→ I’m not sure what you’d be asking the publisher to do here, Rhyanna. Give you more free copies so that you could donate? Give you a better buyback discount? Or are you asking them to donate books directly? You’d need to identify exactly what you’re hoping for and talk to your agent about it; they’d help you determine whether to mention it during contract negotiations. My perspective is that this is side-issue and I’d be careful not to muddy the negotiation waters by bringing up things that can be handled later and don’t need to be addressed in the contract. (I guess it all depends on how important this is to you.)

Hope this helps! Tomorrow I’ll answer more contract questions.

© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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