April 9, 2012

Oh Susanna - What Should A New Author Look For/Watch Out For In A Contract?

I am so full of happy announcements today!  I like to think I'll be spreading joy and cheer like sunshine :)

I assume you all have plenty of Easter candy left over, so feel free to snack while I spread cheer :)

First off, I would like to announce the winner of the March Pitch Pick!  As always, all the entries were terrific, and all the entrants were so brave to put their work out there for everyone to comment on.  Thanks to you, we all learn something new each week.  It would be lovely if everyone could win, but since we have to pick one each month, the polls have spoken and this month's winner is.........
Miranda, with Reef Stew!
Congratulations, Miranda!  Your pitch has already been sent to editor Erin Molta for critique, and we will all look forward to her comments!

Next, as you may or may not remember :), I so appreciate all the work the devoted Perfect Picture Book bloggers do each week that I like to spread a little thank-you cheer by randomly selecting one person each month to win a little prize.  Bloggers get one entry for every Perfect Picture Book they post that month, so in March quite a few people got 5 entries!  In case you are wondering, this month 33 bloggers posted anywhere from 1-5 books each, resulting in 128 new books being added to the list!  I didn't do an exact count, but we now have upwards of 450 books on the list all together.  It's getting to be quite an impressive resource!  Hopefully, parents and teachers out there are beginning to discover it and put it to good use :)

But I digress... :)  I was announcing the March gift winner which is
... dddrrruuummm rrrooollllll...

Thank you so much, Kirsten, for your wonderful additions to the list this month, and thank you to EVERYONE who participates in PPBFs - you are all wonderful!!!

So, hmm... let me rummage around in my goody bag and see what I come up with for this month's prize...  Kirsten, you may email me to receive your choice of one of the following:  The Giblin Guide To Writing Children's Books, An Egg Is Quiet, or Little Bunny Foo Foo: The Real Story.

My next happy announcement is that you folks seem to like the writing contests over here - thank you so much!  Quite a lot of people voted, and the general sentiment seems to be that we should have the birthday story contest in May because April is just a little too busy.  I am happy to oblige.  I want it to be fun for everyone, not stressful :), so if more people will enter and everyone will enjoy it more in May, than May it shall be!

Next on the happy announcement list is that we should have 5 or so new Tour Posts coming from Phyllis in the upcoming week from Vermont, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Australia, and 2 from the UK... if all goes according to plan... which it doesn't always :)  But do stay tuned :)

Also, for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, Phyllis now has her very own Punxsutawney Phyllis Face Book Page for anyone who wants to like her!  She's very excited and hoping to become more popular than Punxsutawney Phil, who currently has 20,885 "likes".  Phyllis currently has 48 "likes" so she has a ways to go, but she is very optimistic :)  Phyllis's page is still evolving, but she will certainly be featuring a Fun Fact Friday!

Finally, my last happy announcement for the day is that I get to babysit for my granddaughter today... which also means I will not be online much as she is 8 months old and crawling :)  So please forgive me if I get a little behind in blog post commenting!

Now that you are all hopefully feeling very cheerful, we shall move on to today's Oh Susanna question.  Donna has a good one.  She asks:

What are some of the key things a new author should find in a "good" contract? The flip side to that would be what are some of "bad" things in a contract that should set off warning alarms for a new author to run for the hills?

Donna, my experience is that contracts are not all that different from publishing house to publishing house. I have dealt with 5 different houses, and they all seem to cover the same basic, standard things.  These include (but may not be limited to):

  • where the publisher has the right to publish your book (USA only, or foreign?)
  • your assurance that your work is original
  • when your manuscript is due in final form
  • the time frame the publisher agrees to publish the book in and at whose expense
  • when galleys and/or proofs will be delivered by the publisher and how much time you have to review them and make any corrections, as well as how much you can change the work without incurring cost to yourself
  • the amount of your advance and when and how it will be paid (full amount on signing, or half on signing, half on delivery of ms, etc.)
  • subsidiary rights (such as book clubs, audio, film rights etc.)
  • how many free copies the publisher will supply the author
  • when statements of account and royalties if they are due will be delivered (usually semi annually, and the publisher will supply the dates)
  • author's right to examine publisher's accounts
  • agreement by author not to publish competing work
  • reversion of rights and termination

I don't think any reputable publishing house would try to hoodwink or cheat an author, but there's no doubt that publishing is a business. The publisher is laying out the money to produce your book and they want to make sure it's worth their while, so the contract will likely be written in their favor.  You as an author, especially a first-time author, may have to consider how hard you want to push for things.  Do you really need a bigger advance/higher royalties/to keep the audio rights etc. if by insisting on such things you may cause the publisher to withdraw their offer?  Many people do push.  Other's (like me) tend to be more complacent.  This is a reason many authors like having an agent - it is the agent's job to negotiate higher advances, better royalties etc.

I'm generalizing here to give you an idea of what to expect, but I think a typical advance to a new picture book author can be anywhere from $1000 - $5000 (depending on the book and the size of the publishing house and other factors), royalties of 5% on hardcover, 6% on paperback are common, publication in 12-24 months (but it can be shorter or longer), and 10-15 free copies of your book are typical.  I don't know how frequently you can expect to get audio rights, or foreign rights, or things like that - sometimes I get them, sometimes the publisher does and I don't have enough data to make a guess.

I'm not really sure what to tell you to be wary of -  certainly any situation where the publisher asks you to pay for things.  Many vanity publishers will do this, but it's not something that should show up in a traditional publishing contract.  And I guess a contract that varied hugely from the generalities above might be something you'd want to look at pretty carefully.

I would recommend having someone look over your contract if you're not familiar with publishing contracts.  I believe there are even resources in SCBWI for this, although I'm not sure.

So I hope that answers your questions somewhat, Donna, and I would be most appreciative of any readers who have knowledge or expertise in this area who would be willing to chime in in the comments!

Have a great Monday, everyone.  See you Wednesday for the next pitch - this one a picture book from Rebecca C!


  1. Great post, Susanna! Congrats to the winners! I went to Phyliss' Facebook page...and "liked" it. :) Thank you for the valuable info on's always good to know upfront what to look out for. This was a very important share!

  2. I'm glad you found it helpful, Vivian. I was worried I might bot be answering the question very well - we'll see if it helps Donna!

  3. Congrads to Miranda and to Kirsten. I'll get over to fb today. Pronto! (I love that word)

    Great question and super answer, Susanna. I am putting it in a folder with all my other Oh Susanna posts. I've always wondered about what is in them and if they are hard to read. You know, with all those big words that I couldn't read without a lawyer's help.

    Sharing this on twitter. :-)

  4. Congrats to Miranda and Kirsten. This was a great question and I thoroughly appreciated your outlined reply, Susanna. I have bookmarked this.....

    Go girl power, I am sure Phyllis can give Phil a run for his money.

    Enjoy your time with your grandaugther.

  5. Thanks, Susanna, for a great detailed answer to my question. I have been wondering about this more and more as I get closer to actually submitting my first manuscript. Your list actually makes me think of one other question that maybe you could answer within this comment...could you please define "competing work"? Do you mean I can't submit two different picture book manuscripts to two different publishing houses at the same time? Or are you referring to multiple submissions of the same work to different publishing houses? Maybe you are talking about something totally different? Lol...thanks for all you do for the writing community!

  6. Congrats Miranda and Kirsten. Enjoy the baby. My weekend guests are about to leave and once I recover I have a whole lot of catching up today - like four days worth. Yikes. I'm wondering as I look at those advance numbers — do most first time PB authors earn out their advance? I know there are a lot of variables.

  7. Wow, so much going on, congrats to Kirsten and Miranda. I think Phyllis's page is absolutely gorgeous and what a fun idea.

    Have yourself a lovely day with your granddaughter!

  8. Enjoy your baby time... Really learned a lot from the tutorial.

  9. Wow, I hardly ever win anything, so THANK YOU! I'll email you my choice and my address. And this contract information is extremely useful. Enjoy that grandbaby!

  10. And congrats to Miranda too, of course. I loved the pitch for Reef Stew.

  11. congrats Kirsten and Miranda. Thanks for the contract advice Susanna, I'm going to bookmark it.

  12. Congrats Ms. Larson and Ms. Miranda! :)

    I had some jelly beans to munch on by my side and they were great! Love Phyllis' Facebook Page I "Liked" it! Go Phyllis! Go!!! ;)

    Great question Ms. Martin! Great answer Ms. Hill! I liked learning more about contracts (I knew very little - only that publishers make contracts with authors and that it allows them to sell their book(s) )!

  13. Thanks for tweeting Robyn! And yeah - contracts have a tendency to make my eyes glaze over. Why are legal documents written in gobbledygook instead of plain English? :) Glad if you found this helpful!

  14. So glad if you found it helpful, Joanna! And I hope Phyllis can give Phil a run for his money - she's much cuter and she'll be sad if she thinks people like hime more :) I am loving every minute with my granddaughter, thank you (she's napping just now which is why I'm here :)) - she's a complete angel! :)

  15. Glad if it's helpful so far, Donna. And yes, as to "competing work" I am referring to something different - not simultaneous submissions. "Competing work" means you wan't submit a ms to another publisher that would detrimentally affect sales of the book the publisher you're signing the contract with bought. For example, if Holiday House buys April Fool, Phyllis, I'm not going to turn around and try to sell The April Fool's Day surprise to Harcourt or something. It means two stories that would actually compete for the same audience. Even a fiction version to one house and a non-fiction book on the she or similar topic to another house would probably be OK - you just can't be competing for the same readers with yourself. Does that make sense?

  16. Yea, Miranda!!! Yea, Kirsten!!! Congrats!
    I'm flat out of Easter candy! Yes, that means I was a pig!
    I had already "liked" Phyllis's FB page...but hey! it let me like it on my laptop as well. Splendid!!! Go Phyllis!!!
    Donna~great question. Susanna~thanks for summing it up in a language that I understand.
    Have a wonderful day with your granddaughter!!!

  17. Thank you, Penny! :) And gld if I said anything helpful!

  18. WOW! Talk about all sorts of wonderful things to share! I love it. And I love your "oh Susanna" posts. I probably tell you that every Monday but that's because it's SO true! I love this information. It's so helpful!

  19. The Sun is how I think of you -- sunny with a dash of happy. Enjoyed your interview with Marcie. Congratulations to the winners, Miranda and Kirsten! Will check out Phyllis' new FB. Hope you had a great day with your granddaughter!

  20. I'm glad to see you exercised enough self-control that you had some jelly beans left - unlike Ms Klostermann :) and glad if you learned something about contracts. Thanks of liking Phyllis - she likes you too! :)

  21. You're welcome! Thank you for all your contributions to PPBF! Glad if the contract info is useful, and my granddaughter just got picked up, but we had a wonderful day! :)

  22. Congratulations, Miranda and Kirsten!

    I'm definitely cheering for Phyllis to out-"like" Phil. What's not to like? ;-)

    I appreciated very much your advice about contracts, your break-down of what most contracts will contain, and a realistic suggestion of the sort of advance that a picture book writer might expect.

    I've been told that it is very important to have a contract looked over by someone who understands contracts. If one doesn't have an agent, one should hire a contract/entertainment lawyer to read the fine print and legalese.

  23. LOVE my baby time :) Glad the info was helpful!

  24. That's a very good question, Stacy. I've heard the percentage of authors that earn out their advances is very low. It is common not to earn out. Part of that depends on how big the advance was as well as how well the book sells. And even if a book earns out, if it doesn't do much more, it's not exactly a runaway best seller. Publishers always hope you will earn out, but once you have, I always wonder how many copies you have to sell before they feel like you were worth the risk they took - obviously the more the better, but I'd love to know if there's a number where they feel like you did well!

  25. I'm so glad if you like them and they are helpful! It makes me feel good about the time it takes to write them :) If you have any questions, please ask - I'm running low on good ones :)

  26. You always amaze me with how much helpfulness and knowledge you put into every single post! You're incredible!

  27. Glad if you found it helpful, Beth, and thanks for liking Phyllis!!! She has a ways to go to outline Phil :) I just picked up my daughter from late chorus rehearsal and got the mail. There's a box! From you! Can't wait to see what's in it! :)

  28. Thank you, Pat, you're sweet! :) And I had a WONDERFUL day with my granddaughter! :)

  29. I love your newsy post and all the fun and useful goodies it contains. I am on a diet, so no treats for me (okay, I had some chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, but I swear it was just a small slice or two).

    You might want to add ITALY to your list of tour's getting closer...hopefully by end of month.....oh, the intrigue...

  30. Loved the sun at the opening of this post. I think your posts are always cheerful!

    I found your answer to the Oh Susanna question very informative. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Oh, and Big Congrats to Miranda and Kirsten!!

  31. Thank you, Peggy! That's so nice of you to say! I'm glad if it's helpful. I love your blog, too, so same right back at you :)

  32. A diet that includes chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting sounds like one I could live with :) And I thought about Italy almost as soon as I hit post.. but I figured you'd be a while yet since I hadn't heard anything :) The intrigue indeed! :)

  33. Thanks for stopping by, Ruth! Glad if it was helpful :)

  34. Not only was this a great question, the answer was too. Now I see one of the benefits of having the right agent. The other being your book will be seen by editors who are closed to unagented material.

  35. Great question and answer! Thanks so much for addressing it. :)

  36. Oh wow! Good news as I've been sick a bit again...and super busy! Thanks, Susanna for having this and to everyone who entered - I really didn't think I stood a chance against all those awesome pitches! Congrats to all and great question and answer.

  37. Congrats to you, Miranda! Hope you're feeling better!


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