Questions to Ask Publishers Before Accepting an Offer

Congratulations! You have just received an offer from a publisher to turn your manuscript into a print book. There is no prouder moment in the career of a writer than having a book published. With that said, there are a number of important questions that you will want to have answers to before accepting an offer from a book publisher.

You are so excited you can hardly think straight! You've got an offer from a publishing company to publish your book. It might seem like the wisest course of action to simply sign the contract offered to you before they regain their senses and change their minds, but before you put your name to paper, here are a few things you need to think about.

Question: How much, and how, will I be paid?

Chances are, a publisher will outline payment for you when first accepting your book, but it is important to make sure that you have as much information as possible. Will you be paid a flat rate fee, an advance payment, royalties, or a combination? It is also important to know your royalty rate for hardcover, softcover, ebook and other formats you're giving the publisher rights to, and the payment schedule. Check with other authors to see if it is standard in your genre, and please do be aware of the difference between gross and net. A lot can get hidden in that 'net' that can seriously cut into your royalty payments.

If you are cash strapped, you might be hoping for an advance on sales. In the current publishing climate, not all companies offer advances, and many publishers that formerly gave generous advances are cutting back. Asking for an advance payment is something that many publishers have come to expect, but you will want to proceed with caution at the same time. Lack of an advance is generally not a great reason to reject a publishing offer.

Question: What rights are they asking for?

While you may just be thinking about seeing your book in print, your publisher may have other formats and markets in mind. Before the advent of ebooks, publishers slipped in a line asking for 'all other rights,' which was certainly detrimental to authors with books still in print under those contracts.

Make sure that you are very clear about what the revenue split is if your publisher sells foreign rights to your book, or audiobook rights, or film rights. Knowing before you sign is far better than getting blind-sided in the future.

Question: How many copies will be printed initially, and what distribution arrangements does the publisher have?

The biggest advantage a traditional publishing company has over self-publishing is the access to brick and mortar bookstores. A publisher that relies only on print-on-demand printing and has no established distribution outside of a listing in the Ingram catalog really doesn't have much to offer an author that self-publishing can't also provide -- without a cut of the royalties.

Question: How will the publisher promote the book?

The answer you're hoping for here is through wide distribution of their catalog to bookstores and libraries nation-wide. Also nice to hear would be that they've got a sales team dedicated to trade and/or non-trade markets. Learning about their online marketing is also helpful, but if your publisher is going to simply rely on social media posts to promote your title, they'd better have a pretty massive reach -- especially if they have a less-than-stellar answer to the distribution and print-run question above.

Question: Will I get free copies of my book? If so, how many? What sort of discount will I receive on books I purchase?

Although getting free copies of your published book isn’t as important as making sure that you get paid, it is something that is of great importance to many first time writers. If this is the first time that a book of yours has been published, you will want to have a copy of your book to show off to your close friends and family members. In fact, you may want to have copies to send to them. Most reputable publishers will at least provide you with a free copy of your book, but additional copies will likely depend on the publisher in question.

The above mentioned questions are just a few of the many that you will want to ask a publisher before accepting their contract. As a reminder, never sign a contract without knowing as much as you can about the agreement, as well as the publisher extending the offer. For that reason, you are encouraged to sit down and make an additional list of questions that you would like to have the answers to. Don't be afraid to ask specific questions or even seek some legal advice. Being sure of the exact terms of your contract will help to ensure that you and your publisher will enjoy a productive, and hopefully profitable, relationship.

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