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How to Understand ePublishing Contracts

I'm not going to use fear language in this post because I don't think informed writers should be afraid. An ePublishing contract should address:

  • The platform (print, or ebook or DVD)
  • The term (how long)
  • The compensation (how much)
  • The scope (territory/area)

When viewing an ePublishing contract (a contract between you (the author) and a publisher who will put your work online in ebook format), you need to consider a few rights. When signing away rights, you are agreeing to give the ePublisher certain access and ownership to your material.

  • In a contract,  you "represent and warrant" (own) all rights to your original material. But you don't own all rights to third party material (quotes, images from third parties). These rights have to be examined before signing certain rights away to the ePublisher.
  • An "out of print reversion of rights to the author" clause must be revised for an electronic book, which will never go out of print. Make sure there is a clear and logical point at which the rights will revert back to the author. For example: 
  1. Rights could revert back to the author if royalties fall below a certain amount.
  2. Rights could revert back to the author if the publisher has not re-issued the book for a set amount of time (6 mons).
  • Print rights are a no brainer if the Publisher only does electronic books. As an author, you need to keep those rights.
  • Electronic rights, which go to the Publisher, should clarify whether the author can still post excerpts, the title or the cover image on their author web site. 
  • Electronic rights should also be clarified. Did you know the term can include games, CD-ROM and DVD products and databases.
  • Print magazines may request first or second serialization rights, which means they want to publish a segment from your book before (first) it comes out or after (second). Make sure it is clear in the contract, who will be giving these rights and if you like to do your own marketing online, consider those first serialization rights for yourself. 
Important to remember. Your rights are protected under copyright law, unless you grant them to a publisher. The publisher is trying to get as many rights for as little compensation as possible. Your goal is the opposite.

*This is not legal advice - all contracts should be reviewed by a lawyer before you sign.

For examples of online contracts and other articles, see:


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