Writer Contracts

Entertainment contracts play a very important role in the maintenance of relationships in the industry.  A writer may contract with many persons.  It may be with an agent or with a publisher.  In today’s world, the chances of a busy editor or publisher reading manuscripts sent directly by an unknown writer are extremely rare.  The most effective way for many writers to communicate with publishers is to through the services of a literary agent.  Agents know what kind of material is publishable and which publishers are interested in particular kinds of material.  Any relationship between a writer and an agent should start with a contract being executed between them.

In a literary agency agreement the following substantive clauses may be included:

  • Submitting manuscripts: Agency prefers to see manuscript material rather than synopses.  Agency also needs to have some background about author’s professional experience.  So, clause which control the submission of manuscripts is advisable.
  • Commissions:  Most agents, particularly the more successful ones, generally charge 10 to 15% as their commission.  Since the agent is entitled to receive commission this clause should not be avoided.
  • Co-agents: Co-agents are commonly used in the industry to assist the agent in sales.  Co-agents are generally used for foreign sales
  • Irrevocabilty of the agent’s interest: Generally an  agent will invest time and energy in promoting the author and the author’s work.  One should remember that an agent’s interest in proceeds of that project and its derivative works are irrevocable.
  • Termination of Agency: Unfortunately, most relationships end at some point.  In the publishing business, rights should not be left unclear. Author should understand, however, that terminating an agent affects only future works and not the agent’s interest in proceeds of works he undertook to represent prior to termination.

Once an author finds a publisher for his or her work, they start their formal relationship by drafting a contract.  In a writer- publisher agreement the questions to be kept in mind while drafting the contract include the following:

  • What are the rights passed to the publisher?
  • Will the author retain certain rights?
  • Is the author going to be paid for the future exploitation of his/her work as well?
  • Who owns the copyright?
  • What are the consequences to be faced if the author or the publisher fails to comply with agreement?
  • Who will have the final say in terms of look, style, marketing, promotion and the like of the work?
  • Who has the responsibility to obtain required licenses and clearances?
  • Will the royalties be paid on the retail/cover price of the book or the net income received by the publisher for sales by the publisher?
  • Will the author have right to negotiate better terms on revised editions?
  • What are the author’s warranties with regard to claims made by third parties against the book, such as for copyright infringement, defamation, invasion of privacy or other such claims?
  • What are rights of the parties after termination of the agreement?

The parties to the contract should have a broad vision about what may happen to the work over the course of its publishing lifetime.  The contract should deal with all those possibilities.


Inside Writer Contracts