Monday, April 23, 2012


by Maria C. Ferrer

ATTENTION:  This is not legal advice. These are just some basic legal terms writers should be familiar with. RWA National has lots of great legal articles in their archives, which are available to all members. (  Plus, there are plenty of legal websites for writers to browse through. Please do your research.

Advance: Money the publisher will pay up-front for your book. You will need to earn this amount in royalties on sales before payout of royalties begin.

Copyright: This is the right of ownership for a work. The author always retains copyright ownership. The publisher registers the published work for a separate copyright, which includes the artwork and book design. The duration of a copyright is the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. If you use a pseudonym, its 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation of work, whichever is shorter.

eBook: A book ―published online or digitally, like in a PDF format. No print copies. These books are printed for e-readers, computers, electronic devices, etc.

Non-compete clause: Be wary of this one. It states that you cannot write another book in the same genre or style as the one they have bought from you so it doesn’t compete with theirs. Negotiate to be specific with this clause. Limit the genre and the time period.

Piracy: The act of stealing published works and loading them onto ―free‖ distribution sites. If you see one, tell your publisher. If you’re your own publisher, write them and tell them to stop immediately. Most piracy sites will but they may just change their name and pop up elsewhere. Be vigilant.

Plagiarism: Using or declaring another author’s writing as your own.

Print-on-Demand: The publisher will only print the exact number of books requested. There will be no inventory of books.

Pseudonym: The assumed name under which an author writes. Also, referred to as a pen name.

Publication date: A clause in your contract that says that the Publisher will print/issue your book in said amount of time. If they don’t, your contract should provide that your rights revert back, that you do not forfeit the advance, and can re-sell the book elsewhere.

Out-of-Print: When your publisher is no longer printing or distriuting your books (to a contractually denoted quantity for a contractually specified time), then the title is deemed to be ―out-of-print.‖ You can then request reversion of your rights (see below). Again, be specific with this clause. For example, your book will be considered out-of-print unless total sales –in any format – total 300 copies a year.

Reversion of Rights: This is the clause in the contract that says that if the publisher stops reprinting/reissuing your book in said amount of time, then you get the right to your book back and you can sell it elsewhere. See also out-of-print.

Right of First Refusal: This is an option clause in your contract that grants your publisher the right to see your next work BEFORE you show it to another publisher. You want to be very specific with this clause. Make sure your contract states that the clause refers to your next book in the same genre as the first, and that they have a set time frame in which to review the option book and offer for it (say 90 days), otherwise you will send it elsewhere.

Royalties: The amount the publisher will pay you (in allotments) for sales of your book.

Self-Publishing: In this case, you are your own publisher. You do the edits, pick the paper, the format, the cover, the marketing, etc. You find venues where to sell your book or eBook.

Subsidiary Rights: Rights granted to publisher usually for book clubs, foreign sales, movies, audio books, etc. RWA recommends authors hold all their subsidiary rights, just in case.

Subsidy Publisher: Also referred to as a Vanity Press. These are publishers you pay to publish and distribute your book. Most do not offer a royalty. RWA does not recognize these publishers.

Vanity Press: See subsidy publisher.

Work-for-hire: This is just what it says; you have been hired to write one specific book or series for a set amount and you will not see a penny more, nor will you hold any rights in the work.♥

Reference Books
Author and former lawyer, Anna DePalo, recommends KIRSCH'S GUIDE TO THE BOOK CONTRACT, KIRSCH'S HANDBOOK OF PUBLISHING LAW, and THE WRITER'S LEGAL GUIDE (CRAWFORD). All books available at or through your library.

Maria C. Ferrer writes contemporary romances under her real name, and erotica under the pen name of Del Carmen. Visit her at or


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