Announcing the Authors Alliance Guide to Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts!

Posted October 15, 2018

We are delighted to share our brand-new guide to Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts.

Now available to the public (following a special pre-release to our Kickstarter backers), this new guide is the latest addition to our growing library of resources for authors, which also includes educational handbooks on rights reversion, open access, and fair use.

Copyright law and contract language are complex, even for attorneys and experts. Authors may be tempted to sign the first version of a publication contract that they receive, especially if negotiating seems complicated, intimidating, or risky. But there is a lot at stake for authors in a book deal, and it is well worth the effort to read the contract, understand its contents, and negotiate for favorable terms.

To that end, Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts identifies clauses that frequently appear in publishing contracts, explains in plain language what these terms (and typical variations) mean, and presents strategies for negotiating “author-friendly” versions of these clauses. When authors have more information about copyright and publication options for their works, they are better able to make and keep their works available in the ways they want.

The guide is designed to help authors to:

  • Learn about the basics of copyright law, and how copyright shapes the author-publisher relationship;
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of assigning and/or licensing their copyrights;
  • Understand the responsibilities of authors and publishers in preparing, designing, and marketing a book;
  • Clarify financial matters such as advances, royalties, and accounting statements;
  • Consider options for making their books available to readers in the short and long term;
  • Advocate and negotiate for contract terms that help them meet their creative and pragmatic goals;
  • And much more!


“Every author should have this at hand.”
– Sidonie Smith, University of Michigan


The guide is based on language contained in actual book contracts, and is further supported by surveys and in-depth interviews with authors, publishers, and literary agents and attorneys. These real-world scenarios help authors understand how to approach negotiation, what kinds of clauses to look for (and which to avoid), and how to engage in productive conversations with agents and publishers to ensure author-friendly contracts that align with their creative and pragmatic goals. The guide is designed to  empower authors to shape a publication contract that benefits them, their publishers, and readers, ultimately increasing the impact of their books.


“This is a valuable guide that will help to demystify the contract
process for authors. It should encourage them to think through
and negotiate for the things that matter most to them,
and to trade off things that matter less. That will make the
negotiation process more satisfactory for the publisher as well.”

– Gita Manaktala, MIT Press


We thank Rob Walker and the student attorneys at the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law for their help in researching and drafting the guide. These former clinic students include:

  • Katherine Bridge
  • Alfredo Diaz
  • Karen Graefin vom Hagen
  • Anna Kuksenkova
  • Henry Nikogosyan

We are also grateful to our Kickstarter backers for their support and to the publishers, literary agents and attorneys, authors, and expert reviewers who contributed to the guide.

You can download the guide and learn more about contracts and negotiation at our new Publication Contracts resource page. (And, for those who prefer to read Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts in print, we will release a softcover edition later this fall.)