Negotiating a Favorable Book Contract

being_a_scholar_bigSecuring a book contract for promotion and tenure is a goal in itself for academic authors. Scholarly book contracts tend to favor the publisher, however, and the terms often work against the author over the long term. That said, it’s increasingly possible for authors to negotiate more favorable terms with scholarly publishers. Policy Press at the University of Bristol offered my co-author Jessie Daniels and me very favorable terms for our 2016 book, Being A Scholar in the Digital Era.

The traditional centerpiece of scholarly book contracts is the transfer of copyright from the author to the publisher, allowing the publisher rights to produce and to distribute it. The publisher’s exclusive ownership legally precludes authors from sharing copies of their own writing. Posting chapters on a personal website or reusing elements in another work can run afoul of the contract.

While journal publishers have standing policies permitting the online distribution of a work (often after an embargo of 6-24 months), book publishers are not well in the habit of permitting public display of any excerpt of a book, even years after publication on an author’s personal website or institutional repository. The SHERPA/RoMEO database lists journals’ standing policies about posting articles online after they’re published in an academic journal, but there is no equivalent resource for book publisher policies.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) offers a sample author addendum designed for use by authors submitting articles to journals. The Big Academic Alliance (formerly the Big 10) offers a similar template. Both can be modified to work as contract addendum for books and book chapters.

An addendum takes precedence for any clause that it modifies in the initial contract. It allows publishers to keep contracts mostly uniform, except where modified, and it keeps contract re-writing to a minimum.

The first modification of our contract was to reserve non-exclusive author rights to share the work in connection with our professional activities. This allows us, the authors, to use our work in ways we normally would.

Addendum Non-Exclusive

The next elements of our addendum extended publisher’s permission to post a preprint (i.e., author’s manuscript) version of the book one year from the date of initial publication. The great majority of scholarly publisher sales are realized within the first year (see Clark & Phillips’ Inside Book Publishing, 2014), and we argue in our work for greater public access to scholarship. Policy Press shared our desire to reach the widest public audiences we could while not threatening their bottom line, inviting us to post the manuscript version of the text openly on our personal websites or in our CUNY Academic Works institutional repository.

Addendum Right to Post Publicly

An additional clause in the addendum allows open online publication of the final published version of the manuscript in digital form two years from the original publication date.

Jessie and I are thrilled to have found a publisher in Policy Press willing to modify traditional practices to address our shared concerns about public access to scholarly work. We look forward to working with Policy in future as we offer online versions of our work, particularly as we monitor impact on sales and audience reach.

Finally, I should mention that academic authors who write to be read, but not to be rewarded by royalties, are increasingly successful in ‘reverting’ copyright from publishers. The Authors’ Alliance has successfully helped authors ‘revert’ ownership rights from publishers who do not steward works as an author wishes, or for works that have fallen out of use or out of print. If our experience is any gauge, it’s worth working with your publisher to revise, or addend, your publishing contract to favor the availability and of the legacy of your academic work.

About the Author

Prof. Polly Thistlethwaite is CUNY's Interim University Dean for Library Services.