Once you have pretty much made up your mind on which publisher you want to go with, ask for a copy of their contract and scrutinize it very carefully. How long is the contract in force? I know of one on-line vanity publisher, who outwitted a friend of mine by inserting six months where the contract normally would have been one year. That means she got him to pay the full price for half the length of service.
Will you be provided with a proof, before the book goes to press? Do you retain the right to make changes without charge? Do you hold any subsidy rights, if the book should be presented in any other form, such as film? In what countries will they place your books? If you are getting some free advertising as well, when and where will this be done? Do they send out press releases when your book is released?
Watch out for a “general accounting” clause. If you see this, you could lose money on any subsequent books you write. For instance, let’s say you get a $6,000 advance for your first book, but it only has sales of $3,000. You get another $6,000 for your second book, but the publisher may take off $3,000 from the debit on the first book.
Other things to look for include whether the publisher obtains the copyright and ISBN number or is it something you have to do? Also, watch for any clause allowing the publisher to license your book to a book club. Once the publisher has given the license, you might just find your royalties have decreased. Note that this does not mean you have to worry if the publisher gets your book listed on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I don’t fully understand the ins and outs of this, but from what I have learned, these on-line clubs don’t appear to interfere with royalties.
As you can see, there are a number of reasons to really go over the contract with a fine-toothed comb. If you really aren’t sure of something, check it out with a lawyer or get a literary agent, who will be familiar with those kinds of things.
One thing I’d like to add here is that you cannot, by any stretch of the imagination believe what you are told that is not written in the contract. Some publishers will even make personal calls to tell you all the wonderful things they’ll do for you, but that doesn’t mean they actually will. Finally, it is a good idea to get in touch with the publisher to find out what they think is a suitable price for your book. This will also help you determine the amount of your royalty per book.
For more information on the terminology used in publishing contracts, a great source can be found at http://www.right-writing.com/checklist.html.