What is the Appropriate Term for a Book Contract?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

The truth is: long book contracts look increasingly unattractive.

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature story looks at a new guide to rights written by German publishing executive Petra Hardt. The article notes:

For example, contract length is a point that Hardt emphatically stresses as crucial to the prosperity of both the publisher and the author. It often takes a publishing house well over a decade to fully develop the potential of many authors, particularly more literary or intellectual ones. Hardt cites the example of Walter Benjamin, who was translated and became culturally significant in several countries only a few years before the end of his term of copyright. In any case “seven to ten years is too short.”

The question is: what is the appropriate term for a book contract? In the age of digital publishing, the opportunities for authors continue to evolve, often faster than publishers can take advantage of them. Is it appropriate to tie an author to a 20-year contract, or even a 10-year contract, any longer? Or is a longer term simply the cost of doing business, as publishers reap a large percentage of profit from developing and selling backlist? Authors, naturally, will want the shortest term contract possible, but how far are publishers willing to compromise knowing there are digital publishing start-ups and companies like Amazon looking for opportunities to build their own lists and willing to make authors contractual offers publishers might never have considered only a few years ago.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.