Author Publisher Agreements: Understanding Your Publishing Contract

writing and publishing nonfiction books

This post is one of many installments of an independent study series on writing and publishing nonfiction books, with emphasis on publication in the category of New Age and spirituality. For more information, click this link to start at the introduction and Module I. I’ve pulled this particular document out of the series for its own post for SEO reasons. You know. Because I bet a ton of people google-search “author publisher agreements” or “publishing contract.”

Did you write a nonfiction book? Have you submitted your proposal to traditional publishers? Do you know for sure you’re going the route of traditional publishing? Do you have an offer in hand already? Have you published a book already and think you didn’t do a good enough job negotiating your own contract and would like some tips before you sign the deal for your next book?

No matter what stage you’re at, if you know you’ll be encountering the author publisher agreement, then here’s the workbook you’ve been waiting for. From the perspectives and experiences of both an intellectual property lawyer and a traditionally published author, this workbook will walk you through every material clause in the standard publishing contract.

If you hire a California or New York lawyer to review your contract, it will cost you about $250 to $500 per hour. And I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that what you’re likely to get is not going to be as comprehensive as this workbook.

If you’re being represented by a literary agent, then you’re paying that agent a steep commission. Plus, most tarot authors and those writing nonfiction in the New Age and spirituality category are considered niche and won’t be retaining a literary agent. You’ll be representing yourself when you enter contract negotiations with a publisher. Even if you have a literary agent, you’ll still want to arm yourself with knowledge, and this workbook gives you that knowledge so you can follow along your agent’s negotiation and make sure everything is aligned with what you want.

Now let’s say you do hire an intellectual property lawyer to help you review your publishing contract. What is that lawyer going to do back at the office? Most lawyers have these cool template checklists. It sounds simplistic, but they’re quite comprehensive. The internal legal checklist for each different type of contract, from sales, leasing, licensing, to publishing, is a series of prompts in the form of a checklist that a lawyer will go through to make sure every inch of ground is covered on the client’s behalf. Speaking of client, not only is there a checklist for, say, a publishing contract, but there is a separate checklist that is pro-publisher and one that is pro-author.

This workbook is based on one of those legal checklists that I use, expanded out into easy-to-follow steps through a workbook, which is going to be pro-author.

How do you use this workbook? You print it out, along with the publishing contract in question, and side by side, use the workbook to navigate the material terms of that publishing contract.

At 50 pages and 19,000+ words in length, this workbook covers all the major terms of a publishing contract, what the typical language used for drafting these terms mean in plain speak, and how to get what you want through the series of counter-offers that will inevitably ensure.

If you don’t have a law degree, then there may also be some learning going on. Here’s an example from the first page:

Workbook Screenshot - Grant of Rights

Then we start the checklist. Here’s a screenshot giving you a sampling of what the pages of your workbook look like.

Workbook Screenshot - Workbook Pages 7 and 8

And here is a snapshot of the last page:

Workbook Screenshot - Non-Legal Legal Truisms

Plus, I’d opine that this workbook can one-up a lawyer, even one who has experience negotiating publishing deals on behalf of authors and artists (which I am) because it also contains the experience of a published author (which I am).

Here’s the table of contents (click on image to enlarge view):

Workbook Screenshot - TOC

Some more screen shots:

Workbook Screenshot - Workbook Pages 37 and 38

I checked around for similarly positioned packages authored by actual practicing attorneys, some with personal publishing experience, some self-published, and a lot with no personal publishing experience at all and are just lawyers with a solo or firm practice. The varying costs of those packages were all over $100. Dang. One was $300 but promised to be the equivalent of 3 hours of legal advice, even though his typical billing rate is $500 per hour… implying that his e-package is a steal.

At first I was going to price mine competitively as well, but then I felt bad, knowing how poor most aspiring writers are, and I have way too many writer friends to not be empathetic about this, so here’s the deal.

$40.00 USD.

Where did that price come from? There’s this sushi restaurant in town that I love, and dinner from that place comes out to be around $40.00 per person, so the price of this workbook is like treating me out to sushi at my favorite restaurant. Also, I can buy myself a tarot deck to add to my collection with that sum.

And think about this: Module I was entirely free for you. Module II was sort of free, but I recommended that you “buy me lunch.” So there’s also something feel-good about chalking up the $40 bucks here, especially if you need the kind of guidance a workbook on reading a publishing contract will provide you with. ::nudges you:: C’mon, just a little bit. Right?

If you know this is something you want in your arsenal of legal resources and reference materials, especially when you know you’ll at some point in your life be encountering the publishing contract, then get this workbook.

$40.00 USD.

That’s like treating me out to dinner (which is where I got the pricing from, as I said) or buying me a tarot deck in exchange for picking my brain.

Plus, it’s $40 now, and the price certainly won’t go down but there is a chance it may go up, so it would seem like a good idea to grab it while it’s still $40 and not, like, I dunno, the standard $100 – $300 that other lawyers, consultants, and/or instructors are charging.

Shoot me an email at benebellwen at gmail dot com and I’ll send you payment instructions. PayPal me $40 USD and I’ll email you all the workbook files. You’ll get it as both a PDF and DOCX.


In a previous post, I announced my multi-media web series on writing and publishing nonfiction. We’re jumping around a bit with this post on the author publisher contract, but one way or the other, if you go the traditional publishing route, you’re going to be needing this contract review workbook.

Plus, if you know that reading a contract is new to you, then this workbook is a doozy. There’s no way for me to not make it a doozy and still have it be as comprehensive as you need it to be. So getting a head start on understanding the ins and outs of a publishing contract is probably a good idea.

Doozy notwithstanding, I’ve put everything in plain English for you and if you can write a book, then you will have no problems with this author publisher agreement workbook. $40, man. Get it.


This workbook is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that you seek legal or professional counsel for specific matters.

Writing and Publishing Nonfiction Independent Study Course

6 thoughts on “Author Publisher Agreements: Understanding Your Publishing Contract

  1. Hi Benebell! First off, I love your blog, and Holistic Tarot was a mega-invaluable resource for me when I got deep into learning tarot. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    Anyway, I’m wondering how applicable you think this module might be to a publishing contract for fiction. I know you specifically said this is based on your experience as a lawyer and non-fiction author, but since I only write fiction and probably will need something like this eventually, I thought I would ask.


    1. Hi beastnessa!

      I just went through the document line by line and yes, it is applicable to publishing contracts for fiction. I mentioned that this is specific to nonfiction in the spirituality category because all of the examples and illustrations I give would be considered case-specific to that genre. I do have experience reviewing publishing contracts for fiction authors, and yes, what’s in here is applicable to you as well. Just know that the examples I give will be keyed to New Age nonfiction, however. =)
      – b


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