Book Review: Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts

Kevin Patton 2016-04-19_16-38-43One of the first experiences a textbook author will have is dealing with a publishing contract. Very few of us are attorneys ourselves and very few of us will have had any prior experience negotiating a publishing contract. Our expertise is in our teaching discipline—not in contract law.

I have learned—the hard way—that I should NOT be the only one looking at contracts and amendments presented to me by my publisher. I’ve therefore made it a habit to have an attorney specializing in textbook publishing contracts to review, suggest, and debate the points in anything I sign. Now I have a much better idea of the potential risks and rewards involved in each new professional writing project.

And a handy new resource has just dropped into my inbox! The Textbook and Academic Authors Association (TAA) has just announced the publication of their new Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts by attorney Stephen E. Gillen.

I’ve already learned a lot about publishing contracts from TAA in general, and Mr. Gillen’s presentations at the TAA conferences in particular. So when I saw this announcement, I was intrigued to see what—if any—new things I could learn from it. I was happy to discover that Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts exceeds my already high expectations. Gillen uses his extensive experience working with textbook authors to present a clear and concise introduction to the murky and mysterious world of publishing contracts.

He begins with an introductory section that gives authors some important concepts from which to start the contract process. These include what leverage an author might have with the publisher, what homework needs to be done, and determining what’s important to you.

Guide to Textbook Publishing ContractsThe main section of the guide goes through each of the key provisions of a typical textbook contract. For example, the Grant of Rights, Royalties, Copyright, Manuscript Submission, and Choice of Legal Venue. I counted 23 different provisions that we usually see in a publishing contract—some of which have always seemed impenetrable to me. And I’m a pretty competent reader!

For each contract provision, Gillen gives a sample in a sidebar so that you can see exactly what he is referring to. Then he explains the idea behind it—what the section intended to provide for. But he also gives astute advice on how to make it better—for you. Besides giving specific negotiating advice, he also includes samples of “better” versions of key provisions. Sometimes, he even gives “better still” versions!

After reading Gillen’s guide, one comes away with an appreciation for the complexity of publisher contracts and—perhaps more importantly—an acute awareness of the many hazards and pitfalls that exist for authors in a typical publisher’s boilerplate contract. And there is comfort in knowing you have a book on your shelf (or e-reader) that tells you where to find the traps, giving specific advice for rendering them harmless.

There is also a “bonus section” of 20 questions you should ask your editor, a list of resources, and a helpful glossary of terms.

Gillen’s straightforward writing is easy to read and understand—perhaps from decades of explaining convoluted legalese to us ordinary folks who write textbooks. Also helpful is an attractive internal design that helps readers navigate Gillen’s engaging narrative and examples easily. It’s not a huge book, so one can read it in one sitting. And easily find sections later when you need them.

I’ve never recommended a law book to my friends (or anyone, for that matter). However, I strongly advise anyone interested in textbook authorship, whether looking forward to a first contract or having recently signed your umpteenth contract, to read the Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts. Then remember where you put it when you are finished because you’ll want to go back and use it each time you are offered a new contract or amendment.

One last point. After you read this book, you’ll realize that it will not substitute for hiring a textbook attorney to help you with publishing contracts. Instead, you’ll learn enough to realize that professional advice is needed. But the guide will help you become an educated client who can communicate clearly with your attorney. And that, my friends, will save you a bundle in billable hours—because there will be less time spent explaining the basic principles to you.

For more information, go to Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts at the TAA website.

Disclosure: I’m an active member of TAA (publisher of this guide) and have been a client of Mr. Gillen.

Originally published on The Textbook Author blog. Reprinted with permission.


Kevin Patton is an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology. A longtime TAA member, he produces a blog at TheTextbookAuthor.org