Succession agreements: What to do when a coauthor transitions toward retirement

Q: “My coauthor on several different titles is transitioning toward retirement. I will soon be starting a revision without his active participation. We have a succession agreement on the royalty split in future editions, so that’s (hopefully) not an issue. However two questions have risen to top of the swirl of concerns that I have as I face this transition: 1) Is this a good opportunity to renegotiate my authoring contract? I suspect that my publisher will want to simply change the authoring designations as an addendum to the current contract. Should I insist on a new contract? Should I avoid that if they insist on a new contract?; 2) Assuming that I should renegotiate, how likely is it that I’ll be able to break them out of their boilerplate?”

A: Stephen E. Gillen, Authoring Attorney:

“Taking on 100 percent of the writing responsibility is essentially a new deal necessitating some change in the terms of the relationship (royalty share, to name but one important term). There is no magic to how this change in the relationship is memorialized. It can be by amendment or addendum or by substituting a new contract. What is important is that, however it is memorialized, you capture all of the relevant changes. [Read more…]

Royalty step-down clause: Factors and formulas

Tips of the Trade ImageQ: “I am trying to establish a royalty step-down clause for a very successful text. I proposed the three-edition step-down of 75 percent of contractual royalty to 50 percent to 25 percent, assuming this means, for example, when I do not participate at all, I would receive 75 percent of, say, 15 percent, then 50 percent of 15 percent then 25 percent of 15 percent. Is that correct?

My publisher astounded me by saying this means 75 percent of the full royalty, contractual rate, then 50 percent of the new, reduced, rate, and 25 percent of the latter vastly reduced rate!! Doesn’t this depart from common industry practice? It is my understanding from TAA discussions and other sources that the standard step-down is 50 percent of contractual rate, then 25 percent of the same contractual rate, followed by nothing. What’s up??”

A: Zick Rubin The Law Office of Zick Rubin, Publishing / Copyright / Trademark:

“This is a very important item. Here is a formula that is sometimes proposed by authors and that is sometimes acceptable to publishers for a successful textbook: 75 percent of the royalties (i.e., the contractual rate) in the first edition in which the author does not take part, 50 percent of the royalties for the second such edition, and 25 percent of the royalties for the third and subsequent such editions.

This can be an actively negotiated item on both sides. The negotiations reflect a number of factors, including: how successful and established is the book?; how valuable will it be for the publisher to continue listing the original author as ‘author’?; what would be fair and attractive royalties to attract an excellent new author or authors to take over the book? (the publisher will typically be reluctant to expand the total royalty pot); will the initial author play any continuing role as a consultant or in marketing?

You’re not crazy. When these step-downs (whether 50-25 or any other formula), we mean what you think it means: ___% of the original contractual rate for Revision 1, ___% of the original contractual rate for Revision 2, etc. Is your publisher saying that it would agree to 75 percent for Revision 1, then 50 percent of 75 percent (or 37.5 percent) for Revision 2, and then 25 percent of 37.5 percent (or 9.375 percent) for Revision 3? That’s a peculiar way to go about it, but the actual numbers are quite good.”

What is a fair royalty arrangement when taking on textbook co-authors?

Tips of the Trade ImageQ: “I would like to phase out of my textbooks and take on co-authors to keep them going. What is a fair royalty arrangement?”

A: Michael Lennie, Attorney, Lennie Literary & Author’s Attorney:

“I usually deal with this issue in the revised editions clause by negotiating a 60/30/15 percent provision. Under this provision the retiring author receives 60/30/15 percent of the full royalty for the first/second/third and thereafter edition in which he does not participate. Higher percentages are available depending on the number of prior editions and the reputation of the retiring author.”