Tips & tricks for negotiating your first textbook contract

The most important things to negotiate in a first contract are the amount of the advance, the royalty rate and who will control which rights, said Jeff Herman, owner of the Herman Literary Agency in New York.

Keep in mind when negotiating the advance how the publisher calculates it, Herman said: “It will tell you how far they’re willing to go.” To calculate how much of an advance it will offer, the publisher looks at the number of books it will sell during the first year and the dollar amount the author will receive per copy. For example, if the author will receive $2 per copy, and the publisher will sell 10,000 copies the first year, the author will earn $20,000 in royalties. That $20,000, he said, is the highest the publisher will be willing to go in negotiating the advance.

“The publisher will generally low-ball you, especially if you have an agent, because it will assume that the agent will negotiate what is offered,” Herman said. “If the author is negotiating the advance, the initial offer will be closer to their limit.”

Q&A: How to go about getting a contract to publish an academic book

Q: “How do you go about getting a contract to publish an academic book? How is the process different from getting a contract for a college-level or K-12 textbook?”

A: Stephen E. Gillen, Attorney, Wood Herron & Evans:

“Textbook contracts vary significantly based on curricular level. The K-12 market works with much higher volumes but is price sensitive (because schools adopt and purchase the books). The college market works on lower volumes but is less price sensitive (because professors adopt but students purchase).

Q&A: 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, Attorney, Wood Herron & Evans:

“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.

Q&A: You’ve reached your maximum number of textbook pages, but lack content. Now what?

Q: “I am writing a book under contract and my chapters have been running so long I have already written the maximum number of pages negotiated with my publisher, yet have only fulfilled half the overall content promised. How should I approach this with the publisher? Should I renegotiate the overall content covered in the book or engage in some major editing?”

A: Mary Ellen Lepionka, author of Writing & Developing Your College Textbook:

“I suggest first clarifying if the publisher’s contract is referring to book pages or manuscript pages. You can usually figure 2.5 double- spaced manuscript pages per book page for a book with around 500 words per page, which is standard for an 8 X 10 trim size, which is standard for a textbook. For a 14- to 16-chapter textbook, no chapter should exceed 40 book pages in length.