Q&A: What happens to textbooks when a publisher sells lists to other publishers?

Q: “What happens to textbooks in inventory or those under contract when publishers sell lists to other publishers? How can we find out whether books have been stolen or put into the hands of resellers?”

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

“It depends upon the deal between the two publishers. Typically, the acquiring publisher buys the inventory along with the contracts. Then they sell it out or destroy it so they can produce a new printing under their imprint. It’s also possible that the acquiring publisher would have no interest in the existing inventory under the old imprint and would require, as a condition of sale, that the selling publisher destroy the inventory. Regardless of who sells the books, the author should get a royalty in accord with the terms of the publishing contract (of course, if the books are remaindered that royalty may be small or nonexistent depending upon the terms in the publishing contract). In any event, any sales should be reflected in the next royalty statement. If there is a question, ask the new and old publishers to provide an inventory reconciliation.”

Q&A: How to determine a good royalty rate offer when negotiating a textbook contract

Q: “I’m in discussions with six publishers right now for my first book. One of them has just made a preliminary offer, including a 12 percent royalty on the first 2,000 sold and 15 percent thereafter. They also offered me a $3,000 advance against royalties to prepare a camera-ready copy over the summer. The editor has informally projected something like 2,000 books/year sold at about $90-100 per, saying it costs them $60-70 per. Here are some of my questions: 1) How common is it to have a lower percentage on the first chunk of books?; 2) Even if it sold only 1,000 at $80, 12 percent of that equals $9,600. Shouldn’t they be willing to part with more than $3,000 of it up front?; 3) How much am I saving them with a camera-ready copy? Doesn’t that cut out a lot of work for them and shouldn’t that translate into a much better deal than this? Sounds like a cookie-cutter offer.”

A: Don Collins, former managing editor at a publishing company:

“First, it is very common to offer a lower rate on the first textbooks published. The publisher is in business for profit and at every point the publisher wants an advantage although in your case it seems slight. Second, up front money is an expense. If the book does not sell then the publisher is out this money. But you get to keep the advance. And lastly, you may think of giving camera ready copy as saving the publisher money. It probably is. But the way publishers play the game is to take only authors who are willing to do this.

Only after your work has proven successful and you have established a reputation will you have much of a chance of negotiating better terms.”

Q&A: Can you renegotiate your textbook contract when going into subsequent editions?


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Q&A: How to get your textbook rights back from your publisher

Q: “My publisher has decided to drop my books. How can I tell from my contract whether this means I could get another publisher to pick them up for a new edition, vs. writing a totally new work?”

A: Steve Gillen, Attorney, Wood, Herron & Evans:

“Most publishing contracts have a ‘reversion’ or ‘out-of-print”‘clause that requires the publisher to return the rights to a work to the author if and when the publisher takes the work out-of-print. Sometimes this right of reversion is triggered automatically. More frequently, however, the author must request the publisher to execute a copyright assignment. The more problematic issue is likely to be at what point does the right mature — i.e., when is the work “out-of-print.” Look to the language in your contract for the answer to that question.”

Q&A: How to approach a publisher to publish conference proceedings

Q: “I am organizing a conference that I think will be very good. How do I approach a publisher for the proceedings? What is such a publisher looking for?”

A: Michael Lennie, Authoring Attorney and Literary Agent, Lennie Literary and Authors’ Attorneys:

“Ask your adviser; or research similar proceedings to determine their publisher and editor. Obtain several and then contact them to see if they have an interest. The original contact should be by way of a query letter (one well written page) with or without synopsis, sent through snail mail with a SASE. Your initial query should be more detailed (3-4 pages) than the query for an article, including the names and a sentence or two about each participating panelist, his/her subject matter for the proceedings, the forum, date, time, etc.”

What happens to books in inventory, under contract when publishers sell lists?


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