Indie Authors: Publishing Contracts 101 or How to be a Proactive Author: (Part 1)

March 10, 2017

M/M Romance


NB: This post is really long so I have had to cut it into two separate blog posts.


Part1: Translations and Contracts

I love being an indie author and have written, and self-published nine books in the M/M romance genre.  Thousands of Indie authors are becoming successful on their own terms, without publishers and agents, and keeping control of their books at every level, and the lion’s share of the profits. 


All authors want to increase readership, and one way of expanding the readership is by exploring all of the different strands of income you can get from your book.  I decided that getting books translated into other languages was my best way forward.  There are several options for this:


- You could pay up front for a translator who will translate the manuscript.  The good thing about this is that the author will have an agreement with the translator and retains all rights, but the downside is that they will have to sell their book in an unfamiliar market, dealing with a foreign language and this can be a struggle for some.


- You could also try a royalty share translation via a site like Babelcube. These can be good if you have a bestselling book that is assured a readership because the translator knows they will get paid quickly.  But for most indie books, selling is hard enough in English, let alone in another language, which means translators can be waiting for years (maybe never) to see any payment for all of their hard work and no one can live like that.


- Or you could do what I did and search for foreign publishers in my genre that will translate and publish your work without cost to the author.


Now, even as indie authors we have to deal with contracts - Amazon, CreateSpace, D2D, Smashwords, etc. all have contracts that we have to sign so our books can be published digitally and in print.  These sites deliver our books straight to market, and it’s up to us to push them.  When dealing with translations in territories we are not experienced with, one of the attractions of finding a publisher is that they will, hopefully, have an understanding of the market in their territory.  They will hopefully have a vibrant social media platform, great website, push our books at book fairs, and sell via their own website and Amazon.  This kind of deal can open your book up to a whole new readership and make you a nice extra stream of income.


In the past six months, I have done two such deals for my M/M Romance thriller series Shatterproof Bond with French and German publishers.  The contracts and negotiations were concise and straightforward, and the terms - good to generous.  But my third foray into translations has ended with me walking away from a deal for my three books to be translated into Italian.


I am not a lawyer, and what I share here is what I have experienced and discovered through trawling legal websites and getting legal advice.  So, please get your own legal advice if you are unsure about an upcoming contract and DO NOT SIGN until you know what you are signing.



When you find a publisher who fits your niche, check them out before submitting your manuscript.  Do a Google search with the business name and 'complaints', 'scam', and other keywords like 'Beware of', and 'bad' -- you choose.  If anything comes up that makes you concerned then you know to avoid that publisher.  Also check that they are not listed on Victoria Strauss' site Writer Beware


When dealing with foreign publishers, I always get the site translated and check out their FAQ section.  Again, this can tell you a great deal about how they treat authors, and sometimes they list details about contract terms there too.  The design of the publisher website is also important.  If the website is well designed and the books are displayed attractively, most authors could imagine their own title on such sites. However, if the site is in disarray and the in-house books cover design is shoddy, this would be a red flag for me.  If a publishing house can’t deal with a basic website, how can they create great looking books?



It’s easy to see why so many authors break out into a cold sweat when they open their email and see a publishing contract.  First of all, after being an indie author, it’s hard to shake off the fact that most people see authors who publish via publishing houses as somehow more legitimate.  We know this is bullshit, yet still, it’s flattering for the author’s ego that any publisher would be interested in their book.  Joy can turn to confusion very quickly. Contracts are scary documents filled with words that read like gobbledegook.  Some of the less scrupulous publishers rely on authors being dazed by complex contracts.  Legal language is baffling at the best of times, and I get it that some authors blank out, sign, and be damned.  Hopefully, authors who have agents will get solid legal advice about the contents of a contract, but for self-published authors, when dealing with the first foreign rights contract, you need to be proactive and educate yourself.


I know you must be thinking that this is obvious.  But honestly, I have spoken to lots of authors about this and it’s common for an author to not actually read the contract until something goes wrong and the relationship with the publisher is breaking down.  No matter which language you wish for your books to be translated into, your contract must be in the language you speak, for me this is English.  You may not understand what you read, and even the thought of sitting down to read the contract may terrify you, but if you don’t have an agent, it’s in your best interest to know what you will be giving and what you will be getting from a deal.  So,


- Print out the contract,

- Get a highlighter pen and a ruler,

- Read the contract, line by line,

- Highlight any terms you don’t understand.

- Write notes about any clauses that give you a kick in the gut.

- Pay attention to that gut feeling. 


No matter what kudos you think you’ll get from saying ‘My book is available in Greek, Swahili, Indian and Russian”  If you have signed away worldwide rights for the term of the copyright life (+70 years), the publisher will be dining out on your book, whereas you may find yourself on the breadline or in litigation fighting to get rights back.  Saying you didn’t know what you were signing is NEVER a good enough excuse.  This is a business, and as an indie author you’re a professional, so live it!  If you can afford a lawyer, get one to look over the contract and advice.  Unfortunately, most indie authors cannot afford legal representation, another thing some unscrupulous publishers take for granted, and this is why you need to be proactive and find information that explains what it is that you’re signing away.


(More in part 2: The small print and the legal terms that baffle you )


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