Why You Need to Know the Basics of a Book Contract If You Want to be Traditionally Published

Even if you have an agent, it’s your responsibility to understand your contract and discuss it

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Here’s a word you might have heard — boilerplate. And here’s a term — termination clause. If you don’t know what either of them mean, I’m going to explain — and more.

Warning: I am not a lawyer or an agent, so what I say here is not legal advice. It’s knowledge and experience from 25+ years of book contracts, and too many writers are ignorant of things that could cost them a lot. Or even everything.

It’s astonishing how little is understood about book contracts. Not all of this is the writer’s fault. Some publishers deliberately create 50-page contracts full of jargon to bamboozle you. They don’t want you to ask questions. They want you to sign and shut up. (That’s why good agents are worth their percentage, by the way. Good agents don’t shut up, and they shouldn’t get bamboozled.)

I was incredibly lucky — when I received my very first book contract, another writer with a ton of experience and knowledge took me through it, clause by clause, and explained everything, as well as what I should be asking for. I will be forever grateful to him. I had to negotiate more than twenty contracts on my own, and it was pretty nervewracking at times. But knowing what I was entitled to, and understanding what the parts of the contract meant, made all the difference.

I have since had agents, but I still read every contract and discuss it with my agent so nothing is missed and we are on the same page about what to ask for.

This knowledge is important. Without it, you could lose a lot, including the rights to your own book. So here is some of what I have learned to share with you.


This is the name given to the publisher’s standard contract. This contract almost always favors the publisher. It gives them a higher percentage of many of the rights that can be sold. It often has no termination clause. It can also waiver your moral rights, and put the onus back on you if anyone sues.



Sherryl Clark - writer, editor, poet.

Writer, editor, book lover — I've published many children's books and three crime novels for adults so far. I edit other people's fiction and poetry.