Why You Need to Know the Basics of a Traditional Book Contract: Part 3 — Promises, Promises!

What you and they promise — and they will hold you to it

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

So you have a book contract. Wonderful! And you’ve looked at the key elements I’ve talked about so far — licencing, termination clause, advances and royalties — things that will benefit you if you get them right.

But what about the promises — often called “warranties” in your parts of your contract? And the guarantees the publisher makes to you? Because this is a legal contract, and if you break any of these promises, you might find yourself in a load of trouble.

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.

What you promise the publisher

Let’s start with the first thing you promise them — the date you will hand over the final edited draft of the manuscript, after you have worked with their editor. Whether you have disputes with the editor or not (and it’s a good idea to avoid this or sort it out early), publishers usually create a schedule for publishing your book that starts with the publication date and works backwards.

If you hand in your final draft two months late, you stuff up their whole schedule. They might have decided your book should come out in early October to gain Christmas sales. You being two months late means they’ll be struggling to get your book out there by early December, and will be pretty upset at missing two months of sales.

Of course you can’t avoid catastrophes, but if something like that happens, you will have to talk to them pronto. Just not handing over the manuscript by the due date means you have broken the contract. Communication is key.

Warranties are also your promises

Now for the section called warranties. Firstly, you warrant that the work belongs to you and you are entitled to enter into the contract. You also warrant that you own the copyright, and the book has not been previously published in the territories…



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.