How to Negotiate a Publishing Contract: Home

Get tips on how to negotiate and alter a standard publishing agreement to meet your needs as a University of Utah author.

Academics are Authors

Here are some mantras from the National Writer's Union to help you remember that as an academic you are an author: 

  • If you use words to improve human understanding or contribute to knowledge, you're a writer!
  • If you use words in your work or otherwise to do your job, you're a writer!
  • If you use words to facilitate greater social justice or democracy, you're a writer!

U of U faculty, by means of U Policy 7-003, own the copyright in traditional scholarly works. As rights holders, individual faculty members can negotiate the terms of a publishing contract. When presented with a publishing contract, remember that you are a professional writer and author even if your title is professor, librarian, researcher, or academic. As a rights holder and professional author, you have significant bargaining power.

Basic Tips on Negotiating a Publishing Contract

First off, don't transfer or assign all of your copyrights. There are five copyrights and you can choose which ones to give to the publisher. The most relevant ones would be to copy/reproduce and to distribute. These two are needed to publish something, i.e. to make it public. And you don't have to transfer or assign them. You can establish an exclusive or even non-exclusive agreement where you retain rights and contractually provide permission to the publisher to engage in the rights surrounding your manuscript. If you plan on translating your work, then don't transfer your right to prepare a derivative work, i.e. adapt. 

Five Copyrights

  • To reproduce the work
  • To prepare derivative works
  • To distribute copies of the work
  • To perform the work publicly
  • To display the work publicly

If publishing with a university press, watch for the copyright registration clause. The contract might say that the registration will be in the author's name, but this is misleading. If the press has asked for an assignment of all copyrights, which they normally do, then the press is the rights holder. Presses need all rights in order to list themselves as a copyright claimant in a U.S. copyright registration record. A registration record is needed for any copyright infringement lawsuit.

Look for and negotiate these other fair publishing contract terms as outlined by the Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative

  • Ask for half of net proceeds for royalties on e-books and ask for quarterly payments
  • Establish a fixed amount of time instead life of copyright (which is life of the author + 70 years)
  • Both the author and publisher should decide on a manuscript's acceptability (not just the publisher), but the author should have final say
  • Strike non-compete and/or option clauses

The Book Division of the National Writers Union also has good resources and tips on negotiating. 

Example Wording of Publishing Contracts and How to Alter Them


We acknowledge and agree that copyright in the Work shall vest with you and you shall be responsible for all costs and expenses related to registering the copyright in the Work in your own name. 


The Author hereby grants the exclusive right to publish, reproduce, and distribute the Work in the English language and grant to third parties the rights to the Work as outlined in this contract. 


Brief Explanation

This contract acknowledges the author as the copyright holder and expects you to register your work as the rights holder. That means you clearly stay the rights holder in the work. The contract only requires a grant of rights (not an assignment) and expects exclusive rights to only two of the five copyrights: to reproduce and to distribute. The contract indicates which language and introduces the option of the publisher acting as an agent to provide permission to third parties. This would create a partnership with the publisher.  


The Author hereby grants and assigns to the Publisher during the full term of copyright and all renewals thereof all rights in the Work, including book publication rights and the rights hereinafter specifically referred to in this Agreement, throughout the world. 


The Publisher shall have exclusive right to register copyrights in the Work in the name of the Author in the U.S. and such other countries as it may deem expedient; and the Author agrees to take or cause to be taken, as provided by law, all necessary steps to effect renewals of the copyright in the Work on the expiration of the term thereof and to grant and assign the same or the rights under the same to the Publisher. In case the copyright is in the name of the Author, the Author hereby grants to the Publisher the right to bring, in the name of the Author, any actions or proceeding for the enjoining of any infringement of the copyright in the Work and for any damages resulting therefrom, and all rights under said copyright and all renewals thereof subject to the terms of this Agreement. 


The Author grants to the Publisher an option to publish his next book on terms to be negotiated.


Brief Explanation

This contract requires an assignment of all copyrights for the full term of copyright. This means all five rights belonging to the author would get transferred to the publisher and the publisher becomes the owner. The work would be registered under the author's name, but there is no ownership on the part of the author making the registration misleading. The contract also requires the author to give permission for the publisher to sue in the author's name. It also requires the author to give the publisher first dibs on the author's next book. 

Standard hardcover print book royalties: 

  • 1 to 5,000 copies: 10%
  • 5,001 to 10,000 copies: 12%
  • in excess of 10,000 copies: 15%

Standard e-book royalties are 15%, but the Author's Guild recommends 50% as the author-friendly amount.

Strike out terms and replace them with what you prefer as the author or negotiate via email or over the phone. Follow tips from the National Writer's Union and Author's Guild

For journal article publishing, strike out terms or generate an addendum and attach it to the publishing contract. Follow tips from Science Commons. For questions on federal public access policies as they relate to published journal articles, see Daureen Nesdill's guide called Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) Federal Agencies Sharing Research. 

Get Help with a Publishing Contract

Profile Photo
Allyson Mower, MA, MLIS
University of Utah, Marriott Library
295 South 1500 East, Room 5150E
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
(801) 585-5458
Marriott Library Eccles Library Quinney Law Library