Friday 20 March 2015

Signing Your First Book Contract

© Dianne Bates
Getting one’s first contract is probably the highlight of a new author’s writing life (next to first hearing that a publisher wants to publish her book). However, it can be easy to receive the contract and in a moment of blissful ignorance, sign and date it with a flourish – only to later discover you have signed your life away. I’ve signed hundreds of publishers’ contracts over the past 30 years, so I, too, have blundered along the way. Here are a few "nevers" I would suggest when signing a contract:
* Never let a publisher bully you. Never! If you are inexperienced or nervous and you have a contract, then is a good time to contact a literary agent and get them to negotiate on your behalf. (Agents are more interested in writers who already have contracts.) Alternatively you can contact the ASA (Australian Society of Authors), a private arts lawyer or the Arts Law Centre, all of whom will advise you on what rights you should accept.
If at any time during negotiations, the publisher tries to bypass your agent re the terms of the contract, be firm and refer them to your agent.
* Do not sign the option clause in your contract. The option clause basically says that you agree to submit your next manuscript to the company. It is unnecessary and for many reason it’s to your advantage not to. You can always submit your next work to the same publisher who gave you the first contract. Or to anyone else!
* Never sign with book publishers for "devices which might be invented in the future" Negotiate these separately, when the publisher is ready to publish via non-book means.
* Never assign CAL (Copyright Agency Licence, or photocopying) payments to your publisher, but DO register your book with CAL as soon as it is published
* Never let your publisher take your share of ELR and PLR payments. (If in doubt, ring the Lending Rights' people and ask them what to do). Lending Rights is a Federal Government payment to compensate authors for their books held in public and educational libraries.
* Never refuse to take an advance against royalties. Even if it's only $300, take it. If a publisher says he can't afford it, find a publisher who can afford it. Do you want to deal with a liar? Advances should always be non-returnable. If the contract is signed and your publisher reneges, you are entitled to what is known as a "kill fee" which compensates you for the work you have done, or have missed out on doing.
* Never take a flat fee payment: if you do, then you will never get ELR and PLR payments which are worth a lot of money to you over a period of time. Lending Rights payments are only made where there is a continuing interest in the book (ie royalties coming in).
Always check every single clause in your contract: be especially careful with percentages on subsidiary rights and book club deals. Also, watch the translation and film rights clauses and make sure you negotiate for as much as you can.
·      Re negotiation tactics, put everything in writing. Talking to publishers in person or on the phone about contracts can be emotionally charged, so it is best to put it in print (either email or snail mail) and keep paper copies of all email exchanges. Create a paper folder marked with the publisher’s name and keep papers in consecutive date order, including royalty statements, letters (or emails) to and fro etc. Date everything. This will prove very helpful in the long run if you need to check on anything, or if there is a legal problem.
 If it is difficult for you to negotiate your contract, get an agent, a lawyer or the Arts Law Centre to negotiate on your behalf.
If you negotiate for rising royalties make sure you keep an eye on the number you sell and let the publisher know if they conveniently forget that the clause is there. A rising royalty means you are to receive a greater percentage of royalties depending on book sales. You might, for example, have a royalty of 10% on the first 3,000 copies sold, rising to 12% thereafter.
Don't let all your great talent and many hours of work be under-valued by yourself and/or your publisher!
Whenever you receive a royalty statement, always check how many copies there are remaining; if it approaches 50 (which indicate the book is close to going out of print) immediately write to the publisher and give notice to reissue or reprint the book. If they don’t want to do so, ask to buy remainders at discount (offer 50 cents, and negotiate from there.) According to your contract, when the book goes out of print, the rights will revert to you so you can get your book published elsewhere, if you wish. Get the publisher to put it into writing that rights have reverted to you. I have done this quite a few times.
Sometimes publishers decide to get rid of stock in their warehouse. There can be numerous reasons for this, including old stock making way for new, or stock not selling and taking up valuable space. In any case, most contracts indicate – or should, as it is to your advantage – that the author gets first right of refusal. Having remainders means that you can dispose of them as you wish (donate them to schools, give them as gifts to family and friends, or sell them.) Often the publisher will offer the remainders to you at a certain price. But it is better if you make the first offer. I generally ask to buy remainder stock (which might be up to 1,000 copies) at 50 cents a copy. The publisher will agree or (mostly likely) make a counter offer. Always make sure that the agreement you reach results in the publisher paying the freight charges (they get them a lot cheaper that you will.)
You can sell your remainders at RRP, if you wish, or at discount at
                            Your local schools
                            To book shops
                             Schools where you present
                             Via the internet
                             Via your website
                              By mail order
If you donate your books to organisations, such as schools or charities, you can claim a tax deduction (as a donation or for promotional purposes).
If giving the books away is part of your marketing yourself as an author, you can also claim a tax deduction. Make sure you keep accurate transaction records, including date, price, quantity and customer. I was once stuck with 500 CD books which I was unable to sell, so I donated them to a teachers’ organisation which had a stall at a national conference; that year I made a bonus tax deduction as a result.
Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of 120+, many of which are now out of print. Her most recent books are The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia), Nobody’s Boy (Celapene Press) and A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). Di’s website is  Di also offers an online course for those wishing to write for children.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Writing Competition: The Historic Beginning Challenge

For many authors, re-publishing in digital formats means the title, cover, blurb and opening sentence become even more important, because that’s all prospective buyers see. Sometimes the online catalogue or listing allows prospective reader to look at a sample page and often this includes the opening paragraph.

Your challenge is to write two different 100 word openings to the same short story, novel or non-fiction piece. Each must introduce the character, setting and conflict. Content can be the same. It must be your original story and probably is your W.I.P.(work in progress). Labelled Buzz Words Historic Beginning Challenge, these can be emailed to  

Closing date is 30 April. The winner who will be announced in Buzz Words will be sent an e- copy of Authorpreneurship: The Business of Creativity and Fake ID the YA family history mystery for adolescent readers, plus some other autographed print titles such as Chopper Rescue Stories and Activities for mentoring and guided writing.

Below is the opening to my novel, Fake I.D., a YA family history mystery where Zoe investigates who her gran really was.


It was printed in black on the package.

So I opened it. Gran was dead. So in one way, it was OK to open her envelope. On the day of your gran’s funeral, you expect to say goodbye to her, help pack up the house and her belongings and even arrange for her dog to be looked after. But you don’t expect to find out that she was someone else.                                                                                                                                        
Fake ID, that’s what my gran had. For years and years. Now I don’t know who she really was. But I’m going to find out. I have to.

Check out  for background articles, especially

For a free issue of Buzz Words, an online magazine for people in the children's book industry, write to 

Saturday 7 March 2015

The Anti-Good Kids Book Rant

Just recently I read a book in a children's series titled The Anti-Princess Club published by one of Australia's top publishing houses. It was the author’s attempt to indoctrinate young girl readers into feminism. Basically, the idea is take a trio of girls who want to overcome parental expectations (that is, parents treating them like princesses) and have them figure out ways in which they can be ‘themselves.’

I agree that all young people – boys as well as girls – ought to be raised without stereotypical, sexist expectations, but this book seemed to be just ticking all of the boxes. At the moment, too, there are (and I counted) over a dozen book series for girls who have happy adventures with minor hiccups they need to explore and come to terms with.

I have to say it or I’ll explode! I am heartily sick of children’s books like those above, especially novels for pre-teens, which are about middle-class children with middle-class expectations and petty problems. Sadly, books these days are written by middle-class authors, accepted for publication by middle-class editors and chosen for children by middle-class parents, grand-parents and librarians.

Where are the junior novels about children from dysfunctional or disadvantaged children, and/or children from working class families? Where can a child who’s in care read a book about herself? 

What book can the child whose parents are unemployed or who drink too much, or take drugs, have mental illness, or live their lives in confusion, find another child like himself? Which books can these unfortunate children read about kids like themselves which show how those kids manage to find hope in what might seem like a hopeless world?

I want to see – I demand to see -- books which challenge young readers to go beyond their comfortable, middle-class existences. I want young readers to see children like some of their peers who struggle on a daily basis. Where are the publishers brave enough to take on such novels? Where are the writers prepared to go beyond the boundaries of their safe little worlds?

Yes, reader, I am writing them! Nobody’s Boy (Celapene Press), A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press), Here Comes Trouble! (Dragon Tales Publishing) – and two more which are currently looking for a publisher: The Very Best Teacher and To the Moon and Back

The only children’s author of novels for younger readers I can name is the UK’s Jacquelyn Wilson whose books – like The Illustrated Mum, The Suitcase Kid, Tracey Beaker -- are immensely popular. Check out her books me know if you have read any books such as I’ve described – I want to read them, too!