Self-Publishing? Think Self-Protection

Most of us, I hope, wouldn’t think of signing a contract with Random House or St. Martin’s Press without having the contract reviewed by either an NWU contract advisor or a lawyer. Yet authors who sign up for self-publishing often don’t even get a hard copy of their contracts.

First, as we’ve discussed before, many authors think self-publishing means paying a publisher rather than a publisher paying them. We characterize these publishers as subsidy presses because they do all the work a publisher would do—or at least they’re supposed to.

A member just contacted us for help in getting royalty statements from one such press that actually has a good reputation. Easy, we thought; the contract should specify how often she was supposed to receive statements. Turns out she didn’t have a copy of her contract because she’d “signed” it by clicking “accept” online.

Second, when writers sign on with companies such as Lightning Source and CreateSpace for true self-publishing, they tend to think they’re filling out order forms instead of entering into agreements. Not so. Make sure you have a copy on paper, or in a permanent electronic form, of everything in your agreement. And write to to request a review of all your contracts, not only with the distributor, but also with any editors, photographers or layout artists you employ. A year ago, as we reported in a previous column, an author inadvertently agreed to an online contract that would give him royalties of a penny a book.

Remember school days when the dog used to eat your homework? Don’t let a virtual dog eat your contract.

Barbara Mende is coordinator of the Grievance and Contract Division.