View Full Version : Textbook writing - experience with contract details?

11-20-2007, 06:12 AM
Hi all,
I have been offered a contract to write a textbook and have NO idea whether the terms are fair, reasonable, generous or.... The bottom line is: 4% on the first $10k, then 8% after that. But no advance at all, it seems. I was surprised by the latter but maybe it's standard in the textbook world. (I have no agent, by the way.)
One other wrinkle is that the publisher is in the UK, although it is a US-based textbook. I'm not worried about them being legit, they certainly are, I just want to know if I should be negotiating or grabbing with both hands.
Any thoughts or advice welcome.

Lauri B
11-20-2007, 05:51 PM
Is the 4% on list or net? It seems low to me, especially since you aren't receiving an advance. On the other hand, if it's a textbook and it's selling for $40 a copy, you'll make some okay money once it gets selling--I mean, 10,000 copies at 1.60 per isn't so bad (for example). If it's on net, then it's way too low.

And are you keeping the copyright, or is this basically a work for hire? Make sure you know before you sign. This is a US-based book, but will there be other rights sales involved? You should check to see what you would get out of that.

11-20-2007, 06:30 PM
I'd ask for an advance. All they can do is say no...and then at least you asked. I worked at a University for seven years and when I started writing my current book I asked my supervisor (a tenured professor) about textbook deals. He said the royalties are lower than mass market books but that he always got a small advance. Maybe it was his credentials that allowed him to do that but I know he did not have an agent. I don't think most academics have an agent.

11-20-2007, 10:04 PM
Have you considered grabbing an agent quickly? That's what I did with my first NF, offer in hand. You can choose a good agent quickly, just equery, with 'offer on the table' in the subject line, and ask your good, important business questions of the agent. I doubt you'll regret the agent getting a commission...you'll have someone on your side.
Maybe go to agentquery, run n-f, and just query agents from there who suit you.

And congratulations!

11-21-2007, 05:25 AM
Textbooks are a weird market, which I have experience in, not as a writer but as an illustrator, though naturally I've worked with numerous textbook writers. I'm surprised they're even offering a royalty, if it's a work for hire. Normally textbooks are a hit and run business, in which the publisher wants total ownership of everything, if the concept was theirs; for instance, if you're writing one of a series. In my experience in such situations, they pay a flat fee. What's useful to the author is to get a clause in the contract for first refusal rights to do the annual or biannual "revised editions", for the same fee as the original. That's easy money. Then you have a guaranteed paycheck every couple years. Some writers I know make a decent side income off these flat fee payments, much better than royalties and advances they've gotten for general market books.

If the concept is entirely yours, then it's pretty much the same as any other publishing contract. Royalties can range from 2.5% to 10% of the cover price, depending on how far the publishers can hose you.

The strange part is no advance. Even on flat fee work-for-hire contracts, there is normally a staggered payment: 1/3 up front, 1/3 on first draft, remainder on publication. If it's royalty-based, then it should be no different than any other publication agreement, with an advance payment.

Rest assured that the publisher will be paying far more in payola, graft and bribes to school officials to get them to buy your book than they will ever pay the author. That's very much how the textbook business works. A publisher I worked for was indicted after one too many fur coats, Mercedes and overseas boarding school fees were given to relatives of school principals. The publisher cried foul because everyone else was doing it, and it was unfair to single them out and hurt their competitiveness. So maybe you should ask for a Mercedes on top of your payments.

11-21-2007, 06:30 PM
I was approached by a big publisher in the academic/textbook world. It was their office in England that contacted me to write a business nonfiction book for them. Originally, they told me they didn't offer new writers advances and gave me a low-ball royalties percentage. Luckily, I had just gotten the interest of an agent who took me much more seriously when I mentioned this deal to him. Anyway, he stepped in and negotiated a MUCH better deal. I'd say, don't think their first deal is really the best they can do. Second, if you want to PM me we can talk about it more. In fact, I'll PM you right now.

11-22-2007, 11:31 PM
Thanks all. A little birdie told me that my publisher is down to earth and reasonable so I'm going to ask for an increase in the persentages and an advance. As you say, I can but ask!
Thanks again for the advice and suggestions.

12-21-2007, 01:56 AM
I just finished writing a textbook for a major publisher. I contacted them, not vice-versa. I do not use an agent (I've had five editions of a non-fiction book published before and never used one for it, either).

My royalty is a lot more generous than what you described. It's staggered; I have 3 different percentages based on # of books sold. I was given an advance AND a grant to help defray my costs (it was very art-intensive and I had to hire a small staff to help me illustrate it).

I was offered a choice of royalty percentages; one was more of a flat-percentage, one was a staggered "share the risk" one. I took the latter.