What Does an Author Pay For?

New authors–and sometimes experienced ones–may be uncertain about which parts of the publishing process the author “normally” pays for. What the author pays for differs, depending on the publishing path the author chooses. Know the standards for your choice.

Traditional Publishing: the Author pays the Publisher nothing.

Under the traditional publishing model, the publisher pays all costs of publication, and the author pays nothing out-of-pocket. The best contracts contain “gross royalty” provisions, where the author’s royalties are based on the publisher’s gross receipts on sales. In a gross royalty scenario, the author receives a percentage of whatever the publisher receives on sales of the work, without offsets for costs.

Less beneficial contracts sometimes contain a “net royalty” provision, where the publisher can offset certain costs before calculating royalties on sales. Net royalties are less beneficial to the author, and authors should obtain gross royalty language whenever possible. If the contract involves net royalties, it should also describe, in detail, what the publisher can (and cannot) deduct.

Beware: Some contracts use the word “net” but are actually based on a gross royalty model. Also, some contracts use the word “gross” but allow reductions, so the effect is net royalty calculation. Get professional review so you know for sure.

Regardless of the method of royalty calculation, a traditional publishing contract never, ever requires the author to pay the publisher for anything–including marketing and/or copies of finished books.

Hybrid Publishing: Authors Share Expenses–and Maintain More Control.

“Hybrid” contracts may require the author to share expenses–but also give the author specific powers or control in return.

Under the “hybrid” publishing model, the author may share printing and other costs with the publisher, but the author normally gets higher royalty shares & more control. Where royalties under traditional contracts average 7-12%, hybrid royalties can be five times that amount.

By sharing the financial risks with a hybrid publisher, the author reaps a higher reward and retains more control over the process.

Some hybrid publishers deduct the author’s share of costs from sales before calculating royalties (similar to a traditional net situation). Other times, authors pay a portion of publishing costs to the hybrid publisher in advance.

Beware: Some scams and vanity presses try to pass themselves off as hybrid. Never sign a hybrid publishing contract without professional review, to ensure the offer is legitimate.

It can be difficult for people without experience reading publishing contracts to tell the difference between a legitimate hybrid offer and a scam. Never sign a hybrid contract without obtaining professional review.

Vanity Presses/Scams: The Author Pays–in Inappropriate Ways

Contracts which require the author to pay large sums of money up front are almost always a bad idea. These terms denote a vanity press–or a scam. Similarly, contracts which require the author to sign marketing contracts with the publisher’s marketing arm are usually indicators of vanity presses.

Never, ever sign a contract which requires you to pay money up front without obtaining review by an agent or attorney you trust. The long-term cost of ending up with a bad publisher far outweighs the cost of review before you sign the deal. 

Beware: Having no contract at all is better than finding yourself tied to a bad contract with a bad publisher.

Have experience with publishing contracts, or questions about publishing? Feel free to ask in the comments or contact me on Twitter (@SusanSpann). I’d love to hear from you!