Contracts-Legal Issues for Self-Publishing

What contract do you need for illustrators or audiobook narrators?

Clauses, Clauses and Clauses

One of the important tasks of publishing a book is to provide a contract for the illustrator or audiobook narrator. This is a legally binding agreement which lays out the roles of each party in detail. This governs all subsequent interactions. As they say, you will live or die by the contract.

But it’s difficult to find anyone who will share a full contract. The main reason is that no one wants to be responsible for your legal issues! You should consult a literary lawyer. A boilerplate contract should run under $500. Such a template can be easily modified to suit any project and is well worth the money.

However, here’s a list of typical clauses in a typical contract. The list is not all inclusive, as each contract will need some customization. But it’s a place to start to understand the complexities. In the discussion below, YOU are the publisher.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a literary lawyer, and this is not legal advice. You should consult a literary lawyer.

Typical Contract Clauses for Self-Publishing

Preamble: Gives the date, the parties involved in the agreement and the work involved. Usually, you ask for the illustrator or narrator’s legal address.

Scope of Work, or Grant of Rights: Specifies which rights the illustrator or narrator is granting to the publisher. Here is where the contract specifies a work-for-hire to a royalty arrangement.

This wording indicates a work-for-hire contract: “The Publisher hereby and specially orders or commissions…”

Delivery of Works: Specifies dates for delivery of manuscript in various stages, and what other materials must be delivered such as photographs or permissions. Often there’s another clause on Failure to Deliver.


How much will the illustrator or narrator receive? If this is a work-for-hire contract, it will use language like this: “…will receive as full and complete compensation for…”

If you will pay royalties, then you’d specify royalty schedules for each version of the book. See the list below of possible royalties to address; this is an incomplete list, but it gets you started.

Advances: Specifies the amount of an advance and delivery schedule.

Royalties: Specifies the royalty schedule for various versions of the work. Typically, there are different royalties for

  • First Serial Right: Specifies who owns these rights.

  • Subsidiary Rights–Print: Specifies publisher’s rights and responsibilities in licensing the work to book clubs, paperback editions, abridgments, condensations, magazines, etc.

  • Subsidiary Rights–Non-Print: Specifies publisher’s rights and responsibilities in licensing the work for dramatic, motion picture, television, audio, live theater, videogames, toys, calendar, etc.

  • Subsidiary Rights–Electronic: Specifies publisher’s rights and responsibilities in issuing and re-issuing the work in an electronic formatting.

  • Foreign Licenses: Specifies publisher’s rights and responsibilities in licensing the work to foreign publishers.

Work Made For Hire. If this is work-for-hire, there’s often a separate clause that specifies this agreement.

Confidentiality and Nondisclosure. Some publishers prefer to ask illustrators and narrators to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Termination of Contract: Covers the conditions under which the contract can be terminated, including unacceptable art work or audio files.

Warranties and Indemnities: Publisher asks the illustrator or narrator to state that they are the creator of this work. Governs how lawsuits will be handled should problems arise.

Copyediting, Proofreading and Correction of Proof: Specifies how and when copyediting, proofreading and correction of proof will occur.

Publication: Publisher agrees to publish the work in a specified form and within certain time limits. Seldom needed in a self-publishing contract.

Use of Illustrator’s or Narrator’s Name and Likeness: Grants and/or limits the publisher’s use of illustrator’s or narrator’s name and likeness in publicity.

Accounting and Payments: Provides procedures and time schedules for accounting and payment of monies due under the contract.

Illustrator or Audiobook Narrator Copies: Specifies the number of free copies the illustrator or narrator will receive.

Revised Edition Clause: Specifies how the publisher will handle a revision of a work. (Especially used in updating textbooks or books which need constant updating.)

Out of Print Provision: Specifies conditions under which a book is considered out of print.

Return of Manuscript: Specifies time frame and conditions for return of original manuscript.

Bankruptcy and Liquidation: Provides procedures for dealing with the publisher in case of bankruptcy or liquidation.

Suits for Infringement: Deals with dividing any money resulting from an infringement suit.

Governing Law: Specifies the state (or country) law which shall have jurisdiction in case of legal proceedings.

Successors and Assigns: Assures that if your company is bought out, the new publisher will be bound by this contract.

Waiver or Modification: Confirms that this contract is complete and binding.

Notices: Specifies that if any legal proceedings take place, there should be proper notification.

Signatures. Both parties must sign and date the document for legal purposes

Exhibits. Sometimes the technical requirements of a project are included as an exhibit. For example, you might specify that art is provided as 300 dpi at full size, and psd files are required for final acceptance of the art. Whatever technical requirements are needed to publish the book, you can include here.

Contracts are tricky; contracts are important. Whatever option you choose for negotiating your contract, you should continually be educating yourself about the clauses that govern your relationship with a publisher. Because everything about your book is governed by that contract. It’s a legal, binding document and you shouldn’t sign it without understanding it and negotiating the best terms possible.

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The Author’s Guild has a model contract available online:

This model contract is for traditional publishing, and therefore, may be more complicated than you need. It will address things you don’t need and will leave out things you do need. For example, if you prefer to use a work-for-hire contract for illustrators or narrators, this doesn’t address that terminology. But it’s a good place to start to understand the typical clauses in a publishing contract.

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