Articles > Intellectual Property

What should authors look out for in a publishing agreement?

November 15, 2022   Arnav GandhiPhilip Evangelou

You’ve dedicated countless hours of writing  and now have a fully fledged manuscript. Some publishers have approached you with lucrative deals and promises of prolific advertising. But it may be good to be true. Before a deal is signed, authors must carefully examine the contract and note these key clauses. 

Strict Fee Clauses:

These are employed by “vanity” or “subsidy” publishers who prey on aspiring and desperate authors. They requires you to pay a fee to the publisher regardless of how well you perform through a co-payment. Publishers who use these clauses are often very aggressive and will approach you directly.

Delivery time stipulations:

Publishers will indicate the date they want a final draft submitted in any publishing contract. You should note if this is achievable for you and request any changes if you do not believe you can satisfy the clause. Because these clauses are often “of the essence”  this may mean that the publisher has the right to terminate the contract if you do not submit the draft on time. 

Alteration clause: 

After receiving your draft, publishers may wish to make any alterations or edits to your work. This may be possible through an alternation clause, which can set out the scope of any changes the publisher may make to your work. It is recommended you attempt to negotiate any approval clauses, which requires you to approve any requested changes made by the publisher prior to publication. 

This right to approval are also incorporated under the Copyright Act as “moral rights”, to prevent false attribution of work.

Advertising and sales:

The publisher will detail how they wish to advertise the book or media through a particular sales channel or marketing strategy. Often, they will provide the aesthetic design of the book cover and write the blurb. If your are not satisfied with the aesthetic they wish to use and want a greater influence marketing, you should negotiate any changes to do this clauses. 


The agreement will contain information about how much royalties will be paid and what rate they will take.  Royalties are rights to receive a certain percentage of net revenue attributed to the sale of the work. If you feel the royalties received by the publisher are too high, you should negotiate an alternation.  You also request advances which require the publisher to pay some fees prior to publication. 


Copyright Clauses: 

Under Australian Law, the author of the book or creator of a work is assumed to have copyright of the work. However, it is possible to assign this right under contract. 

Typical arrangements in the publishing industry include:

Granting the Publisher an Exclusive Licence

This means the author retains the copyright but the publisher has the exclusive right for a certain time period to solely publish and distribute the work 

Granting  the Publisher an Non- Exclusive Licence

This allows the author to deal with other publishers in addition to the publisher they have contracted with. The publisher can publish and distribute the work but cannot prevent other publishers from doing so.

Assigning the Copyright to the Publisher. 

This gives the copyright holder full control over the right to the work. The author must seek permission from the publisher to distribute the work for  non-private use. This can be permanent or temporary. 

For this reason, it is recommended that authors and creators grant licenses to publishers rather than transfer copyright. 


Authors must read and negotiate publication agreements to protect themselves and maximise their commercial gain. Important clauses relating to royalties, delivery date, advertising and copyright should understood and agreed upon mutually. 

About Arnav Gandhi

Arnav is a 3rd year student studying Commerce and Law at Macquarie University. He is interested in Commercial Transactions in the Startup and Venture Capital space. In his spare time he likes to read and keep fit.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.