Writer Beware: 5 Red Flags In Self-Publishing Book Contracts | Self-Publishing Relief

by | Other Helpful Information, Self-Publishing | 2 comments

At Self-Publishing Relief, we know how many hats an author must wear during the self-publishing process—and we’re sorry to say there’s one more…the intimidating lawyer hat. Okay, we’re exaggerating a bit, but savvy authors know to be extra careful when presented with a self-publishing book contract.

Before you sign your work away, be sure to read the fine print. And be on the lookout for certain contract language, phrases, and clauses that may make you feel uncomfortable. Your hard work is on the line, so make informed choices and protect your rights…and royalties!

NOTE: We are not attorneys; this article is based on our 23+ years of experience in the publishing industry and is not for legal use. If you have questions, we recommend that you speak to a contract lawyer.

Five Red Flags In Self-Publishing Book Contracts To Watch For:

EXCLUSIVE LICENSE:  This grants the licensee the right to prevent others from using your licensed work…which means you lose the right to sell books through outlets such as bookstores, CreateSpace, KDP—even your own website!

License Continuation Post-Termination: This sneaky little clause can wreak havoc for those whose self-published book has been picked up by a traditional publisher—meaning that the self-publisher can keep selling your work for a full year after you’ve terminated your contract. Traditional publishers may be willing to wait for the standard 30-day contract termination, but they may not be so willing to wait for a whole year.

ROYALTIES: If a self-publishing company’s contract claims a portion of your royalties, find out why. This is not standard practice, since they’re already charging you for their services. And if the self-publishing company claims it can’t calculate your royalties until your manuscript has been reviewed—or your non-refundable deposit has been received—you should probably steer clear. Here’s a simple guide to understanding self-publishing royalties.

CREATIVE CONTROL: Does your contract give you the right to choose your own cover art and other design elements? As your book’s cover is its most powerful marketing tool, you don’t want to be forced into an oft-recycled cover or one that is poorly designed. Will you be part of the final approval process, and will you be charged for any design changes? Find out before you sign!

RETAIL PRICE: If a self-publishing company promises huge royalties or profits on your book, they may also have the right to assign your book an unreasonably high retail price—a price that will turn readers away. Reliable self-publishers know how to sell books and maximize profit, but a book that’s priced too high is bound to fail. You should have the right to set your own price point, as well as control the discount offered to retailers and wholesalers.

“Watch for royalties that are increased by reducing your wholesale discount to booksellers. If no store will buy the book, what’s the point of a royalty?” advises copyright lawyer Helen Sedwick, author of the Self-Publishers Legal Handbook. “The best book publishers, and especially the best self-publishers, know that a net sales profit method is in the best interest of the author, and won’t manipulate royalty percentages or profits.”

And well before the contract-signing stage, be sure to look for these additional red flags of questionable self-publishing companies:

  • What kind of reputation does the company have in the writing community?
  • What are other authors saying about their experience?
  • Is the company website transparent, with a FAQ page, clear prices, and straightforward language vs. “We’re gonna make you rich!”?
  • How difficult is it to terminate the contract once you’ve signed?
  • And is there ANYONE who can answer your questions?!

If you’re feeling uneasy, move on to the next self-publishing company…one that treats authors with respect and honesty rather than one that offers empty promises and fuzzy math. And don’t forget to don your legal eagle hat—or at least familiarize yourself with the basic terminology—and read the fine print before you sign a self-publishing contract!

And remember, if navigating the self-publishing process seems too complicated or frustrating, Self-Publishing Relief can wear the hats for you! We’ll guide you through every step so that you have a self-published book you can be proud to put your name on. Contact us today and find out how we can help.


Question: Have you signed a self-publishing contract that led to trouble? Share your experience in our comments section!





  1. carman colwell

    This was quite an eye opener. I have not published by self-publishing, but if I was to I certainly would use this criteria before I signed on the dotted line.

    Thank you for publishing this information.

  2. mary

    Oh boy was I ever naive. Never follow any instructions that require a credit card number before you get any useful information. IUniverse is a rip off company that delivers nothing more than obfuscation and conartistry. Beware of these companies.


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