Pub Rants

Importance Of Specifying Format Of Initial Edition

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STATUS: Auction tomorrow. Always fun.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? FADE INTO YOU by Mazzy Star

Here’s a contract tip that is both simple and yet can have a large consequence if not done.

As an agency, it’s been a long-time policy for our deals that publisher must specify initial publication format in the contract. For example, if a publisher wins a book at auction and part of them winning was a commitment to doing the book as a hardcover (for example), then when it comes time for publication, we don’t suddenly want the publisher to do the book as a trade paperback original instead.

One reason for this has to do with the author’s ability to earn out an advance. If a publisher paid a solid six-figures for something, the author is going to need the hardcover sales (with the higher price point) to earn out. Not to mention, with a hardcover initial edition, the author gets two publishing shots toward earn-out as the publisher, as a general rule, will publish the trade pb edition about a year later.

Makes sense.

Here’s another reason for specifying format of initial edition. As agents, we want to ensure that a publisher will do both a print AND electronic edition and not just publish a digital-only edition if that was not the original intent for accepting deal/contract. (Sidenote: Obviously, if an agent is selling a title to a digital-only publisher, then ebook only as initial format is understood.)

In this rapidly changing publishing landscape, and the rise of ebook sales, it is conceivable that a publisher buys a book with the intention of doing both formats and then decides later to not do the print edition and publish it only as an ebook.

I have not heard of this happening–yet. But why chance it?

Part of our job is to anticipate possible issues.

14 Responses

  1. Colin Smith said:

    Excellent point, and not one I would have considered. Of course, I’m not an agent, but it’s still good to know things like this.

    Thanks, Kristin!

  2. Yael said:

    Question: If a book is originally published as a hardcover, but it doesn’t sell very well, does the publisher still release a paperback edition?

  3. Anonymous said:

    This will most likely be getting more and more important. Be interesting to come back five years from now and re-read this post to see how things have changed.

  4. Susan Spann said:

    Speaking from a publishing attorney’s POV – I have seen the “switcheroo” happen. At least, I’ve been contacted by people to whom it has happened wondering if there was anything I could do after the fact. (Not a contract I negotiated, or one I’d have advised anyone to sign.) I won’t give details due to client confidentiality, but this is a very realistic concern, and something I want all authors (clients and non-clients) about with regularity.

    Yet another good example of terms agents and/or attorneys recognize as a problem which authors sometimes don’t understand without assistance.

    Big red star/take-home point: No matter how you publish, have an agent or attorney or other experienced professional review the contract before you sign.

  5. Susan Spann said:

    And… “want all authors” should have been “warn all authors.”

    Typo for the lose.

    That’s what I get for coming out of hiding to comment and not proofreading before I hit send.

  6. Kristin Laughtin said:

    Yikes! I would have thought this to be a normal thing specified in all contracts. It’s definitely good to include, especially given the rise of ebooks and the growing number of books being published in one format or the other.

  7. T.D. McFrost said:

    I love Kristen! She knows everything about everything regarding publishing and contracts. If only I could be so blessed to have her on my side. Ah yes…I’d be the happiest author in the world. ^_^

  8. M.Ziegler said:

    A very good bit of information to file away for later. The world is rapidly changing with e-books, it’s crazy. I’m guessing with the invention of e-books payouts are smaller even though the creation of a e-book has less of an investment.

  9. sarah pekkanen said:

    Interesting discussion, and I can add a personal story to it from another angle. My first book, The Opposite of Me, sold at auction and the plan was to publish it in hardcover. But a few months after my book sold in 2008 – publication was more than a year off- the stock market completely tanked. OUr economy was in a downward slide, and there was a real concern that people would be less likely to take a chance on a debut author in hardcover. I knew if hardcover sales were dismal, it wouldn’t look good on my record, and might affect the career I was just beginning. So my publisher, agent and I made the decision to go to trade paperback instead. It turned out to be a great choice – the book earned out and we released my second book in trade paperback. My third is about to come out – also in trade ppbk. Someday we’ll go to hardcover, but for now I’m really happy with the choice to build my sales and I’m thrilled with the support I’ve gotten from my publisher and believe we made the right choice.

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