INDUSTRY KNOWHOW SoA: On Contract Rights

Our Industry KnowHow series continues with the Society of Authors. This week, we take a closer look at contract rights. 

You’ve written or illustrated a book and been offered a contract by a publisher under which they want an exclusive grant of rights from you. It’s thrilling to receive an offer and very tempting to simply accept the terms proposed by the publisher, but it’s important that you take some time first to understand – amongst other things – exactly what rights you are being asked to grant.

As part of our C.R.E.A.T.O.R. campaign for fair contract terms, we are asking first for Clarity – clear contracts, in writing, that set out the exact scope of the rights being granted. You should be in no doubt about the range of ways in which a publisher will be able to exploit your work and we would expect the following areas to be covered in any publishing agreement:
  • Exclusivity: Your publisher is likely to want exclusive rights, rather than non-exclusive, so that no one else apart from them can publish your book.
  • Territory: The contract may entitle the publisher to publish and sell your book throughout the world or in a more limited territory, such as the UK and Commonwealth.
  • Language: You may be asked for English language rights only or rights in all languages.
  • Formats and media: It’s possible the publisher will ask for the rights to publish in print, ebook and audio formats, together with additional uses such as first and second serial rights (where extracts are published either before or after publication of the book). They might also want a broader range of rights in other media such as TV, film, stage and radio. Do be aware that the formats and media requested can be highly variable, with much depending on the type of book and publisher. 
  • Duration: You will probably be asked for rights for the full term of copyright (your lifetime plus 70 years) or ideally a shorter term such as five or ten years. Whatever the duration, it should be subject to earlier termination in certain circumstances. 
Remember that your rights are valuable and what is fair for the publisher to take will depend on the nature of the deal. For example, if they are paying you a large advance and investing in a significant print run at the outset, a wider range of rights may be more appropriate. If, however, at the other end of the spectrum, there is no advance and publication will be ebook/print-on-demand only (i.e. copies only printed in response to firm orders), the rights should be far more limited. If you self-publish, you should retain all rights.

Always seek advice

The above is inevitably a general summary and you should never sign away your rights without seeking advice first. The Society of Authors offers specialist tailored advice to all members on request. To join or to find out more, visit You can also find out more about our C.R.E.A.T.O.R. campaign on fair contract terms on our website.

Main Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

The Society of Authors (SoA) is the largest UK trade union for all types of writers, illustrators and literary translators, at all stages of their careers. The SoA offers specialist tailored advice to all members and has been speaking out for the profession since 1884. To join or to find out more and seek advice, visit

Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do or know more about, send your suggestions to

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