Beware the “Term of License” Contract

In this month's Authors Guild Bulletin, Mark L. Levine warns writers to be very wary of publishers offering a so-called "term of license" contract (signing you for seven to ten years with an option to renew) unless you are already a best-selling author or are negotiating paperback or reprint rights to an existing work.

If they're offering it to you as a novice writer, then it's a big warning sign that "the publisher in not a bona fide trade or academic publisher or even a bona fide print-on-demand one but a vanity publisher masquerading as a bona fide POD publisher."  He offers some more good advice:

Recently, a handful of POD publishers have been soliciting and "accepting" manuscripts at an astonishing rate and not requiring money up front to publish a book. They even offer what on its face apperas to be a relatively standard publishing agreement and sometimes agree to pay a nominal advance (eg one dollar). This has led writers — particularly novices– to think they are being published by bona fide trade publishers.

[…]They typically will not publish any copies other than those ordered at the authors discount. Apparently, the total number of books purchases for friends and relativesat the "special" author's price by the presumably large number of people taken in by this scheme makes it a profitable venture for the ethically challenge.

[…]If you are still interested in proceeding in the hope that your publisher is bona fide, be sure to insert, in addition to the requirement that the book be published within a specified time period at the publisher's sole expense, language stating tha the number of print-on-demand copies of the book initially published at the publisher's expense "will not be less than ______ copies" (eg 500 or 1000). Language like this, as well as a good out-of-print clause, should flush out the intentions of the publisher and save you from a bad surprise.

9 thoughts on “Beware the “Term of License” Contract”

  1. “will not be less than ______ copies” (eg 500 or 1000)
    This one in particular is an excellent suggestion. In my own contract, this codicil was not present. The publisher in question could have printed any number of books, from a single copy and beyond, and in fact, it was the company’s failure to provide books to outlets in a timely manner that finally put me over the edge.
    Thankfully, there was a ‘timely publication/distribution’ clause included and had I not been able to extricate myself from this house, otherwise, it is that clause I would have used in court to do so.
    It should be noted that publishers who refuse to tell an author how many copies of his/her book have been printed are hiding something. That something usually has to do with eventual underreporting of sales/royalty payments.
    NO REPUTABLE PUBLISHER FAILS TO INFORM AN AUTHOR OR HIS AGENCY CONCERNING PRINT RUNS. If you know of a publisher who does not report to authors how many books, and in some cases, where those books have been printed– RUN AWAY!

  2. This is so true they refuse to pay me my commission and i did a test and purchased my book from different outlets and they are not reporting that the book has sold and i have proof of purchase.

  3. My book was published by Publish America in April 2009.I was aware of at least 45 books sold locally, but they informed me that only 16 were sold. My statement was supposed to be mailed or emailed to me by the end of August. After repeatedly requesting my statement, I finally received it by USPS on 11/19/09. Not only was the number of books sold wrong, but their figures were wrong, as well. When they added $5.99 plus $18.17, they came up with a total of $16.47!! Can you believe it?! And, since it was not “at least $49.00” as per our contract, they are going to roll this amount over to the next pay period, Feb. 2010. And I have to put up with this for 6 MORE YEARS! How could I have been so stupid? They sent me a contract for my second book, but I REFUSED to sign another one, and “give” another book to them…to profit on.

  4. My question is this. If Publish America and other vanity presses are so terrible, what do novice authors do to get published? No “reputable” publisher will accept insolicited material. Where can novice authors go?

  5. I signed a seven year contract with Publish America in June of 2004. I recieved a check twice a year for maybe three years at the most, and not one of those checks ever amounted to more than two dollars. My contract is up but they refuse to send me the plates as per our contract. I have been buying up my books and having friens but them so I know they were selling, but Publish America claims none sold. Is there possibly a class action lawsuit going on right now, or maybe we can start one. Anyone in?

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