So I've just been sent through a publishing contract for my debut novel. I don't have a literary agent as I submitted straight to the publisher. They liked the manuscript and have sent me a contract but I'm really not sure if I should go with them.

The publisher are a small company with only 3 previous titles, none of which look as though they've sold well though they have good reviews. They want exclusive world rights to publish the story in any format, books, ebooks, film, TV, audio book etc.

It also says once the novel is published it will remain with the publisher which will protect its asset as sole owner.

The final thing that seems dodgy is that they are going to pay an upfront fee but then nothing else. No royalties from book sales, no fee if it gets picked up as an audio book or film or TV (I know this is highly unlikely but it still doesn't sit right that I wouldn't receive any money if it does do well.)

Apart from the lack of royalties, which I know is unusual, does any of that sound strange or are they fairly ordinary publishing contract terms?

Would you advise I take this deal or run away?

  • 5
    Welcome to Writing.SE! If you're after legal advice, then Law.SE might be the better place to ask, although the best course of action would be to contact an actual lawyer.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 20:40
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    This has all the hallmarks of a swindle. Get a lawyer. One with some knowledge of publishing. It's completely worth the money. You ALWAYS own your book and its intellectual content. I doubt you could even write a sequel with a contract like this (and if you did, they'd probably sue for ownership).
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 22:19
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    Run away and never look back, my friend :) You don't have to be a lawyer to know that this contract benefits only one side - and that's not you.
    – Oren_C
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 14:08
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    This is an obvious work-for-hire contract, as if you worked for the publisher on their computers, and they owned everything you did. This is clearly not what you want unless you are ghostwriting some famous person's autobiography. (Even then, you would still expect to get some royalties.)
    – RobJarvis
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 14:28
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    To me, it seems obvious they are playing into your wish to get published, and your fear that if you say no, you might miss your chance. As far as I know, this contract does not seem to be legit. It wouldn't surprise me if they asked for a small fee to administer the transfer of the royalties if you sign and once you pay they are never to be heard from again (i.e. Nigerian Prince 2.0) I can understand if this is hard to hear but I think signing this contract will get you into more problems than that no other publisher has gotten back to you yet.
    – Erk
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 5:18

2 Answers 2


It isn't ordinary. It is a scam. Publishers always give royalties. Most likely, the reviews are scripted. Oh yes, don't give them the rights. You can give them first release rights or maybe even nationwide rights, but not worldwide rights. If you do, you won't be able to publish your book anywhere else. It is robbery.

  • Also, rights in any format are very dodgy.
    – Erk
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 5:11

This is, at best, highly unusual. Any reasonable publishing contract will contain a termination clause, or be for a limited time. One termination event would be if the work becomes out of print, which the contract would define.

Specialized works for a niche market, and technical writing for hire may have only an upfront payment, no royalties. But for a general novel this is very unlikely.

A publisher with only three previous titles is unlikely to have a proper distribution network, and even if all else is fine, adds significant risk to the deal for the author.

This sounds like a scam, and even if it is not, like a bad deal for the author. You could get a lawyer or a decent agent to review the contract. Or you could just ignore the offer, sign nothing, and keep submitting to other firms.

However, many traditional publishers of novels no longer accept unagented submissions, so you may want to obtain an agent if you can. One thing an agent can do is avoid scam or unreliable publishers.

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