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Publishing contracts are very few and far between! They are never easy to obtain, and photography books are no exception. A quick look along the shelves of a good bookshop soon reveals that every conceivable aspect of photography has been described by half a dozen good authors, and that photographers whose work is nothing less than amazing have been publishing their images in high-quality books for decades. Although this message may seem discouraging for someone wanting to publish a first book, it is important to enter the project with eyes wide open.

At the risk of sounding rather cynical, prospective authors should realize that most publishers are not particularly interested in a photographer's best images per se. They are primarily interested in work from which they can make money. It is in this light that they consider you beautifully crafted images. It is not unusual for an editor to agree that a set of images is of a very high standard and yet have no interest in publishing them!

If you are fortunate enough to be offered a first publishing contract, it is unlikely that you will want to turn it down. However, read the terms and conditions carefully and make sure you understand what they mean in your particular case. Some conditions can be negotiated even by first time authors, but anyone who is too demanding could lose the opportunity to publish their work.

In general, the author and photographer are going to do most of the hours of skilled work for a very small percentage of the financial rewards, and the publisher bears the risk, puts up the money to finance the book's publication, and takes the bulk of any profit.

Publishing contracts should obviously be read very carefully before they are signed, but a few key paragraphs may warrant particular attention. Check at least the following:

  • The date by which the images and typescript must be delivered, and any penalty clauses which may apply in the event of late completion of the work.
  • Whether the contract obliges the publisher to publish the book. In many cases a publisher may reject a manuscript or hold it for an extended period before making a decision.
  • Who has the final say in editorial changes - the author or the publisher.
  • The indemnification and warranty clauses - these define who is responsible in the event of the publisher being sued for defamation etc.
  • The grant of assignment of copyright in the work to the publisher, and its relevance once the work is declared "out of print".
  • The advance to be paid and whether this can be reclaimed if royalties fall short of the relevant amount.
  • How royalties are calculated - these may be gross or net and may reduce when the book is discounted. Additionally, what royalties do book club sales attract?
  • The rights granted to the publisher.
  • Whether there is a specified date by which the work will be published.
  • The number of free copies of the book provided to the author.
  • Foreign publication rights that allow the publisher to license the work to publishers in other countries.
  • Does the book require an index - if so, is the author expected to bear the cost of its production?
  • The period following publication of a work during which a publisher has first call on your next book.
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