14 Questions to Ask Publishers before Signing on the Dotted Line

Apr 6, 2013
Questions to Ask Publishers

Welcome to our first installment of questions to ask publishers.  I thought this was a good idea to write about since I can tell a little bit more about Bookkus while also helping out writers wondering what to expect in the world of publishing. I’ve found the 14 most common questions you need to ask your publisher (if I missed one, let me know and I’ll update this). In this piece I’m referring to trade publishers, not vanity publishers or Amazon. These are questions you need to ask, think about, or address before signing a contract. Questions to ask publishers include: exclusivity, price, fees, royalties, advance, hidden fees, DRM, distribution, cover contributions, inside page contributions, author discount, publisher discount, timeline, and a few more.  These could be something you talk to your agent about or only the publisher. I put them in order of importance.

How do you market my book?

This is becoming a bigger and bigger question for authors. Self-publishing allows authors to market their book in ways they never could before. Does the publishers expect you to do it? If so, maybe self-publishing is better. How long and how much will they spend? Length of time available may be more important than the amount since eBooks are now timeless. There are no carrying costs so marketing technically shouldn’t stop. Publishing companies really need to have some polished marketing in order to get your book into reader’s hands so do everything you can to ask questions about this before you sign on the dotted line.

Some things you can do: Check the publishers social media. Are they even connected? How big is their following? Are they active? Ask questions about where they market the book and where do they get reviews? How can readers find the book? If the company isn’t willing to market your book, then you will be doing it. Find out what you need to do.

Bookkus has a magazine for marketing (it is new and growing), we are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads. We use the old methods (literary magazines) and new methods (Google and blogging).  If you aren’t setup on a website, we’ll help you out with that. If your website sucks, we’ll make it better. We do require authors to blog, answer interviews, and write more books.

How much are the royalties?

Money may be the most important question to ask publishers, possibly the biggest and most important part of your contract. Publishers determine the per book royalty you receive  from book sales. They typically vary and sometimes are dependent on the amount of books sold. Hardcover royalties on the retail price of trade books usually range from 10% to 12.5%. On paperbacks it’s usually 7.5% to 15%.  This isn’t exactly how it works though. Usually there is a schedule. For example: 1-2,000 books you will get 5% royalty; 2,001 books to 5,000 books is 7.5% ; etc. (This is just an example).  Check for ridiculously high numbers before an increase in royalty rates if there is a schedule. For example: after 25,000 books sold royalty rates increase to 7.5%.

For Bookkus we don’t have a schedule. We just say split the revenues after printing and distribution 50/50 with you.  So a $10 book with $5 in printed costs and $1 in distribution fees is equal to $2 for the author and $2 for the publishing company.


Advances are monies given to authors based on an estimated amount of books sold. These can vary between $1,000 to $25,000. More if you are famous or already a successfully self-published author. More if it is your second book.

There’s a mixed opinion on advances. In my opinion, the advance is out-dated. Of course agents don’t see it that way since that is how they receive money. Advances are sometimes the only money authors see if books sales don’t take off. Traditionally, agents receive a portion of an advance for a book. This gives them incentive to negotiate higher advances, but not higher royalties. They have no interest in royalties (maybe this should change in the future?). Also, royalties take away marketing dollars from your book. How can a publisher invest $50,000 dollars in a book–advance and marketing–when they don’t know if it will sell? You won’t see any royalties until the advance is completely earned out from your royalties. Sometimes the contract mentions advances are repayable so authors must read carefully and ask about it.

Bookkus has no advances and we don’t apologize for it. We give you a higher royalty and work harder in marketing your books. Long-term it is a win-win scenario.

Is the contract exclusive?

It shouldn’t be. If a contract says it is exclusive then you are bound to publish your next book with them. If they say no to the next book you can take it elsewhere, but they typically get first rights if this is included. Does this sound like bound loyalty a bit? If you are upset at your publisher, you must still deal with our unhealthy relationship… Thanks, but no thanks. Freedom needs to be maintained no matter how good a publisher is. Don’t sign anything exclusive, unless maybe it is for a series.

Authors should also pay attention to electronic rights (eBooks).  Royalties may be different for electronic sales.  What happens to their property once the book goes out of print?  Publishers like to hang onto rights for quite some time in case the author becomes a sensation 10 or 20 years down the road and then they can reprint it.

Price Control

Who controls the price? It is a good question to ask, but you probably don’t get a say in it. You probably don’t know much about it anyways. At Bookkus we control the price, but we’ll take your opinion into account.  Try to remember there are zillions of books and eBooks out there.  New authors have no track record of sales so one should be aware of pricing oneself out of the market.

Are there any upfront fees?

Unless the company is a vanity publisher there shouldn’t be any fees. If a company charges you fees, you are the customer and then you should take control. Ideally, these companies always seem to have hit or miss reputations or are looked negatively upon. There are plenty of bad experiences that can be read about online.  A common tale is the expensive editing costs, half-assed work  by amateurs who have no sense of how a story should read.  By that we mean there’s more to it than Spell Check and Grammar Check.

Bookkus publishing has no fees. Don’t give us your money ever, although we do accept dark European chocolate as a small bribe.

Hidden Fees

Check the contract for anything about fees, costs, expenses or anything else. You don’t deserve to pay anything. You did the work writing the masterpiece, you don’t need to pay for someone else to take a cut of the sales. Bookkus has no hidden fees in our contract.

File Formats

Does the file format matter? Honestly  if they are publishing you this should have been discussed already. If they aren’t willing to a do a little template changing before they publish your book, they sound lazy. This probably isn’t a very important question, but it does help smooth the process over for both parties. Make sure you aren’t doing the eBook formatting, as this is the publishers responsibility. Although they may ask you to do some inside cover tasks.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) Protections?

Is the book DRM protected? This is and isn’t important. It has been a hit topic lately. Basically, if your book is a best seller no amount of DRM protection is going to save it. People can tear that off in a heartbeat and put it on a mass sharing site in less than an hour.  If it is DRM protected you may get more sales because people want to read it. The other side of the coin is that they wouldn’t read it anyways. Therefore, with them reading it helps with marketing. This type of marketing can spread the book quicker than with DRM protection in place.

For Bookkus we work with our distributors. Therefore everything at Amazon is DRM protected, but at Smashwords we’ll be no DRM. Mostly DRM is provided by us, but some places it isn’t.

Where is your book distributed?

Are you really going to be in book stores? Maybe. Getting into book stores is harder than ever before so don’t expect this. For self-published books you have to get a distributor, another hurdle. Make sure you are in all the major online stores and in most or all English speaking countries. It is easier than ever to get the distribution that you need.

Changes to the book

Can you make changes to the book in the future? Or is it set in stone? You never know what you will find in the future or want to change or add, so ask and see what the publisher says. It might not need to be in the contract, but it is good to know.  You’re stuck with a first print run and if allowed, may be able to make changes on the second printing.

We allow material changes to the book if both parties agree to them only if they improve the book significantly. Unfortunately, this is vague right, but it will be handled case by case.

Cover Contribution

What opinion do you have in the cover of the book? This is hugely important. This is the face of the book. Beautiful or bountiful it decides what happens to everything after this. It is expensive designing covers so make sure you talk with the publisher before and if you want a sure say make sure it is in the contract. Typically, the publisher makes the final decision and taking the authors opinion into account is up to the publisher. Art departments at most publishers generally put out good covers.

Bookkus lets you have your say. Hopefully we’ll have a cover art contest before we launch to build pre-sales of the paperback. Give you a nice choice of 3 that were voted best by readers. It is a fun idea.  Art is subjective.  You might not like the Mona Lisa painting but many do.

Inside Contribution

Make sure you get your dedications, acknowledgements, bio, website, etc. listed inside the book. Bio at the end and everything else in front. Ask about this. Bookkus works with you to ensure the book looks the best.


How long will it take from signing the contract to being printed? That is one of the good questions to ask publishers. This varies based on your market potential. If they think it is a hit then it’ll be out in a month. If your famous give them 3 weeks. If you are a first time author you could be waiting one year to five. As a new author you can expect to get bumped by trendy stuff, celebrity pap, pared down print lists, editorial staff changes, etc..  Editing is a slow process as well, so work through it fast.

Author Discount

Authors usually get an certain amount of books for free. Then they are required to pay full retail price for more copies (which isn’t cool). You should negotiate for at cost books. If you can’t get this then try to get more copies and try to get more

Publisher’s Discounts

Publishers discounts are good to ask authors about. It is good because it really affects your income. Publishers usually give discounts when they sell large quantities of books. These discounts can be anywhere from 10-50%. If your book normally sells for $15.00 and the publisher discounts it by 40%. You get 10% of the sale price. You will receive 10% of $9.00 since $6.00 is discounted. $0.90 is a big difference from $1.80. It is great when a few hundred or thousand books are sold though and that is why they give the discounts. Sell more for less. It is to your advantage, but ask so you aren’t surprised.

In reality, your first book will be a learning experience and you won’t have much bargaining power.  You’ll be happy just to see it on a shelf.  Don’t be so dazzled, do your diligence and ask questions.  Many overbearing authors have been dropped due their unreasonable demands.

Sites for Author Awareness

Predators and Editors


Fake Awards



Thanks to Victor1558 from Flickr for the featured photo.

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