Chapter 3: The Contract


This chapter describes the sample contract that we'll send out to you when we've accepted your proposal. Note that the contract may vary: different situations may require different points to be made, and what's more, we add to it every time an author brings up a valid point that wasn't in our original contract.

We've made an effort to make the contract as human-readable as possible. But just to make things even clearer, in this chapter we've annotated the contract clauses. Do note that the comments are not part of the contract.

The Form of the Contract

A contract is just a mutual agreement between two (or more) parties. While it needs to cover various legal points, it doesn't need legal jargon. It just has to clearly and completely lay out the intent of the parties. To emphasize this point, our contracts are all in the form of a letter from us to you, which you countersign and return to us.

Here's how it starts:

Joe or Mary Author
street address
city, state, zip

Dear Joe (or Mary):

We've agreed that you'll write a book on subject for publication by O'Reilly & Associates. This letter will serve as our publishing agreement when you sign the enclosed copies and return one of them to me.

The terms are as follows:

Description of the Book

The first paragraph of the actual contract briefly describes the book:

1. You will prepare a book of approximately nnn pages. The book will be of professional quality and will include material to cover the outline attached to this letter and made a part of it.

We'll expect you to provide an estimated page count in your proposal, and that's what we'll specify in the contract. This clause is designed to keep us from paying an advance on a 600-page tome that turns into an 80-page book. But really, we believe that the size should match the subject, so if must you change your mind as the book progresses, feel free to do so, as long as you keep us informed.

Likewise, we expect the outline to change as the book is developed. The outline we attach to the contract is not a straitjacket, but simply an indication of the kinds of things we've agreed will be covered in the book. (This is not to say that we don't expect a lot of thought to go into your outline. It is a key part of your proposal, as explained in detail in Chapter 2 of this handbook. We're just saying that we expect that it will evolve as you give the subject even more thought.)

The Grant of Rights

By law, the author of a book is the owner of various rights in it. The author must assign rights to the publisher in order for the publisher to print and sell the book.

2. You grant us the exclusive right to print, publish, distribute, and sell copies of the book, and works derived from the book, in printed form and in electronic media such as CD-ROM, and to license others to do so, for the duration of the copyright in the book, in all languages, throughout the world. Your name will appear on the title page of the book as its author, but we'll obtain copyright for the book in our name. We may edit, add to, and delete from the book as we wish; however, we will submit all changes to you for approval, which you won't unreasonably withhold.

Note that we require more complete editorial control than most publishers because we consider all our books part of a series, and we want to establish a "brand identity" where people know what to expect from any of our books.

The positive side is that you'll get a lot more editorial help than you do from many publishers. And we won't do anything without your knowledge and consent. We regard the relationship between editor and author as one of two people working together to create the best possible product. If the two of you can't agree, we may give the editor the final say because we know our editors are all reasonable people! But this doesn't mean that we'll run roughshod over your material and surprise you in print.

Format of the Book

The next clauses describe how the book will look when it's published.

3. You will follow the style and practice of existing O'Reilly & Associates books, as described in materials we supply. If there are special style or design elements that you believe your subject requires, you may submit those elements to your editor for consideration by O'Reilly & Associates.

4. You will incorporate into the manuscript the comments of your editor as well as comments from technical reviewers.

O'Reilly & Associates uses several standard designs for its books. If your book is part of a series, it will use the design of that series. Occasionally, a book requires special design elements. If you believe your book will need special elements, let your editor know immediately so our design group can discuss it with you.

We try to avoid design changes if possible because they are expensive and can add time to the production schedule. Also, our customers like our designs! We prefer manuscripts formatted in Word or Frame. Sometimes we will accept manuscripts in other formats, but conversion adds cost and time to the production schedule.

Our tools group will supply you with a template that matches the formats you use. The production group and your editor will give you a style guide and a list of conventions. We ask that you use these tools when writing your manuscript.

Delivery of the Manuscript

The next clause is the one where you promise to deliver a manuscript to us.

5. You will deliver your book according to the following schedule:

  • A detailed outline to be returned with this contract.
  • Any one chapter for our review by mm/dd/yy. Hardcopy of this chapter should go to your editor; a copy of the source file should go to the O'Reilly & Associates Tools Group.
  • One-half of the chapters, in both source and final form, by mm/dd/yy.
  • A draft of the book suitable for technical review, in both source and final form, by mm/dd/yy;
  • A completed manuscript, incorporating technical review comments and suitable to us in form and content, by mm/dd/yy.

6. We very much want to complete this book with you as contracted. We can provide editorial support, tools advice, design and illustration services, professional indexing, copy-editing, proofreading and typesetting; however, the timely delivery of this book to market is a critical factor for its success. A delay of more than one month from any of the deadline dates above requires the agreement of O'Reilly & Associates; otherwise, we may bring in another author to work with you on the book and share in the royalties. A delay of two months can result in cancellation of the contract and the return of some or all of your advance, at our discretion.

7. At every milestone except the submission of the outline, you will provide us with one final form copy of the completed manuscript and one copy in the source format, unless otherwise agreed.

You provide the original delivery date in your proposal. We ask you to follow up with a detailed schedule that shows how you're going to get there, and to update that schedule as you progress with the book. See Chapter 2 for more information on working out a schedule. Your editor will be glad to help you.

The question of termination, and our right to continue to use any material you've provided, is a sticky one. In most cases, we'll reject your manuscript outright if we can't use it. If you miss a deadline, we're likely to extend it (with your editor's approval) if the project is moving along well. And if the material you've provided is good, but just incomplete, we'll negotiate some kind of agreement where you share royalties with the author who takes over your material and finishes the book. Timely delivery of the manuscript, however, is very important to the success of your book and we urge you to work with your editor to set realistic deadlines and stick to them.

You Get to Audit our Books

We hope that we'll give you reports often enough that you never feel the need to invoke this clause, but for your protection, we give you the right to check up on us:

12. You or your qualified representative may examine our books or records pertaining to this agreement at our principal place of business, during normal working hours, not more than once each year, on reasonable written notice.

Free Copies of the Book

When your book comes out, its always nice to have copies to give to friends and family. We give you a generous allowance (industry standard is ten copies):

13. You will be given 10 free copies of the book, and you will have the right to purchase additional copies at 50% off the cover price.

We'll also give you 50% off any of our other books.

Some authors ask if they can resell books that they buy from us. The answer is "sure." But we doubt you'll want the headache!

Revised Editions of the Book

Most technical books need frequent revision if they are to stay salable. Even if you lose interest in the subject, we may want to maintain the book, so the contract includes the following clause:

14. If we want you to revise the book, we will agree on a delivery date and compensation, both of which will depend on the nature and extent of the revisions. The other terms will be the same as those for the original version of the book. If you are unwilling or unable to do the revision, after we offer you the first opportunity to do so, we may arrange for others to do it, and may credit the reviser as editor, contributor, or co-author of the revised edition, and may arrange for the reviser to share the royalties in proportion to the extent of the revision.

Most of our authors revise their own books, but this clause allows us to keep a book alive even if you don't do your part to maintain it. For small updates, we might just charge your royalty account for reasonable costs. If someone else does major revisions, though, we may reduce your royalty percentage and give them a share in the ongoing success of the book.

You Didn't Plagiarize Anything, Did You?

The next paragraph sounds scary, but really just means that you didn't plagiarize or slander anyone. You have to take responsibility for this, because we have no way of knowing what sources you might have used.

15. You warrant to us that the material you provide is original, except that for which you obtain permissions acceptable to us, and that it won't impair anyone else's rights, and that you have the power to make this agreement. You will indemnify us, our agents, and our employees, and hold us and them harmless, against any loss or cost, including reasonable attorney's fees, arising out of a breach or claim of breach of these warranties.

If you use someone else's material by permission, be sure to request and receive that permission in writing! Send us copies of all permissions letters for our files. I once had a scare (in a collection of Frank Herbert's essays I edited) when an elderly English professor forgot that he'd given me permission to use an interview he'd done with Herbert. Fortunately, I was able to fax him a copy of his own letter granting permission.

While there are "fair use" rules covering free use of small excerpts from published work (at most a paragraph or two, and in support of your own discussion), anything unpublished cannot be reproduced without permission.

If you're requesting permission from a publisher to use material published elsewhere, they will most likely have a standard permissions letter that they will send out. They'll want a letter from you stating exactly what material you plan to use. But if you're requesting permission from an individual, or from an institution other than a publisher, you might save yourself time and effort if you do a bit more of the work up front. Send them a letter which has something like the following format:

Dear ....:

I'd like to quote from ... (provide whatever detail is necessary to identify exactly what material you want to use; if there's a lot of it, it might be easier to refer to an addendum to the letter, where you can use a list format) in my forthcoming book on blah, blah.

Please confirm your agreement by signing the enclosed copy of this letter and returning it to me.

Legally, a document must be signed to be effective, but in a couple of cases (where I don't expect there to be any controversy), I've taken the aggressive position that e-mail is an acceptable alternative.

Send copies of any permissions letters to us. Keep a copy for your own files as well.

If you're not certain whether you need to obtain permissions for something you want to include, check with your editor.

Final Legalese

Well, I guess it wasn't quite true that there's no legalese in this contract. The last couple of clauses are mostly for the lawyers:

16. Neither of us may assign this agreement without first getting the other's written consent, unless we sell or transfer substantially all our assets or ownership interest to the assignee, when no consent will be needed.

This means that if you've signed the contract, you (not your friend or co-worker) will actually write the book, unless we agree otherwise. (We have negotiated several agreements for a new author to take over someone's unfinished work, by the way.) What the rest means is that if (God forbid!) we ever sold our company to a bigger publisher, that publisher could continue to publish your book.

17. Our agreement is subject to the laws of California governing contracts made and to be performed there.

Copyright laws are the same everywhere in the U.S., but this means that if we had a disagreement, any court proceedings would be held in California, where our main office is. But if we had a disagreement, we'd like to think that any discussions would be far more likely to take place over the phone or via e-mail!

Finally, we return to the letter format to close the contract:

If you find these terms acceptable, please date, sign, and return the enclosed copy of this letter to me.

Very truly yours,

Tim O'Reilly
O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Agreed and accepted

The contract will be signed by your editor or the managing editor on behalf of ORA. We need your social security number so we can send you a 1099 form each year for royalties received.

If you have any questions about the contract, please be sure to ask your editor.

Go back to Table of Contents.
Go back to Chapter 2.
Go forward to Chapter 4.