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Question
I'm a first time author with a nonfiction book, and I've been offered a publishing contract from an independant commercial publisher.  What resources are available to help me ensure that it's a good contract, and I'm not being taken advantage of?

Thanks!

Answer
Congratulations, Mark!

First, whatever you do, don't go to your personal lawyer for advice on this one!  You need someone who knows literary law.  Try the web site for the American Society of Journalists and Authors.  I didn't check myself, but if memory serves, they offer something to unagented authors about contracts that will be helpful to you.

I'd also search the web on:  Literary contract negotiations and see what comes up.

This is also a golden opportunity to land an agent.  Agents have been known, for a smaller fee than usual, to negotiate a contract an author has already been offered.  They can do this a little cheaper because the author, you, have already done the leg work to interest a publisher.  You've been made an offer now the agent just has to finish negotiating the deal.  And, with your first contract under you belt, you're now a 'known' quantity and more appealing to an agent.  So if you go this route, make sure you mention you've got more books in you and also want future representation.

Be prepared that you will sign away all rights to your work.  Now, not all publishers buy all rights, but it's pretty standard right now.  An agent can help get you a bigger advance, better payment terms, and a promise of rights reversion to you if and when the publisher takes the book out of print.

Well, Mark, this is the short version.  Take a few days to do some research on literary contracts, maybe contact an agent or two.

Good luck!

Liz Aleshire
House of Collectibles Guide to Antique Quilts, Random House
www.lizaleshire.com

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Liz Aleshire

Expertise

What is a book proposal and why do I need one? Do I need a book proposal for both nonfiction and fiction books? How do I write a book proposal? What are the required components of a book proposal? What is an overview? What is a synopsis? How do I find out what other books are available on my topic so I can make my book different? How do I pitch to an agent/publisher? What's a query letter? What's a 30-second commercial?

Experience

I am the author of four nonfiction books: Private Lives of Ministers' Wives (with Rev. Sherry Taylor,New Horizon Press, New Jersey, 1991)and currently working on a second edition; Bugs: Stingers, Suckers, Sweeties, Swingers (a FRanklin Watts Frist Book, Chicago, 1993); The Confident Collector Identification and Price Guid to Quilts (with Kathleen Barach, Avon Books, NY, 1992); and, Official Price Guide to Quilts 2nd edition(with Kathleen Barach, Random House, NY, 2003.) I've taught How to Write the Book Proposal for the past ten years at the week long International Women's Writing Guild annual summer conference, and, at the Manchester Community College Continuing Education program. I've taught in many local continuing education programs in central Connecticut. Five authors have sold books using my methods for writing the book proposal. I have spoken at the Big Apple Conference, an IWWG event held in NYC; both Connecticut chapters of the Romance Writer's of America other writing conferences

Organizations
Internation Women's Writing Guild, past associate member American Society of Journalists and Authors

Publications
Books for New Horizon Press. NJ; Franklin Watts (Now Scolastic)Danbury, CT; Avon Books, NYC; and, Random House, NYC

Education/Credentials
B.A in Economics from the University of Connecticut

Past/Present clients
Carren Strock, author Married Women Who Love Women; Doris Larson, travel writer, Ohio; MaryLou Streznewsi author Gifted Grownups.

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