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Contract Terms Series (IANAL)

There’s a bunch of contract terms for writers that can be difficult to parse for newcomers to the genre, so I want to go over a few in a short, easy contract terms series.

(Note: I am not a lawyer. I am merely speaking from experience on the author side.)


This is an easy one. Language rights has to do with what language the contract holder has the right to publish the words/story in. Might seem like a simple, pointless thing to think about, but it’s not.

Translation rights are impacted by language grabs. And some authors make A LOT of money on translation rights. (I’m not one of them, but maybe one day).

Please note that where you can SELL a book is not the same as LANGUAGE rights. For instance, if I wanted to sell a book in Brazil, I need the right and ownership to do so and it can be in any language I want, including English. If, on the other and, I wanted to sell a book written in Portuguese, I need Portuguese rights, and this is not impacted in any way by the right to publish in particular countries. I’m using Brazil and Portuguese as my example because of the difference in name, but the same can be said for Germany/German, Spain/Spanish, etc.

Language/= right to sell in particular country.

If you sell First English Rights for Paperback, Exclusive for Three years, you are selling the right for the publisher to be the first place and only place (for three years) to publish and sell your book in the paperback format in the English language. They would not have the right to publish a German translation in any country, whether first or not.

Language is important! There are A LOT of languages out there. If your book explodes, for instance, and you don’t specific ENGLISH (or whatever your first/selling language is), then your publisher has the RIGHT to translate your book in however many languages they want. They still have to pay your royalties based on your contract wording on how much you get per format sale, but you would lose the opportunity to negotiate your own translation deals for possibly better royalty rates.

When looking at language in your contract, make sure that 1) the contract specifies the exact language(s) that the publisher will be using. Otherwise, they can grab all those languages and argue that the wording of your contract allows it.