Publishing Guide - How to Publish a Book

The complete details of our publishing process can be found in this guide. You can browse the chapters and sections using the contents menu below.

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Sample contract page

The publisher of the imprint offers a contract based on the Reader Reports. The offer is made through the database, with space for comments, and accepted or declined by clicking a box, with space for reply. From submission of the proposal, through a handful of reader reports, to the contract offer (or not), usually takes around two weeks. The full text of the contract is given in Appendix 1. We can not change the wording of this from one contract to another. If there is a point that would make sense to change across all of them, please raise that on the Author Forum and we will consider it. 


On every contract level:

  • Every title is published in print and as an ebook.
  • Royalties are now dependent on contract level.
  • Royalties are based on "receipts" or "net receipts," i.e. the income we actually receive from the retailer or distributor. More on this below.
  • There is no longer deduction from ebook royalties to help towards production costs.
  • Subsidiary rights; 60% in author's favor. We do not ask for "non-book" rights like TV, film and audiobook.
  • Every manuscript is copyedited and proofread. Every title is marketed, and gets a certain amount of promotion that will be displayed on your book's Marketing page.

Marketing includes: 

  • Editing title, author and marketing details on the book pages, and distribute sales sheet and information to book databases worldwide.
  • Presenting title to major trade accounts worldwide; offering title to trade-marketing programs such as ABA Advance Access, Dial-a-book, Ingram catalogue, The Bookseller Buyers Guide, IndieBound UK. More on sales in Chapter 16.
  • Tailoring an initial publicity program to build author and title profile in the media online, in print and on air, and to retailers online and on the high street.
  • More publicity for every 500 copies of the print or ebook that are sold.
  • Sending out review copies on request from reviewers (unsolicited copies are rarely reviewed). In addition to the six free author print copies in contract (but freight is not free, see contract clauses below), there are up to 20 promotional print copies available to the publicity team. More print copies may be purchased at the author's discount. Digital review copies are unlimited.
  • Newsletter to retailers and foreign publishers to encourage orders and rights deals. More on the process of sending them out in the section on Review Copies in Chapter 11.
  • Publication schedule; nine full months between finished files and publication. We ignore the current month, so files finished in January will be scheduled for publication in November. More on this, and on marketing in general, in the Introduction to Chapter 9.
  • When a new contract is created for a book, the current-terms language is attached to that contract, and will stick with it for the life of the contract

To get a feel for how titles usually sell, in the industry as a whole, see the section on Estimated Sales in Chapter 4. Below are some specific points related to each contract level as they currently stand. We do change these over time, so for specific details of your own contract as at the date you signed it, check your Contract page. In all cases, it depends on the manuscript, and we tend not to offer a contract without that, as there is nothing for the readers to comment on.

Contract level 1: Titles that look like they could sell in five figures. The author has a track record of that, in the last three to five years. Or, if a first-time author, it’s an outstanding text, tailored to the right market. The name is recognizable to a bookshop buyer in that subject area, and/or there are compelling endorsements from recognizable names. The buyer thinks “This is one we have to stock.”

  • Printed books; 25%. Ebooks; 25%.

Contract level 2: Likely sales in the thousands. Great text, right presentation. Author is more likely to be known nationally than internationally. Has or will get good endorsements from key figures. Author has a good “platform” and is active. 

  • Printed books; 10% on the first 1000 copies, 15% between 1001-10,000 copies, 25% thereafter. Ebooks; 25%. 

Contract level 3: The author isn’t particularly “known.” Likely sales in the hundreds. Could do a lot better on the sales if it spreads by word of mouth, if pushed through activities, networking—but a buyer is unlikely to stock many, or any, initially. Author contribution required.

  • Printed books; 10% on the first 1000 copies, 15% between 1001-10,000 copies, 25% thereafter. Ebooks; 25%. 
  • Author contribution; £500/$750 + £20/$30 per 1,000 words. 

Contract level 4: Good content, worthwhile publishing, could find its own niche, could do well, but it’s a long shot. Author contribution required.

  • Printed books; 10% on the first 1000 copies, 15% between 1001-10,000 copies, 25% thereafter. Ebooks 25%.
  • Author contribution; £1000/$1500 + £25/$37 per 1000 words.

On all books—every time another 500 copies is sold, we send you a note, and put more work into promotion. If you would like to try and speed this up, we offer extra marketing and publicity services for purchase. Check out the options in the section on Extra Publicity in Chapter 7.

We edit every book, but sometimes authors want more help—longer reader reports, mentoring, writing advice, heavy editing, structural editing, rewriting, or just an index. If you want to consider any of these, go to the section on Extra Author Services in Chapter 7.  

For contracts with an author contribution, we send an invoice when you accept the contract, which should come through in a few days. Standard terms are payment in 30 days from invoice. If the final completed manuscript comes in at more than 20% above or below the original submission or estimated word count, we will send another invoice or supply a refund. There are no further costs.

Issues relating to contracts

  • The reasoning behind contract levels: Quality and sales are not synonymous. So the levels relate, primarily, to marketability, and to the cost of publishing. Much of that depends on whether you have published before and what kind of "platform" you have (publishing jargon for whether anyone is going to buy your book because they've heard of you). It does not necessarily have anything to do with how good the book itself is. We enjoy publishing good books even when, on our reckoning, they may not cover our costs. How expensive it is going to be in the editorial/design stages is also relevant—how many bullet points, boxes or diagrams, how many pages. It does mean that the titles that do well for us are not subsidizing those that don't—they're on a higher royalty rate than they might get elsewhere. It does not mean that low-level titles can never break out—we edit and promote every book, and all books are represented by our independent sales teams. Several titles that have done best for us, selling in tens of thousands, or even millions, would have been categorized as level 4, initially. But they are rare. If we were to promote each book with the optimism we feel for it, we would go broke in short order. Hence this rough breakdown.
  • Affording it: If we offer you a contract with an author subsidy, and you cannot afford it, we're sorry about that; please don't take it, or stretch yourself financially. If you object to it on principle, well, we just have to differ. Either way, keep looking, or publish yourself. We cannot compete on royalty terms with self-publishing, because most of our sales are through the trade. The trade takes 50–60% of the retail price. Many of the books are returned, and pulped. We have high proportions of unsold stock, free review copies. In the first year we usually have to print two to three times more than we sell. Our costs are higher than yours, as an author, so on purely cost grounds you are better off self-publishing through Amazon (CreateSpace) or Smashwords.
  • Author services: In the large majority of occasions most of these are voluntary options. But there may be instances where we say something like "this could sell, and you have a good "platform", but "writing" is not one of your strengths. You need help to get it up to publishable standard - at least more than can be provided for by our normal copyedit. We can only give you a level 2 if you chip in here. Or, alternatively, "we love the manuscript, but you have no "platform". We can only give you a level 2 if you buy into the Extra Publicity package.
  • Fiction contracts: Fiction is particularly difficult. It's not as easy as with non-fiction to pin down the market of interested readers. For new fiction authors, word of mouth through the social networks is overwhelmingly the most effective way of getting sales. Without a prior record of success it is near-impossible to get placement in the stores, other perhaps than in stores local to the author. We bring fiction out, whatever the level, at the lower retail price (our standard pricing is given in Chapter 5). And, increasingly, most fiction is sold through ebooks, particularly in genres like crime, horror, romance, SF, where it can be up around 80%+. And in ebooks, a key factor is price. With our low prices (and we also often price discount down to 0.99), it does not leave us much to cover the costs of bringing it out (particularly after the discounts we still have to give the sellers, VAT in the UK etc.), until it's selling in the thousands. So we are more likely to ask to share the cost on fiction than non-fiction, though that is not the same across all imprints.
  • Changing contract levels: Reader reports often say something along the lines of "this would be a better manuscript if xyz were done," but we do not look at the proposal again. For one thing, we pay for the reader reports, and do not want to do so a second time around. For another, part of the decision is based on your "recognition" factor. It may be a better book, and have more long-term potential for sales, but that does not make it any easier to get it into the trade to begin with.
  • Vanity publishing: We decline many submissions. On the remainder, we ask for a more detailed proposal. Some will be declined at that stage. Others go out for reader reports. More are declined then. The rest are offered contracts. On average, in any 19 contracts, we offer one at level 1, ten at level 2, five at level 3, three at level 4, and one at level 5. A higher proportion of levels 3 and 4 are turned down by the author, so the number of titles we publish with a subsidy is less than that. In 2013 it was one title out of four. It varies around the imprints. In some eyes, that makes us a vanity publisher. Even though all of the Big Five publishers have a vanity arm—check out this infographic:
  • Where our income comes from: Author subsidies amount to around 5% of our income, and there's another couple of percentage points from selling books to authors (many of our authors actively sell books on tours, workshops, through their websites). Around 93% is from selling books to retail (physical stores and online). 18% of our book revenues go back to authors in royalty (increasing each year as the proportion of ebooks grows). We only publish titles that we believe are good, that are worth publishing, that could/should sell, and look at each one on its own merits. We work at selling every title, not just in the increasingly difficult task of getting books onto shop shelves but at finding an audience. Contrary to traditional publishing, we do not expect strong-selling titles to subsidize the majority that lose money. We think of ourselves more as a co-publisher with the author, where the author sees as much information on schedules, progress, sales, marketing, contacts, as the dozen or so people who will be working on his/her book, and can contribute to the marketing/PR if they wish.
  • Alternatives: We are not the cheapest route possible, if we ask for a subsidy, but we are well down the price scale, and cannot do what we do for less. We cannot do it more quickly, either. It’s the time the job takes, and getting it to the market, circulating the information. Whoever you work with, do not expect royalties to recover the cost. But you can do it all yourself. Have a look, for instance, at;, or check out, or Self-publishing, strictly speaking, is where you buy and own the ISBN, and do all the editorial/printing/marketing work yourself, or pay people separately to do it. It is not easy. Most independent authors work through one of the major subsidy houses. There are three big ones, each bringing out thousands of titles every month, so they have the most competitive prices—Lulu, CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) and Author Solutions (including Author House, Libris, iUniverse, Trafford and others; owned by Random Penguin up till 2016). Working/hiring freelancers by yourself, $15,000–$30,000 is generally reckoned as the "sweet spot." The most up to date (as of April 2016) information on the costs of editorial and design (editorial assessment, copy editing, proof reading, interior layout and cover) comes at Reedsy in How much does it cost to self-publish a book?. Those elements average out to $3,000+. That is before print, and the costs of surplus printed copies for reviews, to take into account returns from the trade, distribution of information, sales, marketing, publicity etc.
  • Timescale on a contract offer: We usually get back to you within a week, three weeks at the outside. This (relatively) quick response doesn’t mean there’s a hidden catch, that we are trying to rush you into an ill-considered decision, or making a pre-emptive grab for a book that could be wildly successful. It’s just the way we prefer to work. 


  • Negotiating on the contract major points: We do not negotiate on royalties, because they’re already reasonable, and tweaking them one way or another for individual authors isn’t worth the cost to the system and the mistakes it’s likely to generate. Co-operation between authors, sharing information through the database, is a key principle of our business, and that’s undermined if everyone has different agreements. Our royalties are as per the rates given in the Contract Levels, above. The average royalty on all books sold by traditional – rather than vanity – publishers in the USA/UK is 10.7% of receipts. If you’re not already a successful author, 10% is a good start, and you’re more likely to be offered nearer 7.5% by most publishers. Our ebook royalty rate varies across the board. There are some new specialist “ebooks only” publishers who offer 50%, but the average for traditional publishers is closer to 20%, with the “Big Five” generally starting at 15% and (some of them, not all) going up to 40% on a sliding scale. It is not difficult to compare our royalty rates with others; just type "average book royalties" into Google. There is a list for instance at If you want to argue on the advance or royalty, best to go to another publisher.
  • Advance payments: We do not pay them, on any title. This is common in academic and specialist publishing, unusual in larger trade houses and mass-market publishing (though things are changing). There are several reasons: at the rate we work, compared to traditional houses, it’s a modest time-lag between contract and royalties- our average is around 12 months from contract to publication, compared to the two/three or more years in larger houses, usually much more if its a contract based on a synopsis; it’s a gamble, and we do not invest in gambles, but try and make each title work on its own merits; we try and work co-operatively, and it would be impossible to figure out an average advance that could be applied to all titles. If an advance is important to you, there are plenty of other publishers who pay them.
  • Negotiating on the contract minor points: Same response. These are often a question of phrasing. We do not change the wording of the contract. Everyone prefers something slightly different. We could spend an hour or two revising every contract to get the language exactly as you want, but it is simply not worth the time, as it will have no impact on your sales, or your income, or your rights. The clauses are fairly standard to all major publishers. Dozens of authors have subsequently signed with us after being advised on the terms by others, including their own lawyers and staff from the Society of Authors. There’s a lot of inevitable legalese bumf, some of it to protect you, some of it to protect us. It could really be summed up in one paragraph, but apparently this stuff has to be in there. Read the relevant pages of The Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Rachel Stock if you have any concerns. We have never got to the point where we are in disagreement with authors over what’s due to them and need to revisit the contract. We have never been bankrupt (in any form), or been to court, or failed to pay our bills or our royalties.
  • Working through agents: If you are working through an agent, that is fine, we work with a couple of dozen. Would just ask that you still follow our system through the different editorial, production, sales and marketing processes. We are happy to send your agent a password so that they can use the website as well. But we cannot get your book through it if you are relying on an agent to communicate on your behalf on every single query by the traditional email route. We need you to be able to use the system here, download and upload manuscripts/proofs, see when review copies have gone etc. rather than asking an agent to ask us (and the agent won’t do it him/herself). As far as royalty payments go, if your title has come to us through an agent, they will be listed on the contracts page, and payment will be made to them, and they will make a corresponding payment to you, minus their agreed %.
  • Signing the contract: Read the terms and conditions, tick that box and then "Accept." Print off a copy for your records. It is legal. It saves posting them around. Saves time. If you have any questions, please post them on the Authors Forum. If you "Decline" the contract, there is an opportunity to leave us comments. We read all feedback left, but please do not expect a direct response.
  • Nature of copyright: The copyright of the work remains with you. We do not buy copyrights. What you are agreeing to here is to give us the exclusive right to publish the book for the period of copyright, while the book remains in print, in all formats, print and digital, in return for a royalty on sales, along with various subsidiary rights where the income is split 60% or 80% in your favor, depending on the areas. More on ebooks in the section below. The contract is with John Hunt Publishing Ltd. We trade under different imprints, and that’s how we refer to books on the list, the logo that appears on the cover, that's how they are marketed, etc., but they are not separate legal companies. There is more on the nature and length of copyright in the Appendices.
  • Length of copyright: As usual in publishing, we sign contracts to publish your title for the length of copyright. There are two main reasons: a) Publishers make what money they do on the relatively small number of titles that keep going after the first flush of sales and keep reprinting for years and decades afterwards; b) We do not put books out of print. Once the information is out on the databases it will be there in some form forever, hard to change, and queries on the book’s availability or on permissions could still be coming through in 20 years’ time, creating work. But we do have a cancellation option if sales fall below a certain level after three years, more below.
  • Territorial rights: We only sign contracts where at the minimum we have English publishing rights worldwide (we prefer worldwide publishing rights in all languages). Our systems are geared up for international distribution and sales, so we do not buy in books from other English-language publishers or sell them to other English-language publishers (with the exception of occasional markets like India; more on Foreign Rights in Chapter 11).
  • Foreign-language rights: We do not publish in other languages ourselves. We sell rights to foreign-language publishers. Our default position is for worldwide publishing rights, in all languages, and that happens in about nine cases out of ten. But if you want to confine it to English language worldwide, just make a comment to that effect in the comments you can send back with the contract and the publisher will adjust the contract, or you can tick the relevant box yourself. There is not an option to give us English-language rights but change your mind later to give us world rights if you have tried selling some yourself but it has not worked out. If you have already sold one or two translation rights, or want to keep back one or two because you have established relationships with an overseas publisher, that is fine. We just need to know so that we can enter it on the website as a territory that is already covered. In the split of rights income between author and publisher, agents sometimes push for 80% in favor of the author rather than our standard 60%. That works if you’re dealing with bestselling authors with a good track record of rights sales. For the reasons above, if you want more than 60%, just take the clause out and leave yourself with the overseas rights.
  • Print/ebook rights: We do not take on titles for print-only rights. It gets too complicated in sales/distribution. If you have already published an ebook edition (or, indeed, print), it doesn't rule a contract out, but we need to ask you to remove your version from circulation when our publication date is set.
  • Acceptance of manuscript: We have never refused to accept a manuscript after the contract has been signed, because the proposal process means that we have already seen enough to agree to it.
  • Definitely publishing the book: We have never failed to publish a book that we have contracted for, and never would, so long as it is similar to the one we based the reader reports and the contract on.
  • Late delivery of manuscript: It does not matter (so long as we receive the manuscript within the open period of the contract, which is 12 months). We put up an "expected date" on the system, and will send you a notification if it has not arrived by then, but that is just a check to see that it has not gone astray. We do not schedule the publishing dates until we have the finished files for text and cover (more in the Introduction to Chapter 9).
  • Different word length: For Level 1 & 2 contracts, so long as it’s not a radically different book to the one suggested in the proposal – half or twice the length – it doesn’t matter, as we haven’t scheduled it or priced it yet. If the contract is subject to a subsidy we allow a variance of 10% before charging for the extra wordage.
  • Publishing similar titles with another publisher: If it's basically a rewrite of the same kind of material, no. We’re not trying to be too restrictive here. But if a reader picks up a similar title and can genuinely think “I’ve read this before,” that’s bad news, things get complicated. 
  • Warranties and indemnities: Basically, you’re saying here that it hasn’t been published before, that it’s your material, you’re not copying someone else’s, and that you’re not libeling anyone, or invading their privacy. Whether any of these things are the case or not, you are in a better position to know than we are, so it is your responsibility. If parts of the book have been published before in magazines, that’s not a problem. You only need to get permission to reuse your own material in book form if you have signed away the copyright on such material, or have a written arrangement restricting such usage for a period. If it’s been available in full before as an ebook, or on your website, or as a self-published book, but you’ve told us about it, that’s also fine. But once we bring your book out in print/digital you need to withdraw your own version – it gets confusing for everyone having different versions of the book in the market.
  • Schedule of royalties: We pay twice a year, covering the periods May to October and November to May, payable 60 days later. That’s standard for all publishers, except for the vanity/subsidy publishers, who don’t have to account for the distribution pipeline that books go through. There’s an explanation of the royalties in Chapter 14. Do be aware that royalties are often negative after the period, because of returns from the shops exceeding new sales. We do not hold back royalties as a "reserve" against returns.
  • Royalties on receipts: Payments on receipts means paying on the actual invoiced value to the buyer that we receive for selling the books. So for instance if the book is priced at $10, and a shop buys it at $6, you receive a royalty on the $6. We do not deduct other costs that we pay from within the $6, like being charged for making the sale, for warehouse, freight, or anything else. We cannot tell you exactly what the royalty amount will be on each book sold, because it varies according to currency, account, discount that the buyer takes. One thing to make clear: none of our sales in any country are discounted first. We are not “selling” books to the distributor, who in turn sells them to the shop. We own all the stock in those warehouses, and we sell through to shops and wholesalers in the same way as every local publisher does. So in all the markets your % of sales on receipts is the same as any other publisher in that territory would give you.
  • Possible payment on retail price? Some agents insist on payment on retail price. For instance, 6% or 7.5% on retail rather than 10% or 15% on receipts, or different royalty rates on retail at different discounts. But we never agree to it. The retail price is increasingly a notional figure. It all gets too complicated, particularly for us, in that we’re selling in different currencies (a benefit to you, which most publishers don’t have to factor in when arranging contracts). In some market areas, we don’t know what price the book is being sold at, we just get the quantity and the value of the sale.
  • Anthologies: We cannot split royalties across multiple authors in an anthology – the sums involved are too small and the number of bank accounts, agreements and paperwork, too large. You need a letter of agreement from the contributors giving you the right to act on their behalf as regards the one-volume edition. A couple of sentences should suffice. We do not need copies. There is no restraint on the contributors publishing their individual contributions elsewhere in non-book form.
  • Subsidiary rights: 60% in your favor. Do not expect much income from this. We have someone focusing on foreign-rights sales, but not on extensive sub-rights, like film, audio – which is why the contract does not include them. We have these various sub-rights clauses in the contract because it’s standard publishing practice, though in general it mostly only applies to bestselling fiction/memoir/celebrity biography etc. We do sell a lot of translation rights, but if we get extracts/articles we’re grateful for the publicity and usually don’t get paid for it.
  • Other formats (including audiobooks): See CHAPTER 5: OTHER DETAILS.
  • VAT: Only applies to a few UK authors. If you are a US citizen (or from any other country) you do not need a VAT number, we do not deduct any taxes from your royalties in the UK, and there is no paperwork needed from you. You do not need a double-taxation exemption form from us. You just declare your royalties as income to your usual Revenue Office when you come to do your taxes.
  • Author discount: 50% discount off the retail price firm sale non-returnable. This applies to any book you want to order from the list, from any imprint. 55% if it’s 500 copies, 60% if it’s 1000, 65% on 2500 and upwards. Most publishers sell books to authors at around 30% off the retail price. There’s more in Sales. You do not pay for the first six books, they are sent free, as per the contract (though we will send you an invoice for the freight if you live outside the USA or UK). If there are two authors, it’s three copies each.
  • Going out of print: We don’t put books out of print. However if, after three years, your title sells fewer than 50 copies (print and ebook combined) during a 12-month period, you may cancel your contract. If there is stock at the warehouse you will be required to buy this at 60% discount plus freight charges, or pay the costs for pulping the stock (£75 UK stock; $100 US stock). You will not be able to reuse the ISBN as it is company specific. You will not be able to reuse cover art from Shutterstock or Adobe Stock as the license prohibits it. We do not permit the reuse of our text design files. Any foreign-rights contracts instigated by us will have to stand, and you will become the new contact for the foreign publisher. Please contact Mary Flatt via Printing queries on the Author Forum if you wish to inquire about a return of rights.
  • Publisher rights: On the contract page, underneath "imprint," there may be (not always) a reference to "publisher rights 15%." It is an internal note. The publisher of an imprint has some responsibility for making contacts, commissioning books, developing the marketing for the imprint. As a commission payment they receive a percentage of what the title generates in royalties from sales. It is not deducted from the royalties the author receives, but is in addition to it. At the bottom of the contract page there is reference to a "royalty split." This is only applicable where there is more than one author.
  • First refusal: Most publishers have a “first refusal” clause which gives them first option on your next book. This is just mentioned here because its absence is often remarked on. Obviously, if we can sell your book, we would like to publish another one, and as you can see from the website and cross-checking it against Amazon we tend to keep the authors we have. A bit over half our authors are "one book only", after that it climbs through two books, to ten/twenty plus. One or two times out of a hundred we lose an author to a big publisher for their next book, which we're delighted to see happen, in a way...
  • Text of contract here in Appendices.
  • John Hunt Publishing Ltd works in accordance with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). In ticking the box to accept an offered contract you consent to the company sharing the personal details you provide within the business for publishing-related purposes.

If you have any further queries on the contract please put them up on the Author Forum in Contract queries.