Working in the Contracts Department in Publishing

This #WorkInPublishing week we have had a number of people enquire about contract jobs in publishing and it is always a part of the industry that is shrouded in a reasonable amount of mystery. Contracts are a vital part of the publishing process and this department are responsible for drawing up contracts between authors and publishers. It tends to be a group function in a publishing house and part of the legal, finance, and/or operations department. As a contracts professional, you will be working closely with editors and literary agents to negotiate terms.

The career trajectory can look something like the below but if you have a commercial and practical understanding of the business and the transferable skills you can crossover into the contracts department and in no way have to have this linear progression. There are also hybrid roles where your position may work across departments and these can be called Business Affairs.

  • Contracts Assistant
  • Contracts Executive
  • Senior Contracts Executive
  • Contracts Manager
  • Contracts Director

We attended the Lunchtime Learner Contracts Workshop at the Society of Young Publishers Conference where Diane Spivey, ex Group Contracts Director at Hachette, led a detailed session about contracts to demystify the process. Contracts can be difficult to understand but are a huge part of the publishing industry. This is information that everyone needs to know about across multiple departments so it’s good to have a basic understanding. You need to be able to pick up a contract and find the bit that impacts you so that you know what your obligations are. Diane encourages non-contracts departments to not be afraid of asking questions to understand the terms behind the small print.

A contract is extremely important because it is essential to formally capture all agreements in writing to protect everyone involved and to have clear records for the future. This contract between an author and publisher grants the publisher the rights they need to publish the content. A simple written contract is absolutely always a good idea. Diane reassures us that we don’t all have to be lawyers, but to write and proofread a contract you need a good deal of common sense, an eye for detail – specifically for continuity across clauses, and an eye for what isn’t there.

You will be a strong candidate for this department if you have a fantastic attention to detail, can spot inconsistencies in what can sometimes appear to be a complex language, and have a real interest in the commercial and practical side of the business. We see rights and royalties professionals crossing over into the contracts department, but you also do not have to come from the publishing industry – there are equivalent positions in media, entertainment, music and licensing that are so relevant. It is also fantastic if you have a legal background, but as Diane said, you do not necessarily need to be a lawyer.

Thank you to the SYP for running a fantastic virtual conference. Diane definitely demystified the contracts department and this is such a vital part of the publishing process with excellent job prospects. Please do get in touch with us if you have any questions on building a career in contracts in publishing!