Five tips for (new) educational authors

14 July 2020 Five

The world of educational publishing can be tricky to navigate for new writers. Here, we outline some key guidance for those who are new to educational publishing contracts, with advice and cautionary tales from our experienced Educational Writers Group (EWG) committee members.

These five bullet points represent just a flavour of the considerations you should bear in mind when agreeing your publishing contracts, and much more is covered in our Guide to Publishing Contracts and Guidance on Fee-Based Assignments (free for members on our Guides page).


Agree the contract before you begin the work

Although this may sound obvious, many contracts are issued late in the process, after the author has already invested significant time in the project. This may lead some authors to feel pressured to accept terms which they might otherwise have turned down. Whilst the need to turn a project around speedily does occasionally take precedence over fine-tuning the agreement, this must only happen in exceptional circumstances and, at the very least, the principal terms of the contract must be clearly agreed before work commences. This will include the payment terms, but also whether the work will be done on an exclusive licence or a copyright-assignment basis. The latter has significant implications, including for payment, credit and approval over edits (set out in full in the SoA’s Guide to Publishing Contracts – free for members on our Guides page) and you will need to flag up any points which are deal-breakers for you.

In addition, ensure that the upfront payment will not be eroded by hidden costs such as responsibility for permission fees: we would expect the publishers to pay for the inclusion of any essential in-copyright third party material.

From one of our EWG committee members:

‘I learned this from experience several years ago, when I came up with a series idea for an educational publisher. It was taken up quickly, scheduled, and I was asked to start working on the first manuscript. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I had much choice at the time – two other projects had been delayed, I was waiting for approval on a fourth, and I needed to keep the money coming in (and I lived in hope). By the time that I realised I wasn’t going to get any more than a flat fee, all-rights assigned deal, I’d invested way too much time and energy on the project, so I ended up signing. Bitter? Yes, a little. But you live and learn. Now, I’d use the SoA’s contract vetting service to help me fight my corner and get a much better deal.’


Clarify the brief

The precise nature of the work and its timescale must be clearly agreed at the outset. It is impossible for an author to assess the value of the payment they are offered unless they know exactly what it is for. Unless the scope is properly set out, there is a risk that an editor will ask the author to undertake several rounds of revisions (especially if the course will be subject to trialling, or if there could be changes in the curriculum), thereby diminishing the value of the remuneration. And watch out for the mention of ‘acceptance’ as a condition of payment: it should be clear that, so long as the author delivers on time and according to the specifications, the author will be entitled to the full agreed upfront payment.

It should be clear that if the brief subsequently alters/expands, and the author is asked to do that additional work, further payment must be negotiated – this could be done on the basis of an agreed sum per hour/day/week of additional time expended. And of course, fresh deadlines will need to be agreed.

From one of our EWG committee members:

‘A few months ago, I took on some work with a publisher I’d not worked with before. The fee was low, but the project fascinating and the publisher prestigious.

‘The writing went well and the editors liked my work. However, extra tasks – unmentioned in the contract – kept creeping in, including writing video scripts to accompany clips selected from an image bank and creating worksheets as part of the teachers’ guide. An unexpected round of revisions suddenly appeared at translation stage; these pulled my fee beneath the living wage. My requests for further payment were ignored.’


Watch out for over-reaching clauses

Keep in mind that some contracts can affect your writing life far beyond the confines of the work which is officially the subject of the contract. For educational authors, it is particularly essential to think carefully about the competing works clauses that appear in so many agreements. Whilst we acknowledge that publishers wish to protect their investment in, for example, an educational course, the author must be free to earn a living in their specialist field. Where a competing works clause does appear, it must be as narrowly defined as possible and should lapse after a certain timeframe and/or once the income to the author falls below an agreed threshold. An author being paid a one-off fee should not be required to agree to a non-compete clause – and if the publishers insist on its inclusion, it must apply only for a very short period of time, and only if the fee paid is adjusted to compensate for the holdback on what else you can write.

Educational publishers will in many instances insist on having the right to produce revised editions of a work (N.B. this is the default position for copyright assignments) – but some will agree to give you first refusal to be involved in adapting and updating the work for new editions in return for a payment (to be negotiated at the time).

From one of our EWG committee members:

‘I’ve not come up against a competing works clause, but I have been offered several flat fee, work-for-hire contracts where a full copyright assignment is standard. There’s usually little or no room for negotiation with this sort of contract, and an author may not be in a position to turn down work. But I have successfully had a clause inserted into a contract giving me first refusal on writing further titles in a series (at no less a fee), along with other changes to do with credit (essential for enabling the author to collect their share of the money from collecting agencies and PLR), free copies and weighting the payment to signature/delivery of the text with less held back for the final, proof-checking stage.’


Establish what happens if the project is cancelled

For commissioned books that may never finally be published – for instance a work which is subject to changes in the National Curriculum – it is vital to agree at the outset what you will be paid if the project has to be abandoned for reasons beyond your control. Ask for the entire advance or an agreed fee, which is commensurate with the time committed to the project: you will have cleared your schedule and may find it hard to replace the commission at the last minute – and you may have completed the bulk of the work. This is just one reason among many to ensure that the agreed upfront payment is fully reflective of your working time and skill in creating the work.

And finally…



We would expect a reputable publisher to be open to reasonable changes – and where changes are not possible, the editor should explain satisfactorily why that is the case. Resist the temptation to sign boilerplate terms without discussion, even where you have worked on a similar basis for a publisher previously – raising concerns and outlining principles is a useful exercise in itself and helps build the case for fairer contracts. In some cases, the chances of negotiating substantial improvements may be negligible (e.g. for a minor contribution), but if in doubt you should consult the SoA. The SoA contract advisors will give you bespoke advice on your agreement and will outline the most important points to raise.  

From one of our EWG committee members:

‘When the legal department of a magazine publishing company I’ve done a lot of work for decided to change the terms, I was horrified. It contained every “sin” you can imagine: no moral rights, no competing works, and complete copyright assignment everywhere and forever. I sent the new contract to the SoA, who returned it with comments on the issues and suggestions as to what the clauses should say. The agreement I sent back to the publisher had so many clauses with a line through them that it was easier to spot the few sentences which had not been “deleted”. I resolved to start looking for a new outlet for my work. But to my utter amazement, the company accepted every amendment!’