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Contracts and Copyright, Picture Books, Finding an Editor's Name, Becoming an Editor, Ghostwriting

The Purple Crayon Blog for November 2005

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Contract Question: Publisher Wants Copyright

Thanks for all the info at your site, I use it frequently. I have a contract in hand for a picture book; the publisher wants copyright, which I don't understand. The publisher is a respected (as far as I know) part of a local museum which has been around forever.

I read your essay on copyright, in which you say: "So anyone wanting to use your work must have your permission, and if you require it, must pay you for it. As mentioned in the discussion of contracts, that is the basis of publishing as a business: You grant a publisher the right to use your copyrighted work in return for a payment."

So why would my contract say, "The Author agrees that the Publisher may copyright the Work in the name of [Publisher's parent organization--a museum] in the United States and throughout the World. The term of this Agreement shall be the term of the copyright of the Work." It also says Publisher has exclusive right "during the term of copyright" to publish and license others to publish the work in all forms and languages. Is this normal?

Well, it's not normal in traditional book publishing. But the publishing arm of a museum is a different kind of publisher. Most of their publishing is probably tied directly to their collections, and so writers working for them would be doing a form of work-for-hire, and it would be entirely appropriate for the museum to own the copyright.

If your book is not related to the museum in some specific way, then you might want to ask for changes.

(Probably the term of copyright is limited to 6 months after they stop printing the book, or so I gather from other parts of the contract, though the paragraph above makes it sound like it's theirs forever.)

This part sounds a bit odd to me. The term of copyright under US copyright law is not tied to whether or not a book is in print. This almost makes it sound like they relinquish it to public domain when they stop printing the book. What I would want clarified here is that they transfer ownership and control of the copyright to you once they let the book go out of print.

Do you think there is any compelling reason I should not accept this? While they're publishing the book, my own copyright wouldn't allow me to do much else with it anyway, would it? Not that I like the idea of giving up copyright, I hate it, but want to know how much of a deal-breaker it really is.

If it were me, this wouldn't be a deal-breaker, especially if your book has some connection to this particular museum. Even if it doesn't, copyright control isn't the issue here. Is the money good, and could you sell this somewhere else? If the money is OK, and you don't think you can sell it elsewhere, then you'd have to think about whether or not you wanted to try to sell subsidiary rights yourself. If the museum makes no effort to do so, then they have a pretty weak claim to taking all the subsidiary rights, but if they do work on sub. rights, and you get a share of any sale, I agree that you probably wouldn't be able to do much with the rights.

Thanks! If this is not your area of expertise, of course I understand. There aren't a lot of publishing attorneys around here and I don't have any money anyway, so thought I'd try you.

Please take this as personal comment only. I am not an attorney, and offer it in the hope that it will still be useful. Contracts are difficult. I hope you're able to work this one out to your satisfaction. If not, please feel free to follow up with more questions.

What Exactly Are Picture Books?

I enjoyed reading your website because it provided a lot of suggestions and advice into the world of getting published.

I have a question, what exactly are picture books? What grade level do picture books go up to? How long (in general) are these types of books? 

My main reason for asking is because a friend of mine wants to write a pic book for 3rd-4th graders but her mother said that pic books were only for younger kids.

I'll give you a basic answer, but for more detail you or your friend would be well advised to consult a resource such as my Complete Idiot's Guide, which has a few chapters that explain the different types of children's books.

A picture book is, broadly speaking, a children's book with illustrations on every page, or at least every spread, usually 32 pages in length. The true picture book is one in which the story is carried by the text and pictures together. But the picture book format ranges from very simple concept books for toddlers, with very little text, up to books with more text for children in the lower grades, which may be "picture story books," with text and illustrations on facing pages.

There are picture books published for older children, but they tend to have limited audiences, because by third or fourth grade children are reading early chapter books and have graduated from picture books. So it can be done, but your friend might ask herself if the story she wants to tell could be told in easy reader or early chapter book format instead.

Whatever she decides to do, I'd suggest she familiarize herself with the various formats commonly used in children's publishing, and the age ranges they are used with....

Finding the Editor of a Specific Book

First may I say, I think it's very kind of you to lend your expertise to the CW list. You give it a lot of credibility. (I never skip one of your posts :))

I have written the account of an amazing true event and I picture this book as being the same genre of book as Leonardo's Horse by Jean Fritz. (Narrative nonfiction?) That book was published by Putnam. Do you know of a way of finding out who the editor was and where he/she might be working now? I've checked the info in the book because sometimes now the editor's name is listed. While it includes everything down to type of paper used and who did the lettering, it doesn't tell who the editor was. Is that info the publisher would typically give out?

Thanks for your help. It's really appreciated.

It's unlikely that you could find out who the editor of that book was if you called Putnam. Publishers don't generally give out that information, if only because it could take some time for someone to track it down.

You might be able to find out who Jean Fritz's editor is now, though not necessarily the editor of that particular book, by consulting a relatively new SCBW-I publication that lists books that some editors have edited. But it's not a comprehensive list, by any means. Even you are able to find out who was the editor of a particular book, that information may not be that useful, for a couple of reasons. If this editor is still at Putnam, perhaps still working with Jean Fritz, then they may not be interested in another writer of narrative nonfiction. If they have left, you could submit your ms. to them at the new publisher. But the new publisher may not have the same profile as Putnam.

If I were you, I wouldn't be looking for the specific editors of specific books. I'd be researching to find out who publishes books that could be called creative nonfiction--books that would be good company for your book. And I'd find a junior editor at those publishers to submit to, since the more junior editors are more likely to have room on their lists. Putnam would be one option, but Holt, Walker, or Clarion would be too, and I'm sure you can find others. Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market is a good resource to start with.

I later wrote about this issue in more detail in Editor's Names on Manuscript Submissions.

Moving from Teaching to Work in Editing

I am currently an elementary school teacher who is contemplating the possibility of a switch in careers. I know that it can be scary to switch jobs when feeling "comfortable" in a familiar setting and routine. This morning I decided to "jump in" and begin my search for job options in the children's publishing world. I did a quick internet search and was led to a website, connected to your homepage, which had an interview written by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

One of her first questions to you was about your own transition from a grade school teacher to an entry-level, editorial position. It was an "aha" moment for me...it could be done...it had been done! Your response to Ms. Ohi about the reason you switched careers echoes my feelings exactly.  The purpose of this email is to contact you to find out if you would be willing to discuss with me your transition and details about working in the field of children's literature. Thank you for your time.

I'm not sure when I could talk to you during the day, as I have a pretty busy schedule.

There is some more information about working in publishing in my FAQ file.

And let me tell you a few quick things. The transition was possible for me for two reasons. I was living in New York City, and I was willing to start as an editorial assistant--at the bottom. If you aren't living in a city where there is a publisher, or preferably several publishers, you will have to move there. The closest publisher to you, I think, is Lerner, in Minneapolis. You might want to do some research to see if there are any others.

And then you send your resume to anyone you can, try to get an informational interview, and keep talking..... If you have any specific questions I will try to answer them by email.


First, thank you for your informative and user-friendly website.

I am currently ghost writing a book with some other contributors. Though my name will not appear on the finished product, I am under the impression that I can include the credit on my resume. Upon the book's publication, will I be considered a published author by literary agents/publishing houses? How do I go about crediting this material correctly?

That's a new question on me, and not one I think I can answer definitively. The extent to which this credit "counts" or doesn't seems to me to depend on the extent of your contribution to the finished book, and to some extent on the nature of the book itself. It would count as more of a credit if you did the bulk of the writing. It would count as more of a credit if your name appeared on the book, even if only on the copyright page.

It's certainly worth mentioning in a cover letter, but I suspect you will get different reactions from different people. I'm not aware of any industry-wide rule of thumb.

This installment is based on emails I sent in September in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2005 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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