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Upskilling Tips for the Contracts Department

By Sukhpreet Chana, Misha Manani and Joe Pilbrow


The contracts department of a publishing company is responsible for drawing up legal contracts between authors and the publisher. It is sometimes part of a larger legal, finance or operations department, but at smaller publishers, it could be the job of just one or two people. Working closely with Editors and Literary Agents, a Contracts Professional will assist in negotiations, but is predominantly responsible for creating the legal documents that capture all agreements in writing and define an author’s relationship with the publisher.


Do you have a strong eye for detail? Are you organised and adaptable? Read on to discover whether a career in the contracts department could be for you!


Key Roles


· Contracts Assistant (Entry): Requires individuals to process contracts by arranging signatures and updating Biblio. Organisation skills, administration and time management are useful in reaching deadlines. Any third-party agreements must be amended and thoroughly viewed, alongside drafting contracts from the company’s template to ensure appropriate guidelines are met.


· Contracts Executive: A detail-oriented and highly organised person is needed for this role. They work closely with other publishing houses and departments to finalise contracts to meet targets. They also follow up on in-house and external contract inquiries to ensure consistency and efficiency.


· Manager of Contracts and Business Affairs (Senior): They make sure contracts are adhered to and drafted within the company's policy to a high standard. Publishing companies and editorial departments must be advised on the contractual aspects of the acquisition. You need experience in contracts, business affairs and/or the legal sector to be considered. Drafting skills are also essential.


· Director of Contracts and Licensing: Individuals are required to have three-plus years of experience at a senior level within contracts or the legal sector. Knowledge of the book publishing industry is important at every level, including publishing rights and other concepts of legal contracts. The company’s contract policies and procedures must comply with the management and administration.


Important Skills


· Detail-oriented: Contracts are all about the small details. The ability to spot inconsistencies in contractual documents is a key skill required for someone working in the contracts department. Think about how you can demonstrate this using your previous work experience.


· Computer literacy: Nowadays, most contracts will be digital, so you’ll need to be confident on a computer. This includes a strong knowledge of Microsoft Office.


· Excellent spoken/written English: It’s vital that legal contracts are written accurately and in correct English to ensure the validity of what is being agreed between the publisher and the author.


· Knowledge of contractual terms: Unless you’re applying for an entry-level role, you’ll be expected to be familiar with standard contractual terms. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve already worked in the contracts department. You might have picked up this knowledge from your work in the editorial or sales teams.


· Interest in the commercial side of the business: Can you demonstrate an interest in the practical aspects of publishing as well as a love for books? The contracts team will want to see an understanding of and desire to learn more about the commercial side of publishing, particularly legal matters.


· Communication: A key aspect of working in contracts is being able to convey complex financial information to other colleagues. Clear, concise and accurate communication is vital.


Resources and Top Tips


· Hachette UK Contracts Webinar: This publisher held a careers series called Opening the Book to demystify the publishing industry and make it more accessible. They have a Working in Contracts panel with three individuals who work in the department, talking about the day-to-day responsibilities of the role and job applications.


· Guide to Publishing Contracts: Read this booklet by the Society of Authors (SoA) to understand the various aspects of publishing contracts that you may have to work on in this team. This includes rights, royalties and copyright infringement, so grasping these terms early on will benefit your career.


· Understand the financial side: Watch this video by Eleanor Marie Rose who explains how advances and royalties work. This is important because they are on all contracts, although there are differences between publishers. Eleanor also talks through some example contracts.


· Look out for jobs on various websites: There are many job websites to look for roles in the contracts department. We have collated a list for you in our Upskilling Tips for Gaining Experience article, so have a look at the first section.


· Network on LinkedIn or X (previously Twitter): These are the two main platforms for connecting with people in the book publishing sector. Follow and send a message to people who work in the contracts department by doing a keyword search, to ask if they could answer a couple of questions because you are interested.


Thank you for reading issue eighty-five! Join us again for issue eighty-six where we will cover Upskilling Tips for the Christmas Period.



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