Contracts, especially for first books, are relatively standard.  Even so, you will want to read through any documents you get very carefully, and understand each of the clauses.  You will be responsible for them.
You may want to consult an intellectual property rights attorney.  If you have an agent, at this point in a publishing career an agent should be able to answer any reasonable questions you might have, and make any necessary changes.
You may decide to deal with the contract on your own.  In fact, you may
have to deal with the contract on your own.  In this case, to the library with you!  There are a variety of reference sources to help you.  You may want to think ahead and invest in something like Kirsch's Handbook of Publishing Law, by Jonathan Kirsch, offered through Poets & Writers (
Incidentally, part of the contract will include copyrighting the book.  The publisher will do this for you as part of the book's publication.  The contract will also specify how many copies of the book are going to be printed, and whether in cloth, paper, or both.  As a beginning writer, these will be out of your control.  Print runs will likely be in the 5,000-copy range for prose, and in the 2,000-copy range for poetry.

  • ADVICE. It's fine to ask around, ask friends and colleagues and teachers, for advice.  But remember that it's your name on the contract, not theirs.  Be as sure as you need to be about signing any legal document.
  • If you are still worried, remember all the legal resources in the community around you.  The Arizona State Bar Association, for example, has a service where--if you qualify, and students often do--you pay a small amount for a limited consultation under the Arizona Modest Means Project (check the State Bar's website at  You may not get a contract specialist, however, though contract law is an industry standard.  You may want to check with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.  None of this will be altogether free, but it won't cost you an arm and a leg either.  If you have real concerns, then you need to follow up on any and all resources available to you.