As of 9am this morning, the Illustrated Theory of Numbers is under contract with the American Mathematical Society! So now is a good time to write about the process of choosing a publisher and settling on contract details. My sample size of book contracts is now 1, so I wouldn’t extrapolate too much from my personal experience.
Why the AMS?
I spoke with two other publishers along the way, and ended up with the AMS for a few reasons. First, the AMS Mission is “To further the interests of mathematical research, scholarship and education, serving the national and international community through publications, meetings, advocacy and other programs.” The AMS(registered as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit) represents the research and educational interests of mathematicians like myself — and I doubt that this is the case for the large textbook publishers (e.g., Pearson, McGraw Hill, Elsevier).
Other reasons that I am excited to work with the AMS are the following:
- I believe that the production quality of the book will be good, while the price will be about half that of the market-leading textbooks in elementary number theory.
- The editor, Sergei Gelfand, and others were at all times professional and responsive and helpful.
- The AMS seemed to understand my goals for the book, and their goals and mine seem very close.
- The AMS was responsive to my pickiness about design and layout, while reasonable about their own capabilities.
- I trust the AMS as an organization — that if something goes awry, I have more support than strictly provided by the contract.
I consider some of the illustrations in the book to be a form of artistic output. I may adapt some of them and create posters, clothing, mugs, etc.. So it was important to me that the AMS maintain the rights to publish the book and derivative works, except that I would maintain the right to produce (and possibly sell) artistic works. This is described in the contract.
I have some worries about electronic distribution of the text. As a reader, I appreciate that I can download whole books from Springer through my library. But as an author, I don’t really want a downloadable publication-quality PDF of the whole book to circulate freely on the internet. I think that some texts (e.g., the vast majority of research literature, publicly funded research and education projects) should circulate freely or very close to freely. But since the Illustrated Theory of Numbers is a personal project, not funded by the NSF or anyone else, and contains original artwork, I think it’s fair to protect copyright a bit. I also hope to make enough money for a little vacation too.
I’m not 100% satisfied with the language around electronic distribution in the contract, but I think it’s about as good as it gets. Due to the rapidly changing landscape of electronic publication, the contract gives the publisher flexibility. One place where I requested a change was in electronic sales upon termination of the agreement. If the contract is terminated at some stage, rights to sell e-books also terminate shortly after. Although the language is not entirely to my satisfaction, I am placing my trust in the AMS to represent my interests as an author and their financial interests in protecting copyright.
Royalties with the AMS are based on a percentage of “net income”. This (apparently standard) term refers to the amount of money the AMS takes in from selling the book, minus some costs for returns. It’s thankfully not the same as “net profit” — the costs of production are not deducted. I found the percentage reasonable and generous.