So you found your muse, puked out your story, edited once, had others edit, chose your publishing path, got rejected, and now you have a contract offer. Good for you. Let's take just a few moments to look it over.
I am not an expert on contracts. This point is clear in the mistake I made with the first contract I signed! So I'm not going to have a whole lot of info for you here. But, my biggest piece of advice is sleep on it.
You're going to get a call or an email that says we want to publish your book and you are going to be bouncing off the walls. You're going to want to call every person you've ever known and tell them. You're going to post it to Facebook and Tweet all about it. But before you sign that document let it sit for a day or more.
Tell the contracting party that you'd like to show it to your lawyer to look at. Okay, you might not have one, but you're going to have it looked at. You're going to go over each and every paragraph. Read it aloud because then you'll hear it. Then if you do have a lawyer ship it off to them to look at. Show it to your spouse, best friend, and even better...another contracted author.
Most contracts are going to be standard. You're going to let us publish your book. You have to have this,that, and the other thing to us by this time. We get say in the title and cover. Here is when we think it will come out in print and in digital. Here is what you will make... you get it. Basic.
However, look for these things. How long is this publishing house going to keep your book? I warn against Lifetime Rights. Do you know what that means? You're never, ever, getting rights to this book back. Also watch for Right of First Refusal. What you want is the option to publish books in multiple places if you want. Do you really want to put all your eggs in one basket? Maybe you do. I'd like to think my authors would want only me to publish them, but that isn't usually the case. Those of us who are in this for the long run have books coming out our ears! Even Nora Roberts had to create J.D. Robb so she could put out more books than they'd planned for her to.
Do some research on royalty amounts. This is going to be all over the boards! However, digital royalties are usually higher. Also, find out what they think they'll charge for your books. Realistically, a new author right out of the gate isn't usually worth my hard earned $9.99 for an eBook. This can hurt you in the long run.
Above all, check the reputation of the publishing house! I can't stress this enough!
Predators and Editors is a great site as well as Absolute Write. Make sure these guys are legit! AND keep in mind, no matter how flattering it is, a publisher shouldn't come to you and ask for your manuscript. A publisher should be much too busy, if they are any good or reputable at all, to be soliciting you for your manuscript.
Email some of the other authors listed on that publishers website. (Note...you don't always want to be the first author for a house either. Think about that.) If the house is a good one, you're going to get praise back. Likewise, if the publisher seems to have forgotten to pay out royalties for two months, and has a million excuses, and their books aren't where they are promised they were going to be... you don't want them.
You're books are your children. You named them, created them, nurtured them, and now you're asking someone to take care of them. Make sure the right person is taking care of them. As you probably can tell, this part of my series is personal to me. I did sign the wrong contract with the wrong house. I'm not getting paid and my books are selling because I have become a bestseller with other books. So someone else is reaping my benefits while I sit here and curse myself. Don't be that person. Do your homework. They'll wait a few days for you to go over the contract if they are reputable. If they come looking for you they're too anxious and that just isn't a good sign.