Terms of Service are another form of contracts. You know this is so, because at the bottom of all that text that no one ever reads, there is a checkbox next to a statement like, “I certify that I have read and agreed to all the terms spelled out on this page.” And you can’t move forward until you check it. They will also give you an option to print those endless paragraphs, so you can’t say you never had a copy. Whether you read them or not, you are still legally bound by those terms when you accept them, and breaching them can and will have consequences on you, your book, and your publishing account. Depending on the severity, it can also result in a lawsuit. Here are things you’ll want to pay attention to:

Rights ownership

This is just a legality that basically says you give the store or distributor limited, non-exclusive rights to publish your content. You also certify that you are the sole owner and copyright owner of the work being published, and have the authority to give them that right. What that means is that you are letting them sell your book, but they’re not the only ones who can. What you should pay attention to is how your book will be stored on servers, and whether it will remain there if/when you decide to pull the book down. It’s not something you would normally worry about, but recent unsavory events surrounding a particular eBook retailer have brought to light the importance of these clauses. Make sure that when you give them your book, they don’t get to keep it after you take it back, and that they don’t get to sell it without your knowledge or permission if it remains on their server.

Technical requirements

Your book will need to meet certain standards, and those will be spelled out. Some platforms put your book through the wringer and reject it if it’s grossly non-compliant, but others go on faith and trust that you know what you’re doing. In either case, it is your responsibility to make sure your book complies, and the platform’s right to reject or remove any books that do not.

Content requirements

Yes, there are those, too, and they apply to the text of your book as well as the cover image. For example, most platforms won’t allow the use of sexually explicit images on cover pages at all, which is why a lot of erotica books have covers with inanimate objects on them as the centerpiece. Most platforms will also require you to tell them whether or not your book includes adult content, and if you check that it does, it might be screened from general search results, unless customers turn off the adult filter. Most platforms will also tell you they prohibit content glorifying taboo subjects like incest, sexual violence, pedophilia, etc. and if your book contains any of those, it is automatically rejected. Again, it is your responsibility to make sure your book complies, and the platform’s right to reject or remove any books that do not.

Royalties and payment schedules

This is similar to what you would get with a publisher, except it’s usually more straight-forward (unless you’re publishing on Amazon, which has multiple tiers and multiple international rates). Read these terms carefully to know what you’re getting and when. You will likely get paid out either monthly or quarterly, but pay close attention to the minimum requirements. It could be you need to accrue at least $10 to get paid, and your royalties will be held up until you reach that minimum. Also, no one withholds any taxes from royalties (that I know of), which means if you are self-employed, this will factor into your prepaid tax schedule. And you will get tax forms at the end of each January, whether you made any money or not.

Legal support

You likely won’t get any. This part will most likely say that you are responsible for any content you make available on their website, and if you get sued, you are on your own. The platform will comply with any court-ordered action, and they may cover their own behinds if the lawsuit results from something they did (or didn’t do) but if it’s your fault, you’re on the hook and you will dangle alone. So, as with anything else, do your homework, make sure you aren’t using any copyrighted materials without permission, and you are legally allowed to publish your book in the format you are publishing.