Yay! I have a publishing contract in hand! Unfortunately I don't have an agent to help me negotiate, and I'm a little confused about some of the clauses and whether I have a right to argue them. For example, it says here that they have the right to publish in Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines as well as the US and Canada. I never agreed to that--should I question it?
Ok, well, first off, I can't help but restate my position on agents (coming from one of the publishers that wants to nickle and dime you to death, please take this as precious advice that I offer at my own expense). If you are an unagented author, even after you get an offer from a publishing company, it's not too late to involve an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Agents call it a "smash and grab" deal--they have to smash into what you've got and grab back what they can. But they almost always earn their 15%.
But anyway, back to Oz. Territory (where a company has the right to publish your book) is a critical component of your deal, one of the three biggest points (the other two being advance and royalties). So you're right to value this piece of the contract.
That said, as an unagented author, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which you'd be able to sell these rights internationally on your own. Remember how difficult it was to get an offer from a publisher in your home country? It's 600 times harder (approximately) to get a deal unagented in a foreign country, where you don't even have citizenship as a piece of your platform.
In this case your best bet is to let your publishing company have those rights, so at least they'll have an opportunity to try to sell them. (This brings me back to why you want an agent, since an agent could try to sell these rights for you.) Don't take my word for it, and assess your own situation, but ultimately wouldn't you rather have your book available in those territories, even as an export, than not available at all, because your publishing company doesn't have a right to sell copies there?
But let's talk more specifically about Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). Our publishing friends down under don't like to be forgotten by the rest of the English speaking world, as they occasionally are. To protect them from being forgotten, they have a law that says British and American publishers only have 30 days from the pub date of a book to work out their distribution schedule in ANZ. If UK and US publishers neglect to work this out, a book is closed out of that market.
Brits tend to forget their Commonwealth friends less frequently than Americans (shame on us), but it's something our rights departments need to keep in mind, and a reason we need to try to place Commonwealth sales as early as possible--ie months before the pub date. (Please cf last week's post on delivering on time--here's another reason not to be late with your finished manuscript.)
But to my friend who wrote here--I'd say don't sit on ANZ rights thinking you can do better elsewhere; if you run out of your 30 days, your book may never be sold in ANZ at all.