January 27, 2014

Contract Basics: Publication

Part of publication, as we all know, is editing.  There's the editing we all do long before anyone is interested in reading, much less publishing, our work – and then there are the many rounds of editing done after you've signed your shiny new publishing deal.  Even if your book is "perfect," it will, at the very least, be seen by a proofreader, and probably by copy and line editors.  (A dirty little secret of the querying process is that, even if your book isn't ready for publication, publishers could acquire it and then employ a developmental editor to transform your book from "having potential" to "ready to publish.")

All of that is fairly standard, and after each editor sees your manuscript, you will go over it to incorporate their notes.  In your contract, you should watch out for any language limiting the time you have to do your part of the editing.  At the end of this fairly lengthy process happens something that's called "Delivery & Acceptance." Basically, you deliver the finished manuscript to the publisher, and the publisher decides whether it is in fact ready to be published. 

That previous sentence means that your publisher could choose not to accept your delivered manuscript.  This is something everyone hopes to avoid, but the contingencies specified in the contract matter for a couple reasons.  First, what happens to all those rights you sold and/or your advance and/or the future of your book if your manuscript isn't accepted?  Second, it is likely at least some part of your advance will be tied to this part of the process.  (I know I'm being vague, but finances are complicated, and they will be covered in a future post.)  

So, the Delivery and Acceptance clause should cover:
  • What happens if your manuscript isn't accepted. 
    • How long does the publisher have to notify you of this? This should be specified so that the publisher cannot tell you, for instance, four months after you sent in the manuscript (and haven't heard anything) that it wasn't good enough.  
      • Another reason to know a specific timeline is that, again, some part of your finances will almost certainly be tied to when your manuscript is accepted by the publisher. You don't want them to draw this out for obvious reasons.
      • 2 – 4 weeks after delivery seems to be fairly standard.
    • Will the publisher dissolve the contract altogether? Will you get a second chance to go through these editing rounds? What will the time frame be for those? (Will you get a third chance as well? What happens when you run out of chances?)
    • How will this delay affect the publication date?
  • What finances you may be responsible for, if your manuscript is rejected and the publisher no longer wants to publish your book.  Will you have to return your advance? Will you have to repay money spent on the editing process? On the cover design that may already be in progress?
    • My suggestion is to make sure that, at most, you are required to repay only any advance money you received, and that you are not responsible for any other money spent toward publishing your book.  You could also try to convince them to let you keep the advance money, since the publisher is the one who decides whether the edited manuscript is accepted.
Okay, so, those are the possible bad outcomes of the editing cycle. What happens when your manuscript is accepted? You're one step closer to your book being published!

The Publication clause goes hand in hand with the Delivery & Acceptance clause, though they may be separated on paper.  The Publication clause should state what you need to furnish to the publisher to get the editorial cycle going and specifically what date your book will be published.  Oh, if only it was that easy. 

Somewhere within the Delivery & Acceptance and Publication clauses, there will almost certainly be language stating:
  • That the publisher has the right to delay publication for a variety of reasons including: editorial delay, marketing purposes (for instance if yours is a Thanksgiving story), conflict with other books on their roster, etc.  There will likely also be a catch-all for unforeseeable disasters (such as hurricanes) postponing publication. 
  • Who ultimately gets to decide which changes are implemented in your book. Do you get to approve developmental changes, but not proofreading changes?  Do you get to approve them all? Are you only "consulted," but the editors will essentially make the decision themselves, about changing a word, taking out a sentence, or deleting a scene?
    • I (unsurprisingly) recommend that you get the final word on which changes are implemented, because it is your work, with your name, that is coming out.  Editors can miss things, and they can make mistakes.
      • Harsh as that sounds, and though I know editors I would trust implicitly, it is unlikely you will get to choose your editor / proofreader. I have seen posts from writers who (independently) hired editors for their work who ended up introducing mistakes; I have also seen countless errors in the published works of successful authors who, doubtlessly, have access to people considered dependable, quality editors / proofreaders. Readers don't tend to consider the many other people involved in the text they receive – they see the author's name, so we are the ones responsible for that text. 
What you definitely want these clauses to have is a deadline.  A frequently recommended timeline I've seen is to specify that the publisher is required to publish your book within 12 months of their acceptance of your manuscript (barring all those unforeseen circumstances).  This is yet another reason to specify how long they have to inform you if they are not accepting the manuscript.  This way, the publisher cannot simply hang onto the rights to your book indefinitely, neither publishing it nor allowing you to get the rights back to seek publication elsewhere.
  • You should also make sure there is a timeline for publication in case of unpreventable disaster, though this will be more vague – for example, the publisher could be required to set a new publication date within 3 months of the resolution of the disaster. 


Whew, so this is a long post, with a lot of information.  I hope it's clear!  Of course, please feel free to post any questions or thoughts in the comments.


This post is a part of my Publishing Contracts sequence. Please click here to learn more about it and view the very important disclaimer.

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