Saturday, February 9, 2008

On Book Contract Provisions, Part 2

Am I Protected Against Mutilation of My Work?

One contract provision states: "When we have mutually agreed upon the final manuscript including artwork, index, and all material needed to create the final, publishable, version of the book, we will begin publication and distribution as quickly as possible consistent with our normal quality procedures."

This is too vague, and almost all on the side of the publisher. But it does say "mutually agreed upon," so you do have the legal right to stop publication if they've done something you don't like. This may be hard to enforce, but it's there, on your side. Once upon a time, I had to invoke this provision when the publisher's copy editor completely changed my ms. The publisher, McGraw-Hill, honored my request and ordered a new copy edit, which was terrific and improved the book immensely.

So, don't forget you have this provision (and if you don't, insist that it be put in). And it might help if it were made more explicit, perhaps an entire sentence or paragraph of its own, just to be clearer. (I think some publishers don't want you to notice it.)

When Will the Book Be Published?

No time is specified in the above contract paragraph. "As quickly as possible" is worthless because it's meaningless. Other such worthless phrases are "in a timely manner" or "when appropriate."

Several of my students have suffered when their publisher delayed publication for such a long time that a timely book became worthless. You should ask for a time limit in the contract (suggest 6 months after you submit the final ms., or some other time appropriate to the material) after which, if the book is not published (available for sale), you can terminate (but don't have to) and offer the book elsewhere.

Who Owns the Artwork?

Another typical contract provision states: "You understand and agree that any cover or other artwork supplied by us belongs to us or the owner of the artwork, and that you may not use it without express written consent from the owner of the artwork."

In the old days, authors seldom provided their own artwork. Now, with computer graphics, the practice is quite common. So, you should insist on a similar statement about any artwork you supply--they get to use it in the book, but may not use it elsewhere without your written consent. A common exception is in promotional material for your book.

If the publisher asks you to supply graphic material, you might also ask for some money up front (not an advance against royalties) for the expense of preparing your own artwork. Nowadays, you've probably given the publisher digital copy of your ms. This saves them the expense of "typesetting" they used to swallow in the old days, but no publisher that I know of has revised their standard contract to give you any credit for saving them this expense. You can ask, but you probably wont' get it. Illustrations, however, were typically paid for in my old contracts, so you have a chance here.

Who Prepares the Artwork?

Still, if you're publishing technical material, you probably want to prepare your own graphics (with advice from the publisher's people on layout). Why? Because you're probably going to have to give them detailed proofs anyway so as to avoid most of the illustrator's mistakes.

But don't be arrogant. Publishers do know something about how things will look in a finished volume, so listen to their advice and ignore it at your peril. Book design is more complex than it looks to the novice, so beware of the suggestion that you provide "camera-ready" copy. More than one book has been killed by an author who thought s/he knew more than the publisher about design.