Friday, 23 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (5)

I'm back! LBF done (new post on it soon - or maybe not; perhaps we've all had enough LBF now), and back to that contract. Incidentally, I had a stroppyish email from an editor who said she couldn't pass my invoice for payment of the on-signature tranche because I hadn't sent the contract back. Ooooops. Don't forget that you actually have to get to the end of the contract, negotiate, sign it and send it back some day!

Here we go. This is a pretty crucial clause as if you don't send the book in, and in a form the publisher likes, it won't be published:

5. Conditions and Acceptance

The Publishers shall have the right as a condition of acceptance to require such amendments or corrections by the Author to the typescript and/or illustrative material as they think fit. Should the Author fail to carry out such amendments or corrections to the satisfaction of the Publishers, they shall have the right to reject the work, and in such event this Agreement shall be terminated and all rights in the Work shall revert to the Author, any advance payment made to the Author shall forthwith become repayable to the Publishers. The Author shall not be at liberty to publish the Work or enter into an agreement for publication of the Work elsewhere until such advance has been repaid.

This means that if the publisher wants you to change things in the book, you have to make those changes before they will publish the book. If you don't make the changes, the book will be rejected, you have to repay any money you've had, and you can take the book elsewhere. This might look fairly non-controversial and straightforward, but it means more than it appears to mean.

When you first read this clause, you will probably think it means 'does the book do as it set out to do what it says in the synopsis?' and 'does the book have errors, inconsistencies and other faults that must be corrected?' This is certainly part of what it means. Let's look at this first.

If yours is a non-fiction book,and the editor/consultant has checked the book and found there are things that are wrong and need to be corrected, you need to put them right. It might mean you have missed something out that you have to add, or that you have included something they consider irrelevant that you must remove. In either a fiction or non-fiction book it can mean that your writing is not good enough and you need to improve the style, or that the structure does not work and you need to improve the narrative flow or the logic of the argument. If it is fiction, the characters may be inconsistent, or the action implausible, or any number of other faults, all of which may not have been obvious from the synopsis. All of these aspects are to do with you, the writer, having done the job badly and the publisher wanting you to put it right. Fair enough.

But what if you don't agree that the features the publisher has identified as faults are actually faults? What if the changes the publisher wants are unacceptable to you? We'll leave aside whether you are right - whether it would actually be a better book if you did as you were told - as I can't judge that without seeing your book and the publisher's requirements. It is enough that you are certain the publisher is wrong and you don't want to make the changes. This clause works in your favour as well as theirs. It means that if you are adamant that you won't change a character, restructure the plot, rewrite in a less/more flowery style, add a chapter on nuclear power, remove an incident, add counter-arguments or whatever - you don't have to. You can say 'I will not make these changes, as it will then not be the book I wanted to write, or a book I want my name on. So the agreement is at an end and I will take my book away and here is your money. Goodbye.'

Scary? Well, maybe. But it's scary for them, too, especially if your book is part of a series and the rest of the series is all on target.

Of course, you don't need to say all that at once - it depends how strongly you feel and how strongly you think they feel. If they say your book is badly written, it probably is, to be honest (especially if you haven't published (m)any other books or your previous books have been heavily edited). They are the experts. If it is a difference of opinion - they think it would be better if you did certain things, but you think what they want would change the argument/nature of the book in a way unacceptable to you - it's worth arguing your case. If you can put a cogent and persuasive case, they may agree you are right. But this is all for the future - let's not jump ahead to your book encountering problems. The point here is that this clause is your friend: it means you keep control over your book as long as you are willing to walk away from the money and from publication. Maybe you aren't. But it's not a clause you can get struck out, and it's not a clause you should try to get struck out, as it gives you as much protection as it gives the publisher.

This one gets through without argument. By the way, 'advance' may also be 'fee' if the book is for a flat fee. And you only have to correct the illustrations if you are the illustrator. There will be more about corrections in clause 6.

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