Monday 26 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (6)

After the clause about making sure you get it right the first time, there is a clause about correcting the mistakes if you didn't all get it right. That's not pessimistic, it's realistic. There will always be mistakes in a book...

6. Author's Corrections

The Author undertakes to read, check and correct the proofs and to return them to the Publishers within 14 (fourteen) days of their receipt, failing which the Publishers may consider the proofs as passed for press. The cost of all alterations and corrections made by the Author in the finished artwork and in the proofs (other than the correction of artists', copy editors' and printers' errors) above 10% (ten per cent) of the original cost of composition and/or artists' fees shall be borne by the Author. Should any charge arise under this clause the amount may be deducted from anysum which may become due to the Author under this Agreement. In the event of such charge exceeding the payments due to the Author under this Agreement the Author agrees to pay the Publishers the balance due promptly on receipt of such charge.

This means you have to check everything very carefully because if mistakes which are your fault get through to proof stage you may have to pay to have them corrected.

read, check and correct the proofs: There are usually several points at which you get the chance to check the book, and you should make sure there will be such opportunities. Typically, they are:

  • edited text - the editor may ask you for some changes in advance of editing, and may ask you for further changes when (s)he has edited the text. You should then see the edited text so that you can check it yourself. Make sure the editor has not introduced anything that is inaccurate (if it is a non-fiction book). If it is fiction, the editor should have discussed any changes with you in detail and made sure you agreed to them, or asked you to make all changes. In a non-fiction book, many editors take a very cavalier attitude, or are ignorant of the topic, and make changes that damage the accuracy or integrity of the book. This is such a large and troublesome issue that I will write a separate post on it at some point. For now, just be aware that you have to look out for this.
  • artwork rough/picture selection - after the illustrator has been briefed, (s)he will produce roughs, which are pencil sketches of the proposed illustrations. You need to check these carefully to make sure they show exactly what is needed. If there is something in the roughs which you should have objected to, but which makes it through to the final artwork, you may have to pay to have the picture redrawn because you should have spotted the mistake at the roughs stage. If the error is not evident in the roughs, that counts as an illustrator's error and you won't have to pay. But if there is anything which you can foresee may go wrong or be missed out, flag it early (a) to be on the safe side and (b) to save time and everyone's work later. If the book is illustrated with photos from a picture library, you should see the selection of photos, preferably before layout, so that you can approve them or ask for them to be changed. If you accept a photo at this stage and change your mind later, you may be asked to pay the cost of changing it (picture research fees, picture licensing if it has got that far).
  • layout - the layouts will probably be sent to you as PDF files. The layouts are the text and pictures combined into pages, so this is the point at which you will see how the text and pictures relate to each other, where page breaks fall, and so on. Make sure the pictures are in the right places, read the text carefully, write any captions if they are needed (or check the editor has written sensible captions if you are not doing them yourself). You may receive layouts as printed pages, though this is less common these days. In highly illustrated books, a PDF may be too large to send to you and then you will have printed pages. You can either mark them up (in pen, never pencil) and send them back, or make a list of changes which you email to the editor. The latter takes longer but has the advantage that you keep your copy of the proofs, which is useful if you need to discuss changes with the editor, and there is no chance of them being lost in the post.
  • proofs - layouts are not proofs. Proofs are page proofs, and are generally produced by the printers. They should be on nice quality paper, in full colour (if the book is in colour) and at full size. They should look exactly like the printed pages will look with the exception that they have not been trimmed (so the pages are printed on larger sheets of paper). You might, perhaps, come across the term galley proofs. This is a relic from the age of the dinosaurs when proofs were printed on long strips of paper. You won't actually see a galley proof (I don't think I've seen one since the 1980s), so if you come across the term the publisher will really mean page proofs (ie they are printed on pages).

alterations and corrections - alterations are changes you make to improve the book; corrections are changes you make because something was wrong. Alterations can generally be avoided, whereas corrections must be made. So if you want to change the name of a character because you have just found that another author is publishing a book with a very similar character with the same name (this happened to me once), you can ask to make an alteration. In this case, the publisher felt it was in their interests to change the name and it was accomplished quickly and without any fuss. If you write a book about picking and eating mushrooms and find that you have included a deadly fungus in a recipe, that is a mistake and you will need to correct it (otherwise you are going to fall foul of clause 13...). The publisher will want you to correct it, anyway.

Now, these are fairly straightforward and the publisher is unlikely to want you to pay for them. Suppose you had written a book about a Roman soldier with a magic sword and you had sent the illustrator reference (ie pictures on which to base the illustrations) which showed a Greek sword. At the last minute, you notice there is the wrong type of sword in every picture. You supplied the reference, so the illustrator is not at fault. You will very likely have to pay to have all the sword pictures redrawn, or the book will go out with the wrong sword in it and you will look a fool - because, believe me, people WILL pick up on it. The world is full of fanatics who seem to spend every waking minute looking for mistakes in books so that they can complain to the publishers.

The best way to avoid any arguments over this clause later is to check at every stage so that no errors get through to proofs. It does not actually cost very much to change the text these days as there is no such thing as real metal typesetting any more. Even so, any changes to page breaks have a knock-on effect, anything that requires changing or moving pictures causes problems, and changes that go over more than one page (such as changing the spelling of a name) can become expensive. The files sent to the printers will usually have to be regenerated (small text changes to a single page are often handled by the printers, but not larger changes or changes to pictures).

original cost of composition = what the publisher has paid to make the pages look like they do. Originally, 'composition' meant the compositor's fee. The compositor used metal type to make a plate for the pages, then used a computer to do this. Now, page make-up is done in a layout program such as Quark or InDesign and there is no compositor. Composition means doing the layout and producing the files for repro. Notice that this clause covers composition 'and/or artists' fees'. The latter are likely to be much higher (per page) than the cost of composition, but changing a picture will also mean redoing the page layout.

The only dodgy part of this clause is the final point, that if the costs exceed what they are paying you, you will have to pay the extra. To be honest, you would need to screw up pretty badly for this to happen - unless it is an academic book for which you are getting practically no money. In that case, I'd argue against this final bit. Normally, though, you would have to be quite incompetent to run up such a large bill for changes and corrections that you were paying the publisher. Even then, it's reasonable as you have incurred the cost. If you are so bad at the business that you can't check the book properly in advance, frankly it serves you right. However, it is important that you make sure there are opportunities to check before page proofs. If the contract is from a publisher you haven't worked with before, it is worth checking before signing that you will see edited text and layouts before page proofs. You will always spot errors once the text has been away from your for a while, so it's important that you can correct them at a relatively early (and free) stage.

Most arguments arising from this clause are likely to be over who is responsible for the errors, and I'll deal with that another day. On balance, apart from checking at which stages prior to proofs you will see the book, you can accept this clause without a fuss (unless you might fall foul of the 'you pay us' clause at the end).

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