Monday 3 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (9)

This is quite a straightforward clause - it really spends a lot of words saying they intend to publish your book. Which is just as well, since that was why you sent it to them, and is the whole point of the contract.

9. Production Responsibility

The Publishers shall, unless otherwise mutually agreed, or unless prevented by war, strikes, lockouts or other circumstances beyond the Publisher's control, at their own risk and expense, produce within a reasonable time, and publish the Work within 12 (twelve) months of the last sheet being passed for press. The Publishers shall have the entire control of the publication; and the paper, printing, binding, jacket and embellishments, the manner and exten of promotion and advertising, the number and distribution of free copies for the Press or otherwise, and the price and terms of sale of the first or any subsequent edition or impression shall be in their sole discretion.

This means they will publish it unless they can think of a good reason not to, and you don't have any say in how it is presented.

circumstances beyond their control is a catch-all phrase. I've had it deemed to include recession; there may be some that claim the volcano prevented publication, but I haven't heard of any. Once, in a clause that went the other way, I had 'pandemic' added as a reason I might not finish the book (it was a book about pandemics, so it seemed appropriate).

within 12 (twelve) months of the last shee being passed for press: within a year of you approving the page proofs. A year is a long time for a book that's already repro-ready to be sitting around doing nothing. Perhaps they hope you will forget about the book and not ask them.

They get to choose the illustrator, the cover design, the quality of the paper and so on. If you don't like their choice of illustrator/cover you can argue to have it changed, but they don't have to do as you want. It can be very distressing if you hate the cover or the illustrations. Most publishers will give you some say in these, but this clause means they don't have to. It's worth asking how much they are willing to involve you (but don't expect them to change the contract).

The most worrying bit of this clause is a bit you probably thought worked in your favour: that they will do all the advertising and promotion. This can backfire on you, as it means that they can ask to approve (or veto) anything you are planning on doing yourself, including your own website, your blog, any leaflets, posters, talks.... That might sound unlikely, but I have a friend to whom this has just happened. I built her website for her, at huge cost, and her Stroppy Publisher - who were shown the plans - said 'you can't put this online yet, we need to vet it' and sat on it without commenting until a few days before the book's publication date. It took a good bit of Stropping to get them to stop it and let us go live in time.

They choose how much to charge for the book. Fair enough, though you will be cross when they remainder it just prior to pulping. Sorry, didn't mean that. Your book will be a run-away success and they will reprint immediately at a higher cover price. Of course. Conversation overheard between two authors at a Cambridge dinner:

Author 1. Hello, how are you?
Author 2. Ah David, bit sad. I've just seen my book remaindered in Galloway and Porter.
Author 1. Remaindered? You're lucky - they pulped mine.


  1. Please don't stop these posts! I'm right now going through a draft contract from a major publisher with my agent, waiting on advice from the Society of Authors, and your posts are INVALUABLE! Such brilliant, clear advice. Thank you!

  2. Oh, thank you, Kit :-) We have quite a lot of clauses still to go, and then I'll do a few extra clauses that aren't in this particular contract but are in some others. I'll do a trawl through all my contracts from different publishers picking out any odd clauses.

    Congratulations on your contract, by the way! I am glad to hear you are letting SocA see it - that is very sensible, even if you do have an agent looking at it too.

  3. Is 24 months a bit unreasonable for a small press publication agreement?

  4. 24 months is rather a long time. It rather depends whether they give you a fixed publication date and stick to it. It also depends on the type of book. It's not uncommon for some publishers to plan their schedules so far in advance that all publishing slots for the next 12-18 months are already full. The real point is whether they stick to what they have agreed. If you have to agree to publication 24 months in the future, resist any attempt to make a significant part of the payment fall due on publication. There is no good reason why you should wait so long when your work is finished.