Publishing Contracts: Author Responsibilities

Hello, friendly neighbourhood heroines and heroes! Publishing Contracts: Author Responsibilities

Welcome to another post talking about publishing contracts. You can see what this is all about in the Introduction Post and see the last post where I walked about Grant of Rights and what that means. 

In this post I’ll be talking about Author Responsibilities: the things that the publisher would normally expect you wonderful word-smiths out there to do and be responsible for. 

Before we get any further I do need to sound the disclaimer klaxon: these posts reflect my own experience with contracts and are intended for guidance and informational purposes only. They should not be taken as iron-clad advice for all publishing contracts and if in doubt you should seek specific advice. There are organisations, like the Society of Authors in the UK, who will be able to help with this and if you have an agent they should also be able to help.

Okay, now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to business! 

Delivery & Acceptance

The main thing that you will be responsible for is delivering the book. Delivery clauses should specify a date and many will have acceptance wording in as well which will outline the basis on which the publisher can reject the manuscript and what time frame you have to edit the manuscript to bring it up to snuff. 

Broadly the clause about delivery will say something like: 

The Author undertakes to deliver the final work ready for press to the Publishers by 25th December 2199 unless otherwise mutually agreed.

But there might be a more detailed delivery schedule if the book is more complicated or perhaps if it’s an illustrator contract that needs dates for rough sketches and then final images. 

The Illustrator undertakes to delivery the rough sketches of the Illustrations to the Publishers by 14th October 2089 and shall deliver the final images to the Publishers by 31st March 2090 and unless otherwise mutually agreed.

Or, the clause might read ‘deliver the work in accordance with the delivery schedule’ and then have a separate schedule attached to the back of the contract that sets out in detail when you would be expected to deliver the book. It might say:

The detailed outline of the complete Work and initial three (3) chapters: on or before 25th December 2089;

The remaining seven (7) chapters: on or before 31st January 2090.

So you can make the delivery as detailed as you might want it, but most often (especially with works of fiction) it is one date to deliver the book to the publishers.

You can also see I’ve written up there ‘unless otherwise mutually agreed’. This is a short, but important bit of additional wording which will allow you to push back the delivery date if you need to. I am certain that no publisher wants you to work yourself to death to get the book to them by the date that’s in the contract. If you are finding that a deadline is looming and you have no way of reaching it then just talk to them and if you have ‘unless otherwise mutually agreed’ in the contract you can just agree a new delivery date over email and you’re all set. 

If you don’t have this wording in there, never fear! You can still amend the delivery date. You could do that with an addendum, which is a single page addition to the contract signed by both parties that changes details of the contract, but if your editor came to me with an email between you and them confirming a new delivery date I would lean towards just attaching that to the contract as a record of the change. It’s easier all round that way! If you need any extra time you should ask for it. Publishing is usually a lumbering industry so a couple of weeks probably won’t make much difference. 

If you miss the date (and you haven’t agreed a new date) there should be some provision in there for the publisher to be able to cancel the contract. It may give you, as the author, a period of remedy: i.e. 30 or maybe 60 days to send the book over to them or else they’ll be able to cancel. If they do need to cancel then this is the clause you should check to see if you would have to pay back any parts of the advance. 

Again, though, no publisher wants to do this. They’ve paid you for your book so they want to publish it! If you really need a bit more time talk to your editor – they’re people and they should understand! 

That covers delivery. What about acceptance? The acceptance wording in the contract is the way for a publisher to make sure you’re delivering the book that they’ve bought.

Some contracts, when they define the ‘Work’ will have a short synopsis of the book or a quick description like ‘a work of non-fiction concerning the airspeed velocity of swallows and approximately 100,000 words in length’. Other contracts might have something more vague that relies on the conversations between you and your editor. Something like: “delivery a work in line with the correspondence between the parties and/or the synopses/drafts presented to the Publishers’. The length and detail of what would be considered acceptable varies from contract to contract, so something to keep your eye on.

As I mention, this is just to make sure they don’t buy a non-fiction treatise from you on the airspeed of swallows (laden and unladen) and then wind up being delivered a children’s picture book about a cow’s bum. It might seem a little ridiculous, but that’s the job of your contract with the publisher: to provide you both with protection against the other party not doing their job. Remember that it goes both ways so the contract protects the publisher, but it also protects you and we’ll come to that in a bit more detail when we talk about the publisher’s responsibilities. 

Other Works

What do I mean by ‘Other Works’? Well, the book is defined as the ‘Work’ so other works means other books you might have under your belt ready to be sold to another publisher. The Other Works clause, which is also called the Competition clause or Competing Works, is there to stop you from selling what would amount to the same book to another publisher. All of the Other Works clauses I have seen are fairly straight forward and would only really stop you from selling the same book to another publisher. For example, if you’ve written that non-fiction book on the airspeed of unladen swallows and then you turn around and sell another non-fiction book to another publisher on the airspeed velocity of swallows which is really just an extended version of chapter 10 of the book you’ve sold to the publisher then that would be a breach of this clause.

Here’s a rough example: 

The Author shall not, during the continuance of this Agreement, prepare or publish any work which may reasonably be considered to be likely to compete with or to affect prejudicially the sales of the Work.

With this clause it wouldn’t be considered a competing work if you’re writing a separate book in the same genre or another book in your area of expertise, but it would stop you from selling an abridged version of the book to another publisher. 

I have seen concern online at competing work clauses that are far too harsh and restrictive, but I can’t speak to those. I have been fortunate to work for publishers that don’t want to restrict their authors from doing other work. If you’re worried about this clause in your contract get your agent to look it over, or ask your publisher to explain it to you if you don’t have an agent. If it’s in the contract they should be able to justify it and explain why it’s in there. (This goes for everything in the contract and is probably the most effective advice I could give you: If it’s in the contract they should be able to justify it so ask if you’re unsure about any of it.)

Proofreading & Index

There will also likely be a clause in your contract about proofreading the book once it’s ready for it. I’ve decided to include proofreading in this post as it will be something you’re responsible for. That’s not to say that the publishers won’t employ other proofreaders, but it’s always good to get the author to take another look. The proofreading will be one of the very last stages before the book goes to the printer so this is your last chance to catch any tiny errors. 

There should be a time limit in this clause and it may specify that you have fourteen or maybe twenty-one days to do the work and send back with your corrections. Check this time limit. If you don’t send the corrections back in time then the contract will probably say that the publisher will take that as approval from you. Just like with delivery times, if you need more time on it email your editor and let them know. 

Another thing to highlight here is that if there are too many corrections the publisher can charge you for the cost of it. The intention here is to stop the author making sweeping changes to the manuscript at the last minute. This is a pass to catch minor things like a comma being in the wrong place, not to add a new subplot, so if your changes add up to more than a certain amount (it will likely be 5%-10% of the cost of the total cost of setting the book) then you could be charged the extra by the publishers. 

For the index, I suspect most people reading this are writing fiction and it won’t apply, but for those of you who are writing non-fiction in all its glorious variety: read on! 

Wording about an index should be mercifully short. It will most likely read something like: 

If in the reasonable opinion of the Publishers an index is required it shall be supplied by the Author at their own expense. If the Author fails to supply the index then the Publisher shall arrange for it to be supplied and the cost shall be split evenly between the parties and the Author’s share shall be taken from payments due to the Author. 

In the clause above the Author has the option to provide an index if the Publishers decide that one is needed, but if they don’t or can’t supply an index then the Publisher will get it sorted and the cost for it will be split. Sometimes the clause might say that it will be mutually agreed whether an index is needed, or it might say that the publisher has to supply it anyway. As with most things in a contract you can probably negotiate with the publishers about this. I wanted to make sure I flagged this one up as I don’t want you to be caught out! 

Third Party Content

If you use any quotes from other sources, for example if you want to quote a line from Lord of the Rings. then that counts as third party content and its inclusion would fall under this clause. Or if you want to include photographs or illustrations where someone else owns the copyright that is covered here too. 

The clause itself might look something like this: 

Should the Work contain copyright material (whether text or illustrations) from other copyright works or which the Author does not control copyright, the Author shall at their own expense (unless otherwise agreed) obtain from the owners of the respective copyrights written permission (which shall be forwarded on to the Publishers upon delivery of the Work) to reproduce such material in the Work in all territories, editions and in all forms which are the subject of this Agreement. 

In essence this clause says that if you do include any text/pictures you haven’t made/taken then you need to go out and get permission for them and pay any applicable fees. The clause I’ve included above also says that you need to clear for their use ‘in all territories, editions and in all forms which are the subject of this Agreement’. This means that if you’ve given the publishers the right to publish and sell in all languages throughout the world then that’s what you need to try and clear permission for. Depending on what material you’re trying to clear this can be unlikely and publishers will understand this so make your best efforts to clear what you need to and speak to your publisher if you can’t. 

I also mentioned that you need to do this at your expense. This is the standard way that these kinds of things operate, especially for fiction. From the publisher’s perspective they’re buying a book from you and it is your decision if you wish to include the third party material so they need to make sure that the book you deliver to them has all the necessary clearances for them to publish it. Sometimes you might get a publisher who will cover all or some of the costs of permissions clearances, but this most often happens if you are putting together an anthology and need to pay to clear the stories/poems/etc that are to be included in it as that’s the work they’re paying you for, or for non-fiction which the publishers may be willing to help with some of the cost for any quotes/pictures you need to clear. 

Permissions and copyright are complicated areas so I won’t go into much more detail here. My advice has always been that if you’re not sure whether you need permission you should try and get it anyway. It never hurts to be thorough and better to ask first than have an angry author in your inbox yelling about stealing their work! And as ever, if you’re not sure, see if your agent or publisher can give you advice! 

Promotion

Now we get onto promotion, i.e. what you need to do to promote your book. These clauses can vary tremendously depending on the publisher, the author, and the book. 

It could be as small as: 

The Author shall endeavour to be available, if so requested in advance by the Publishers, to assist the Publishers in the promotion of the Work. 

Or it could be an enormous clause that specifies in detail what exactly your publishers expect you to and include things like a minimum number of book signings or confirming you will promote the book on your social media accounts and your website, and it might say that you need to do X number of interviews on the radio or television or on podcasts. 

As I say, this can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. Even if you have published a few books with your publisher and are something of a star in your chosen genre it is unlikely that you will get a massive list of specific obligations unless you are a celebrity author. That’s when they want to make sure that you’re out there and meeting the fans and they’re buying books at your events. For example, when PewDiePie released a book in 2015 people queued for up to five hours to get a book signed. That’s the kind of event the publisher is going to want to make sure is in a contract.

For the rest of us mortals who don’t have millions of followers it’s more likely your contracts will have something a bit longer than the clause I included above, maybe with a bit about social media and saying that the publisher will pay for reasonable travel expenses, but not have a detailed itinerary so that you and the publishers can work out what’s best for you and the book. 

 

And that’s it! 

I hope that this has been helpful for you! In the next post we’ll take a look at Book Stuff which will include the publisher’s obligations like the production schedule, how many free copies you get, and other things like that. 

Until next time my bright-shining friends! 


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