Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three issues for publishers in accepting manuscripts

Now that you've submitted your manuscript to your publisher, it's nail-biting time. Will there be changes? How many? How deep will the cuts go? Of course there's nothing you can do about this part of the process: it's entirely out of your hands. Or is it?

If you've been keeping in touch with your editor this should be a less painful process than if you haven't. Both because you'll have a better idea of what your publisher actually wants and because there's less that your publisher will be allowed to insist that you change. Remember when I said that if you're making changes to your content you should reach out to your editor and make sure they're okay with your plans? This is why: a publisher who has been kept informed of your progress has far less leeway to reject your final work than one who sees it for the first time at the end.

Let's look at some of the criteria; we'll explore them in detail over the coming days.

Before we start looking, it's important to be clear: there's very few situations where a publisher has no discretion and must publish the manuscript. (Believe it or not this does happen sometimes.) Most of the time if a publisher rejects your manuscript the big questions that come up are: what happens to advances and who owns the rejected work product.

Now for the criteria publishers should consider in making their decision.

1. Unless your contract says something different, your publisher is the one who gets to decide whether to accept your manuscript. If you think about it that's the most sensible approach: otherwise authors would be the ones deciding whether their work gets published. In a self-publishing environment like the Kindle or Nook that's of course the way it works, but then again in those situations you're not asking the publisher to commit time, resources, and money to your project.

Other than the objective characteristics like word count, some authors are able to get more subjective criteria for acceptance put into their contract. (You might think this sounds like a bad thing when really it's preferable to the alternative: the publisher can reject for arbitrary reasons. If possible you want to avoid that.)

2. Your publisher has to provide you with editorial assistance through the writing process, both for non-fiction and for fiction. If they don't, then they will have a much harder time justifying a decision to reject your manuscript.

3. A bit of bad news: yes, a publisher can reject a manuscript if they don't want to spend the money to publish it. But normally this doesn't allow them to ask for their advances back, and unless it's a work for hire you should be free to go sell it to someone else. This last one is a really important step for you to take.

In the next few days I'll go into detail on each of these points.

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