Thursday, July 5, 2012

What kind of help does your publisher have to give?

Today, one editor could have dozens or even hundreds of authors to manage. In that kind of environment it's important for you to be clear on the kind of assistance you should expect from your publisher. And your contract is going to contain clues, both by what it says and by what it doesn't say, about how much help you should expect.

Notwithstanding what your publisher might want you to think, courts have held that a publisher has a duty to provide an author with some guidance and assistance in delivering an acceptable manuscript. That's the case both for fiction works and for non-fiction.

That works to your advantage and disadvantage at the same time. Does your contract spell out exactly how many check-in meetings are required during the writing process? This is why: if things go bad the publisher is going to use these check-ins as proof that they were providing you with assistance. So use these to your advantage too:

1. When you're at these meetings or when you're receiving emails from your editor, make sure you're comfortable with the guidance and notes. That doesn't mean you have to like them. But it does mean you have to feel you understand what they're asking and expecting. If you don't, ask for clarification.

2. Your publisher isn't allowed to give you false hope or to lead you along. If you keep getting notes suggesting that everyone wants you to make your heroine in her early 40s, then once you submit the final manuscript your publisher tells you that they really wanted a teenager, the publisher has put itself in a bad position. The legal term for this is "reliance" and it means what you think: they told you something, you relied on it and did work to implement it, and now there may be consequences for the publisher if they change their mind.

3. If you have the ability to negotiate the number of these check-ins, try to get the right number that you think you'll reasonably be able to use. The publisher is going to want to keep the number as low as possible. If you think your subject matter will be challenging to address and you'll want to make sure you're staying on track, more check-ins will help you to stay in sync with your publisher. This is important legally because if you've done your part of the bargain and the publisher rejects anyway, you're in a much better position.

Again, don't delude yourself: no judge is going to put a gun to the publisher's head and force them to print a book unless the contract says they can't not print it. But there are other benefits, and you should put yourself in the best possible position to get them.

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