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Writer In Trouble
04-27-2009, 02:30 PM
I am a regular member of AW, but want to post this anonymously for reasons which should become clear as you read on (mods, if there's a problem with that, do let me know). Until this issue is sorted I am reluctant to be more specific with any of these points and ask that no one tries to guess who I am or who the publisher is, because it could get me into all sorts of trouble. But I would appreciate some hard advice, because at the moment I feel like I must be living in a publishing's Twilight Zone.

Last year I agreed to write a small book (12,000-15,000 words) for an independent publisher of small-format gift books with a very distinctive and desirable style. My title is on quite a serious, non-fiction subject.

I delivered the text in December, ahead of schedule, and the publisher told me he was very pleased with my work. In mid-February he took me out to lunch and we discussed it further: he told me that it would have to be edited to fit his standard template layout (which required that each double page spread focused on a separate topic, and which he had not explained to me before), which was potentially going to be a difficult job as my text took the form of one long essay; but he commented that while it was desirable for the book to conform to his standard layout it wasn't essential, and that the integrity of the text had to come first.

We agreed that he would carry out this edit-to-fit, as he has the better knowledge of the layout and I struggle to do much editing on screen, due to RSI: but I did make it clear that I would help with this if asked, or even do it myself if he found it impossible. I asked if he was pleased with the work I had done, and if there were any parts he intended to cut, as I had exceeded his normal word-count a little, and was concerned that it would be difficult to edit to fit his template. He responded by saying that he "didn't want to change a single word". Since then I've emailed him a few times, about other things, and he's responded positively about my text each time it's been mentioned.

Last Monday morning (20 April--about four months after I delivered the text, and two months after we lunched) he phoned me and told me that there was a crisis wtih the book. With the assistance of a friend (who is neither a writer nor an editor), the publisher had tried to edit my text to fit the template but couldn't; and he had then sent it out to experts, who had told him the book was full of errors.

The publisher told me that the text would have to be rewritten completely, in order to accommodate the experts' comments and to fit it to his standard template. The book was due to go to print at the end of this month; he has delayed that until mid-May, and could perhaps delay further to the end of May. It seems to me to be wholly unrealistic to expect us to be able to perform a full line-edit on this book in three or four weeks (even though the text is relatively brief); there wouldn't be any time for design (a big part of the appeal of these little books), copyediting or proofs.

He has now emailed me his edited version and while I am not usually precious about my own text (I've published several books, love a good, hard edit and have edited professionally too) I wonder if I am being so now, because I'm really unhappy with it: great chunks have been cut and a couple of extra paragraphs have been inserted, which seem very clumsily-written to me. Several errors have been introduced, and much information which is essential to that which follows has been removed, which renders a lot of the text incomprehensible. What remains has no flow or integrity, and is comprised of lots of lists and flat statements of fact.

The publisher has since sent me comments from two apparent experts in their field.

One expert provided only copyediting points and stylistic changes (which I consider indadvisable). Most of the copyedits concern errors introduced by the publisher's own editing of my text. As this text isn't even line-edited yet, it seems bizarre to me to copyedit it; and as this expert appears to have published only through various vanity publishers, I wonder just how sound his academic background is.

The other expert raised concerns about the gaps in the information the book provides--which correspond to the chunks of text the publisher cut, and to information which he told me to leave out of the book when he briefed me on it last summer. She also pointed out the difficulty involved in editing the text to fit the standard layout, which I have already discussed.

The publisher has still not delayed publication, and is still pushing me to get all this done in just two weeks.

I have offered him three alternatives: he can press ahead with my manuscript and aim for his current deadline, but I will not help with the edit and would demand that he publish it under a pseudonym, as I don't want my name on the cover; we delay publication by a decent amount, and I will work with him to get this book right; or I will withdraw my manuscript so he can find an author he has more faith in to write this title for him. He has still not told me which one he favours.

He wanted me to write further books for him, and had warned me that he was having to restructure the contract because he had reworked his costings and they didn't work. I assumed that this new contract would come into effect on any new books he signed, but this morning I received in the post a new contract for the book that is in editing turmoil, in which my royalty is cut from 8% to 5%, and new rights are granted to the publisher: the rationale given is that while he is still in profit (albeit by a smallish amount) he's not making enough money out of the books that he publishes. I wonder what he'd say if I wrote back and presented him with the same argument, only this time in my favour rather than in his?

So, what do you think? Am I being unreasonable in asking for a decent delay for the publication of this book, so that we can get it right? Is a couple of weeks enough time to rewrite the book, edit it to the layout, design, copyedit and proofread it? And what do you think of that new contract?

NeuroFizz
04-27-2009, 05:08 PM
This is a tough one, and I'm not an expert in contract law or a veteran of publisher-writer problems. You have a signed contract, right? In order to change the terms of the contract, I presume he'll have to invalidate (withdraw or whatever) the original contract in some way. In that case, the work involved might not be worth the return to you, particularly with the unrealistic deadline he is presenting (all of that would have to be spelled out in any new contract). I'd say that if you have both legal and sound ethical reasons to pull your work and walk away, do it. If you have legal reasons but it puts you on ethical thin ice, you may want to try your best to work it out with the publisher (you've already given him three possibilities).

Keep all correspondence and notes on any conversations.

Lauri B
04-27-2009, 05:48 PM
This sounds completely bizarre to me. Your original contract should have stipulations regarding edits and timelines that you are both held to. What does your original contract say about this? The entire premise of the relationship sounds odd to me. You're writing a gift book about a very serious subject that you wrote as an extended essay, but the publisher only publishes gift books that adhere to a certain format? And he is the sole editor of the project, but uses a friend to help try and edit your text, although the friend isn't an editor? This sounds really unprofessional to me. What am I missing here? And why didn't you know that the format should have been different from what you submitted? Did you submit your text specifically for this line of gift books?

Puma
04-27-2009, 06:36 PM
And ... does P&E give the publisher a decent rating - what about Bewares and Background checks here? My initial reaction is - you don't want to be associated with that publisher. You might also see whether you can find any evidence of his treating prior author's the same way by Googling. Puma

Maryn
04-27-2009, 06:40 PM
I'm not a seasoned pro or anything (well, maybe a little salty at times), but I'm loaded with common sense that says this editor's in trouble, with your book and who knows what else.

His behavior has been both bizarre and unprofessional. He failed to give the author the necessary parameters for the work. He has used people whose qualifications seem suspect to edit when he said he would do it himself. He seeks to void a binding contract, hoping you'll sign a new one less favorable.

I would withdraw the manuscript without explanation. Seriously. This is not a person with whom you want to work unless and until he gets his act together.

Maryn, sure on this one

Gillhoughly
04-27-2009, 07:42 PM
Is a couple of weeks enough time to rewrite the book, edit it to the layout, design, copyedit and proofread it? And what do you think of that new contract?What Maryn said--this is just too out there.

Most writers are NOT involved in the layout process of a book.

Most publishers would let the writer know about the general layout if it is at variance to the norm. The two page thing is a good example.

In the first place, he should have said he wanted short 2-page pieces to fit the format he was after and saved you both a lot of grief. His current demands smack of someone who hasn't a clue of what he wants.

For a 15K piece, two weeks is plenty of time. I usually get two weeks for a 100K novel to proof and send back. Some years back I did a complete rewrite on an 80K novel in two weeks--on a MANUAL typewriter...with carbons and White Out.

Layout and design in that time? Piffle. A publisher I'm working with on a project uses Adobe InDesign CS4 on an old Mac and the book looks amazing. He put in the last of my proof edits in about an hour last Saturday night. Once you know the program, it ain't rocket science, just a straight, dull slog to tweak the details.


What's at issue here is he's making radical changes to your work that were not mentioned when you got the job originally.

Is your name going to be on the book?

Do you--after those changes--still want credit for this book?

If not, then tell him you want a pen name on it, not your own. That way you don't get the credit (or blame) if it goes south, but you still get paid if it works out.

Harlan Ellison often slapped the name "Cordwainer Bird (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlan_Ellison#Cordwainer_Bird)" onto scripts he felt had been mangled by others. It was his way of alerting his friends "It wasn't MY doing!" :D

As for the next deal, that's up to you. Before signing a contract I suggest you go over the details with him and make it clear you need to know EXACTLY what he wants so you can avoid this problem. It is to his advantage to be as specific as possible.

If he whiffles or you get a "jolly used car salesperson" vibe from him, then say good-bye. There are plenty of other jobs out there.

Namatu
04-27-2009, 07:53 PM
What Maryn and Gilloughly said.

You should have been provided with guidelines upfront regarding manuscript format. It also would have been professional to advise you of the desire/need to revise the existing contract rather than just send it out to you. Has anything changed in the new one aside from your percentage? It seems a bit dodgy to try a contract do-over at this stage.

suki
04-27-2009, 08:10 PM
Just another fly-by comment, because I think you have received some very good common sense advice, but this is just another reminder that if you have a contract it, and only it, defines the terms of the relationship etc.

So, look at the contract, consider consulting an attorney to discuss your options. But the contract is the thing you must make sure you stick to, in order to protect yourself.

Now, if you don't have a written contract, then the emails or letters you exchanged with him at the beginning and even after you started the project might be considered all together to set the terms. But in that case, you definitely need to get some legal advice.

This whol thing sounds dodgy to me - and not very professional. But again, whether he is being unreasonable or not, whether he is in trouble or not, if you have a written contract, YOU must make sure you are abiding by it.

good luck.

~suki

jclarkdawe
04-27-2009, 09:05 PM
Although I agree that's there's a problem here, and your publisher is part of the problem, I'm seeing signs that this isn't one sided. As I find frequently, I'm not sure how much you're going to like me.

First question is where's the money? Have you been paid for anything or are you just going to be getting royalties?


Last year I agreed to write a small book (12,000-15,000 words) for an independent publisher of small-format gift books with a very distinctive and desirable style. This sounds like you knew what the format was. Further, if you didn't, I wonder why you didn't check out the publisher's style. Best case scenario for you is you failed to investigate, worse case is you knew how the books were put together. My title is on quite a serious, non-fiction subject.

I delivered the text in December, ahead of schedule, and the publisher told me he was very pleased with my work. BS hand stroking. In mid-February he took me out to lunch and we discussed it further: he told me that it would have to be edited to fit his standard template layout (which required that each double page spread focused on a separate topic, and which he had not explained to me before) And why hadn't you checked before? And it sounds from the previous paragraph like you'd seen his format., which was potentially going to be a difficult job as my text took the form of one long essay; but he commented that while it was desirable for the book to conform to his standard layout it wasn't essential B.S. hand stroking, and that the integrity of the text had to come first. Even more B.S. hand stroking. The more someone tells you how much they love your work, the more you have to doubt them. They might be telling you the truth, but ...

We agreed that he would carry out this edit-to-fit, as he has the better knowledge of the layout and I struggle to do much editing on screen, due to RSI Not the publisher's problem and not an issue.: but I did make it clear that I would help with this if asked, or even do it myself if he found it impossible. But it sounds like it was offered under protest, at which point I would be heading for a willing helper. I asked if he was pleased with the work I had done, and if there were any parts he intended to cut, as I had exceeded his normal word-count a little, and was concerned that it would be difficult to edit to fit his template. He responded by saying that he "didn't want to change a single word". B.S. Ever see an editor who didn't want to change something? Since then I've emailed him a few times, about other things, and he's responded positively about my text each time it's been mentioned. Why not? As long as he felt he could get the problem solved, there's nothing to be gained by making you angry.

Last Monday morning (20 April--about four months after I delivered the text, and two months after we lunched) he phoned me and told me that there was a crisis wtih the book. Which is when he realized there's no way to easily fix this mess. With the assistance of a friend (who is neither a writer nor an editor), the publisher had tried to edit my text to fit the template but couldn't; and he had then sent it out to experts, who had told him the book was full of errors. Full of what type of errors? Factual or writing? Factual I want some proof. If factual, this is a big issue.

The publisher told me that the text would have to be rewritten completely, in order to accommodate the experts' comments and to fit it to his standard template. Not surprising. Why would he want to change what he believes to be a successful formula? The book was due to go to print at the end of this month; he has delayed that until mid-May, and could perhaps delay further to the end of May. But the big question is when does he want it to hit the market? It seems to me to be wholly unrealistic to expect us to be able to perform a full line-edit on this book in three or four weeks (even though the text is relatively brief); there wouldn't be any time for design (a big part of the appeal of these little books), copyediting or proofs. As Gilhoughy says, doable. Life will probably suck for you, but it's definitely doable.

He has now emailed me his edited version and while I am not usually precious about my own text (I've published several books, love a good, hard edit and have edited professionally too) I wonder if I am being so now, because I'm really unhappy with it: great chunks have been cut and a couple of extra paragraphs have been inserted, which seem very clumsily-written to me. Which means you have to do some editing to fit into your style and his style. Several errors have been introduced, and much information which is essential to that which follows has been removed, which renders a lot of the text incomprehensible. Which is what your rewriting will be all about. What remains has no flow or integrity, and is comprised of lots of lists and flat statements of fact. So start rewriting or dump the project.

The publisher has since sent me comments from two apparent experts in their field. Which is really sounded like you didn't write this as accurately as you should have. I've done legal writing. One thing I make clear is that the legal conclusions have to stay put, but I also make clear that I can (and will) back up anything I write. I have a file cabinet full of material on EQUINE LIABILITY. When asked by my publisher, she got anythng she needed to verify any fact I used.

One expert provided only copyediting points and stylistic changes (which I consider indadvisable). Most of the copyedits concern errors introduced by the publisher's own editing of my text. Which is why you need to do some rewriting. As this text isn't even line-edited yet, it seems bizarre to me to copyedit it; and as this expert appears to have published only through various vanity publishers, I wonder just how sound his academic background is. It's either there or it isn't. If either of your sources aren't verifiable by independant sources, one of you is in trouble.

The other expert raised concerns about the gaps in the information the book provides--which correspond to the chunks of text the publisher cut, and to information which he told me to leave out of the book when he briefed me on it last summer. Which is what rewriting is all about. She also pointed out the difficulty involved in editing the text to fit the standard layout, which I have already discussed.

The publisher has still not delayed publication, and is still pushing me to get all this done in just two weeks. But you still haven't said what his "in the store" deadline is. My publisher had a very specific time of year that she was aiming publication for.

I have offered him three alternatives: he can press ahead with my manuscript and aim for his current deadline, but I will not help with the edit and would demand that he publish it under a pseudonym, as I don't want my name on the cover; we delay publication by a decent amount, and I will work with him to get this book right; or I will withdraw my manuscript so he can find an author he has more faith in to write this title for him. He has still not told me which one he favours. So sit back and wait for him to decide.

He wanted me to write further books for him, and had warned me that he was having to restructure the contract because he had reworked his costings and they didn't work. I assumed that this new contract would come into effect on any new books he signed, but this morning I received in the post a new contract for the book that is in editing turmoil, in which my royalty is cut from 8% to 5%, and new rights are granted to the publisher: the rationale given is that while he is still in profit (albeit by a smallish amount) he's not making enough money out of the books that he publishes. Considering the extra work you've put him through (from his prospective) on this book, I don't blame him. I wonder what he'd say if I wrote back and presented him with the same argument, only this time in my favour rather than in his?

I don't think there is either a good guy or a bad guy in this whole mess. He didn't understand what you were going to provide and you didn't understand what he wanted. Sounds like the classic case of mis-communication.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

CheshireCat
04-27-2009, 09:13 PM
I'm not a seasoned pro or anything (well, maybe a little salty at times), but I'm loaded with common sense that says this editor's in trouble, with your book and who knows what else.

His behavior has been both bizarre and unprofessional. He failed to give the author the necessary parameters for the work. He has used people whose qualifications seem suspect to edit when he said he would do it himself. He seeks to void a binding contract, hoping you'll sign a new one less favorable.

I would withdraw the manuscript without explanation. Seriously. This is not a person with whom you want to work unless and until he gets his act together.

Maryn, sure on this one

What Maryn said. Seriously, if I said anything at all, I would inform this "publisher" that since he wishes to void an existing contract for one less favorable to you, you have no choice but to withdraw the material.

This is a quagmire; don't get sucked deeper into it.

Writer In Trouble
04-27-2009, 09:37 PM
Well, it seems that everyone but Jim Clark-Dawe feels that I should distance myself immediately from this publisher, which was what I feel inclined to do: while protecting myself legally, and without breaching the contract, of course.

Jim makes some very valid points, and I'm glad for them: he's asking some very rigorous questions, and that's very similar to what I've been doing this week. But what isn't clear from my original piece is that as I was writing my text I pointed out to the publisher that it was going to be a very difficult book to write if it had to adhere to his standard format AND cover all the essential elements, and was that layout essential? And I was told that it was more important to get the text right than to make it fit to the layout, and that he'd be fine if it didn't match the layout of the other books in the series. Luckily, I have that in more than one email from him, so I'm covered on that front.

I've repeatedly asked for edits, and pointed out how time was getting on, only to be told that it was all in hand and nothing significant was being changed.

I was asked to write this book: I didn't propose it, but was approached: the publisher knew my previous work, had plenty of examples of it, so knew how I write. He told me roughly what he wanted: I asked a few questions (again, by email), and then wrote a proposal and a couple of sections so we both knew what we were getting into. He asked me to cut my proposed discussions on one area, and concentrate on another aspect of the subject: he now wants me to change the whole focus of the text to deal with the area he told me NOT to cover. Again, by email so I have written proof.

And he's changing ALL his contracts, for ALL his authors, not just this book, for me--so this contract revision has nothing to do with any trouble I might, or might not, have caused him. I just wanted to make that clear.

I checked this publisher out on P&E and Bewares here before I signed, and all looks fine. There's not a hint of trouble about them. There are so many details I'd love to share with you but can't right now: I'm still under contract, after all. But some of them are really, really juicy and if I weren't involved I would laugh until I fell on the floor.

Many, many thanks, all, for your comments (especially Jim, in a way, because it's clarified my thoughts very well). You've confirmed that I am not going mad and that this is an extraordinary way to behave, and I appreciate it. You have no idea how much!