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mscelina
07-20-2011, 05:23 AM
Let's say that--hypothetically, a new managing editor was in the position to change the publishing contract of the company they work for to something that was 1) more author friendly; 2) acceptable to the writers' organizations; and 3) B&BC approved.

Hypothetically.

Without getting into silliness like 100% royalties or what have you, what would the ideal small publisher contract include?

ETA: hmmm...meant to put this somewhere else. Oh well--I'll suffer the slings and arrows of getting my fingers slapped for this one. :)

Medievalist
07-20-2011, 05:26 AM
Were I just such a publisher, I'd include a vicious anti plagiarism clause that included defenestration, tarring and feathering, and return of all advance money and any royalties and a public apology.

mscelina
07-20-2011, 05:27 AM
Ooooh...I like that.

*hypothetically writes down*

hmmm...need to address that nasty DRM issue too. Hypothetically.

IceCreamEmpress
07-20-2011, 05:52 AM
I am not 100% on board with the Authors Guild's philosophy and track record of advocacy as a professional organization, but I do think their Model Contract is a useful starting place.

Unimportant
07-20-2011, 06:22 AM
I don't know which press you're with (presumably I could figure it out but I'm too lazy to go looking). Off the top of my head, what I look for in small press contracts are clauses about:
------------
Book must be published by X date or contract ends.

X free author copies to be shipped at publisher's expense within X weeks of the book being released in print.

No options clause.

Fixed term for rights being licensed (depends on the press -- 3 - 5 years seems pretty okay to me) after which contract expires unless author explicitly agrees to renew contract.

Publisher only licenses rights it can directly exploit (so for most small presses, author retains translation, audio, movie, etc).

Author retains rights to approve all edits other than grammar/spelling/punctuation (e.g. the publisher cannot shove in sex scenes or adverts for other books willy-nilly).

Author gets at least 14 days to do the final proofs (galley proofs) and this time period cannot be shortened without the author's written approval.

No specific "author must do XYZ to promote the book".

Regular royalty payments with statements, preferably sent by snail mail since email is less reliable (and no expectation that the author should invoice the publisher!)

-----------------

I know that in many cases the author is expected to pay a penalty fee if she wants to get out of her contract before the book goes to print. Is there anything similar if a publisher decides not to publish a contracted book (say, because they're having a tiff with the author)?

mscelina
07-20-2011, 06:26 AM
All very worthy points...hypothetically.

*hypthetically makes more notes*

ICE, I'm not 100% on board with the AG contract sample either; it seems outdated to me. But were I looking to write a whole new contract, I might perhaps find it hypothetically useful for improving the contract I hypothetically want to change.

Hypothetically.

James D. Macdonald
07-20-2011, 06:27 AM
I don't think much of fixed terms for rights grants. I like the more open-ended ones, where the publisher can keep publishing -- as long as they can keep selling above a certain level. Use it or lose it. If they can keep sales high, heck, they can be my publishers forever. But if they can't, I'll take that book back now, please.

Figure a level, and a way of measuring it, that makes you happy, then double it. Make 'em sing for their supper.

Medievalist
07-20-2011, 06:29 AM
I look closely at statements about agents. No "agent represents this book until X" clauses at all, unless it's a fixed period of a year or less. No "in perpetuity."

mscelina
07-20-2011, 06:46 AM
I don't think much of fixed terms for rights grants. I like the more open-ended ones, where the publisher can keep publishing -- as long as they can keep selling above a certain level. Use it or lose it. If they can keep sales high, heck, they can be my publishers forever. But if they can't, I'll take that book back now, please.

Figure a level, and a way of measuring it, that makes you happy, then double it. Make 'em sing for their supper.

What about absolute rights for a set period of time and then, a continuation of sales as long as they continue at a certain level? Is that an acceptable option?


I look closely at statements about agents. No "agent represents this book until X" clauses at all, unless it's a fixed period of a year or less. No "in perpetuity."

I don't believe in "in perpetuity" for anything. Except cemetaries.

Hypothetically, of course.

BenPanced
07-20-2011, 07:00 AM
A Whitman's Sampler with each royalty check.

Vaguely Piratical
07-20-2011, 07:00 AM
I'm so disappointed right now.

I thought there was a micro spec-fiction press with, perhaps, the best name ever. *sigh*

Unimportant
07-20-2011, 07:04 AM
Yes, adding to what James said -- no matter what the term of the contract, I like a rights reversal clause tied to a sales level.

mscelina
07-20-2011, 07:06 AM
I think that kind of clause would be a great thing to have--as long as it has well-defined terms. Otherwise, it could become a legal nightmare.

And NO WHITMAN SAMPLERS. All the chocolate stays with me.

Hypothetically.

mscelina
07-20-2011, 07:11 AM
Author retains rights to approve all edits other than grammar/spelling/punctuation (e.g. the publisher cannot shove in sex scenes or adverts for other books willy-nilly).



Oh, didn't see this.

I'm not quite buying into that. A good publisher isn't going to ask a writer to force sex scenes into a book that doesn't require them in the first place. But, I'm not going to add in an author approves all edits clause of any sort. The editor is responsible for the editing, not the author. This isn't a vanity press.

Hypothetically.

And advertising has nothing to do with editing. The publisher is releasing a product--and should have the right to promote other books at the back of the book...as has been done by all types of publishers for a very, very long time.

BenPanced
07-20-2011, 07:11 AM
:e2bummed:
Not even on our birfday?

Giant Baby
07-20-2011, 07:29 AM
If it was me, I'd take it off a public forum. If only to protect writers I'd worked with from speculation...

mscelina
07-20-2011, 07:43 AM
IF anything was to happen with the authors I was hypothetically working with, it wouldn't affect the contracts they already have.

This is a hypothetical conversation; not an actuality.

BenPanced
07-20-2011, 07:59 AM
Were I just such a publisher, I'd include a vicious anti plagiarism clause that included defenestration, tarring and feathering, and return of all advance money and any royalties and a public apology.

And an exclusive for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Unimportant
07-20-2011, 08:57 AM
Oh, didn't see this.

I'm not quite buying into that. A good publisher isn't going to ask a writer to force sex scenes into a book that doesn't require them in the first place. But, I'm not going to add in an author approves all edits clause of any sort. The editor is responsible for the editing, not the author. This isn't a vanity press.

Hypothetically.
I don't know what the correct legal wording would be, but I would want a contract to specify that the author has to approve the content. In my experience, the editor is responsible for directing the author in the way the publisher wants the book to be edited, but the author herself carries out the edits, and the copyeditor suggests changes on the sentence level but the author has to approve them (or not). I have heard about one "reputable" small press with the practice of having the main editor/book doctor shove sex scenes into every book that doesn't have a wodge of them and/or that the author isn't willing to write gratuitous sex for.



And advertising has nothing to do with editing. The publisher is releasing a product--and should have the right to promote other books at the back of the book...as has been done by all types of publishers for a very, very long time.
Yes, I can see that point. But with PublishAmerica advertising porn novels inside a children's book, it's obviously something that can go awry. It comes down to the author needing to trust the publisher -- and that makes me a bit twitchy.

Vaguely Piratical
07-20-2011, 07:06 PM
I don't know what the correct legal wording would be, but I would want a contract to specify that the author has to approve the content. In my experience, the editor is responsible for directing the author in the way the publisher wants the book to be edited, but the author herself carries out the edits, and the copyeditor suggests changes on the sentence level but the author has to approve them (or not). I have heard about one "reputable" small press with the practice of having the main editor/book doctor shove sex scenes into every book that doesn't have a wodge of them and/or that the author isn't willing to write gratuitous sex for.


Was it an erotica publisher? I don't think an author should be upset if the go to an erotica publisher and the editor comes back with "put in more sex." Just like I wouldn't be surprised with a Christian press cutting sex scenes even if they were important to the plot



Yes, I can see that point. But with PublishAmerica advertising porn novels inside a children's book, it's obviously something that can go awry.

I'm not sure I'd worry about anything on the grounds "Publish America is doing it wrong".

Mscelina, If there were one thing I really, really wanted in a contract it would be veto right on cover art. I know that cover art is a marketing decision. I doubt I'd ever get that, but I can dream.

mscelina
07-20-2011, 11:15 PM
I don't know what the correct legal wording would be, but I would want a contract to specify that the author has to approve the content. In my experience, the editor is responsible for directing the author in the way the publisher wants the book to be edited, but the author herself carries out the edits, and the copyeditor suggests changes on the sentence level but the author has to approve them (or not). I have heard about one "reputable" small press with the practice of having the main editor/book doctor shove sex scenes into every book that doesn't have a wodge of them and/or that the author isn't willing to write gratuitous sex for.

That's not content editing; not even close. A good editor---or publisher--will NEVER add anything gratuitous to someone else's story. NEVER.

That being said--

The editing process should be a collaboration between author and editor, I absolutely do not believe the author gets final approval over the editor's input. I believe the author gets final approval over the MANUSCRIPT, but if an author refuses to do reasonable edits on the grounds of his golden word syndrome, then the book doesn't get released.

For example, I worked with an obviously now anonymous author on a MS a few years ago. There was a glaring continuity error in the story--so glaring that it was a throw the book against the wall moment. I pointed it out, made suggestions of how to resolve the conflict--and was blasted by the author in the publisher's community loop for "dumbing down his manuscript."

Dude killed someone and brought him back two scenes later.

Author refused to do any content edits, and his MS sat there, unpublished, until the end of the contract period. Not my decision--the publisher's. I left that house not long after, and am unsure what happened to the author or the book.



Yes, I can see that point. But with PublishAmerica advertising porn novels inside a children's book, it's obviously something that can go awry. It comes down to the author needing to trust the publisher -- and that makes me a bit twitchy.

We're discussing a hypothetical publisher here, not a vanity press horror. :)


Was it an erotica publisher? I don't think an author should be upset if the go to an erotica publisher and the editor comes back with "put in more sex." Just like I wouldn't be surprised with a Christian press cutting sex scenes even if they were important to the plot

I'm not sure I'd worry about anything on the grounds "Publish America is doing it wrong".

Mscelina, If there were one thing I really, really wanted in a contract it would be veto right on cover art. I know that cover art is a marketing decision. I doubt I'd ever get that, but I can dream.

Small publishers like the one I'm hypothetically working with, give the author input into their cover art and approval rights. The managing editor hypothetically also has veto power, but because the author and artist have worked closely together on the cover, that veto power usually involves things like font sizes or types.

RedRajah
07-20-2011, 11:53 PM
Hypothetically, how should e-book rights be handled (if this hypothetical publisher branches out into that market)?

mscelina
07-21-2011, 12:30 AM
Well, this is a hypothetical small press with simultaneous hypothetical electronic rights and print rights.

So that actually makes up the majority of the contract. Hypothetically. :)

Soccer Mom
07-21-2011, 12:37 AM
I still think there should be chocolate involved. Hypothetically.

AlishaS
07-21-2011, 12:45 AM
I think this is the best hypothetical thread I've read ever.

Now, seriously though, I honestly know there are a million difference variables when it comes to getting a manuscript published, however, as someone mentioned already, I think there should be a target release date included into every contract, or rights revert back. I know it doesn't directly benefit a publisher to "sit" on a manuscript, but I honestly don't want to be waiting years and years for it to come out. Unless of course it was a big 6 and I got a nice little advance :)

Unimportant
07-21-2011, 01:11 AM
Was it an erotica publisher?
No, it wasn't.

Unimportant
07-21-2011, 01:20 AM
That's not content editing; not even close. A good editor---or publisher--will NEVER add anything gratuitous to someone else's story. NEVER.

That being said--

The editing process should be a collaboration between author and editor, I absolutely do not believe the author gets final approval over the editor's input. I believe the author gets final approval over the MANUSCRIPT, but if an author refuses to do reasonable edits on the grounds of his golden word syndrome, then the book doesn't get released.


In an ideal world, the publisher and author can wholly trust each other. We don't live in a perfect world. So I think the dilemma here is that you, the publisher, want to have a good, fair contract but also protect yourself against the occasional 'bad' author with golden prose syndrome or whatever. I, the author, want to have a good, fair contract but also protect myself against the occasional 'bad' small press who exploits/screws/mangles their authors/books.

I totally agree that the author should be willing to edit their book, with the caveat that sometimes the author and editor will just have to agree to disagree on certain points. But if the contract says "publisher has final say over content of book" then this does allow the publisher to, for example, shove in gratuitous sex scenes every third chapter if they were to choose to. Presumably there is a way to word the contract to ensure that reasonable editing can and must occur, while unreasonable book-doctoring cannot and must not occur. (IANAL)

CheshireCat
07-21-2011, 01:40 AM
Oh, didn't see this.

I'm not quite buying into that. A good publisher isn't going to ask a writer to force sex scenes into a book that doesn't require them in the first place. But, I'm not going to add in an author approves all edits clause of any sort. The editor is responsible for the editing, not the author. This isn't a vanity press.

Hypothetically.

And advertising has nothing to do with editing. The publisher is releasing a product--and should have the right to promote other books at the back of the book...as has been done by all types of publishers for a very, very long time.

Ummm ... I have to say here that I'd never sign a contract that allowed the publisher final say on editorial changes. The editor's name doesn't go on the book, mine does. If they ask for changes I don't want to make, I have the option of saying no; if they can't live with that, they have the option of cancelling the contract.

Works for me.

Unimportant
07-21-2011, 04:01 AM
Additional points I like to think about when I'm reading the contract is:

What will happen to the book if I get run over by a bus? Ideally, the publisher will still be able to go forward with it if it is in the post-edit stage; if it's in the pre-edit stage then I'd guess publication would not go forward as my corpse could not carry out the edits, and I'd not want some random replacement chosen to do it for me. I like a contract that provides some safety for the book and you, the publisher, in the event of my death. You might trust me and think I'm a great person who'd never screw you over, but neither of us can guarantee that my heirs won't be total asshats.

Conversely, what will happen to the book/to me if the press gets sold to a new owner? That's a bigger issue, from my perspective. Sure, I may trust you, the current press owner, to use the "publisher gets final say over content" clause only to ensure that my sentences end in a period and my contractions have apostrophes in them, but what if you sell the press to a control-freak asshat who enforces that clause to the full extent of the law and shoves entire new chapters into my manuscript?

This is why publishing contracts are inherently adversarial. Both author and publisher have to look at each clause and think, "If this were enforced in the most negative way possible, to the full extent of the law, what would happen to me?"

blacbird
07-21-2011, 04:46 AM
I'll add this issue to the list of things I don't need to worry about.

caw

juniper
07-21-2011, 11:23 AM
Ummm ... I have to say here that I'd never sign a contract that allowed the publisher final say on editorial changes. The editor's name doesn't go on the book, mine does. If they ask for changes I don't want to make, I have the option of saying no; if they can't live with that, they have the option of cancelling the contract.

Works for me.

I thought this was the standard way of doing things, no? Discuss, discuss, discuss, but author has to agree to changes or the deal is off.

eqb
07-21-2011, 02:25 PM
I thought this was the standard way of doing things, no? Discuss, discuss, discuss, but author has to agree to changes or the deal is off.

It is the standard. I wouldn't sign a contract that gave the editor final say. If the editor and I couldn't agree, they have the option of canceling the contract.

It's not a question of whether the hypothetical publisher a good and honorable publisher. Contracts protect both parties in case the unthinkable happens.

Speaking of which, to answer the OP's hypothetical question:

Besides the issue above, I'd want what James described--the contract continues until the sales drop below a specified point.

An option clause is okay, imo, as long as it's not grabby, and as long as it's negotiable. In other words, don't option the next book, option the next book in the series or if the book isn't part of a series, then in that subgenre. Oh, and most important, spell out that the author isn't required to take the offer from the publisher.

Don't take rights that you can't exploit, and be open to negotiation.

If you do take extra rights, offer a fair split on the income from those rights.

Specify a reasonable "publish by" date. (No more than two years.)

Royalties on cover price would be extra lovely, but on e-books, I know that's not always done. But make sure the royalty percentages are in line with the industry standard.

mscelina
07-21-2011, 04:47 PM
I thought this was the standard way of doing things, no? Discuss, discuss, discuss, but author has to agree to changes or the deal is off.

Pretty much. The author has to agree to reasonable changes to the manuscript; the publisher has to agree to negotiation over which changes are accepted. Usually when I edit an author, content edits are collaborative while copy edits usually aren't. Correcting an author's grammar, spelling, punctuation tends to be the one part of the editing process that authors don't argue with all that much.

However, as in the instance I cited above, not all authors are reasonable about their editing process. I know it's difficult for AW authors to understand, but there are a LOT of authors who are horribly infected with golden word syndrome.

So I think what everyone is asking for here is that the publisher doesn't add material without the author's approval--which as far as I've ever known or experienced is a standard--but if the author refuses to accept reasonable content edits (like killing off a character only to have him show up two scenes later with no explanation or reason), the publisher has the right to terminate the contract.

Does that sound about right? This is a publisher, not a vanity press--and some content edits are just necessary for the improvement of the manuscript. An author who truly wishes to better his/her manuscript will comprehend the value of edits intended to improve the quality and viability of the manuscript, and will work with the editor to accomplish this.

Hypothetically of course.

CheshireCat
07-21-2011, 11:34 PM
I thought this was the standard way of doing things, no? Discuss, discuss, discuss, but author has to agree to changes or the deal is off.

It's been that way as long as I've been publishing, and that's more than 25 years. I've never yet worked with an editor who didn't understand that I have the right even to STET copy-editor changes if I feel they compromise my style.

Unimportant
07-22-2011, 01:32 AM
but if the author refuses to accept reasonable content edits

I think it's in the wording. If the contract says "The author must work with the assigned editor in good faith and carry out the agreed-upon edits within the specified time frame" that's cool. If the contract says "the author must accept reasonable content edits that the editor carries out on the author's behalf" that's not cool.

mscelina
07-22-2011, 05:23 AM
I have never seen a publishing contract that says that and would never write one that says it either.

And that is NOT hypothetical.