A typical publisher's contract will include at least the following: (if you are representing yourself, contact the Authors Guild and they will send you a full length suggested contract.)
-Delivery of an acceptable manuscript by a certain date.
-Corrections after acceptance cannot exceed 10% or you are charged for composition.
-Who has rights. If you are going with hardcover publisher, that publisher will also usually control the paperback rights (along with 50% of the royalties.).
-You usually retain dramatic adaptations rights, i.e. film. -Advance and when it will be paid. Usually the advance is broken down into three payments. The first portion comes at contract signing. The second at acceptance of the manuscript, the third sometimes after (may be at time of publication).
-Royalties and how often they will be paid (usually twice a year). Royalties are interesting because they are accounted twice a year, usually the end of June and December. Then the publisher takes three to four months to issue a statement. Frustrating, but again, not much you can do about it. -Author's copies—usually 10. -Protection of work -copyright, infringement -and numerous other details such as audio rights, electronic media rights, etc. etc. (can we see here why an agent might be beneficial?) Electronic rights is a big issue right now and I discuss them in the last chapter.
I very much recommend getting a copy of the Author's Guild suggested book contract and comparing it to any offer you get. The problem is that authors don't seem to have much power (unless you are on the very top of the pile like Stephen King). There is an interesting phenomenon in publishing—there is very little middle class among authors. There is a handful of elite and then there is everyone else, scrambling at the bottom in the pack. I talk about this a little later on.
The most critical word in your contract is: "acceptable." When does a publisher accept a work? Your guess is as good as mine. Horror stories abound of writers cranking out a manuscript under contract, sending it to a publisher who says "Yeah, it's OK", and then suddenly getting a phone call months later saying: "Your manuscript is not acceptable and we want our advance money back." Joan Collins had a very bad experience with just this clause and she had to sue her publisher. And she won.
It would be nice, and you can try, to get a better definition on the term. Of more practicality, try to at least get a timeline on how long a publisher can sit on a manuscript before giving you their decision on acceptability or not.
I recently send in a manuscript to a publisher that was part of a series. It was very close to the outline I had sent the publisher the previous year and been paid for.
I got a call a couple of weeks later and the basic gist was: "This isn't going in the direction we want. Perhaps you need to take a hard look at it."
To say the least, I was a bit bothered, particularly considering the fact that they had approved the outline. And I wasn't thrilled that they were basically saying they didn't want the book. But I had to get through my negative emotions and accept that what they were saying had a gem of truth to it—I was going in a bad direction for the series.
Every time I've had someone say something wasn't quite working in one of my manuscripts, no matter how screwed up I initially thought they were, there was a core of truth to what they said. It is my responsibility as the author to find what it is and then figure out a way to fix it.
In this case I had to basically write a new book in two weeks, ripping apart the old one. It was hard work, but I did it, because it was the best thing for the book all around.
The publishing timeline: The following is a typical timeline from the moment you sign that wonderful contract through actual arrival of the book in the bookstore. Pay close attention to the number of months that pass—there's a quiz at the end.
Month 1: sign contract. (usually about two to three months after they agreed to terms over the phone)
Month 4: The "editorial process" begins. The amount of time this takes depends on how much revision the manuscript requires. It is important for new writers to know that publishers won't buy a manuscript if it requires extensive revisions. It is very frustrating to new writers who think they have a spectacular and novel (no pun intended) idea and think that with some editorial assistance they will have a best-seller, to find that if the manuscript isn't pretty much already in a publishable form, it won't get looked at very long.
This process tends to get longer, the more books an author has published. While that sounds contradictory, think about it for a second. It gets longer for those novels put under contract as concepts as opposed to those novels put under contract as a completed manuscript. With the latter, the publisher has pretty much accepted the manuscript. With the former, the publisher has accepted the concept—when they get the first draft of the manuscript, there is more of a tendency to want to change things.
The first stage of this process is when the editor presents a report to the author. This is usually a month or two (or more depending on the production schedule) after receiving the manuscript. It gets a couple of readings at the publisher and then they put those thoughts down in a letter. Those could consist of changing the ending, adding more twists to the plot, deepening characters, etc. The author makes the suggested changes (or argues them, but usually bows to the inevitable—after all, it is the publisher who makes the final determination of "acceptability"). Then the manuscript is sent back for final approval of story, followed by being sent to a copyeditor who does the final polishing up—checking grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
Then the author gets the manuscript back for copyediting. It has already been through the proofreader once. This is for very minor changes. The ten percent change rule applies here.
The edited manuscript is then sent to production, which is a group of several small elves who stand around and cast spells over the pages. No, actually, production is where the manuscript is designed and typeset. Nowadays, they usually use computer disks to do this. The page proofs are printed and the author receives loose galley proofs. These are 8.5 by 11 Xeroxed pages showing what the pages will look like. You proofread these and send them back. At this point, the front matter (title page, table of contents, dedication, copyright page, etc.) is completed.
At the same time the elves in production are working on the book, the dwarves over in marketing are designing the cover and developing copy and promotional material (which for a new author consists of "Hey, here's a new book.").
You receive bound galley proofs. These are the exact same as the loose galleys (with the same mistakes, corrections will be made later). They are what are sent to reviewers for advance review. These are also sent to book buyers who help your publisher determine how many copies of your book will be printed based on their orders.
Around fifteen months after signing the contract you get a look at your Xeroxed jacket/cover. It's too late to change anything so you love it. The actual printing takes about six to eight weeks.
Month 18: Your book is published.
From a publishers point of view here is the timeline. Let's use a delivery date of the manuscript as specified by contract of January 1 and a pub date of September. January: Minor or major editorial changes. -scheduling. Note for publishers September to November is most dangerous time to schedule a book because it is the most crowded. You're competing with the big boys and girls. -jacket input. February: Copy editing. -1st sketches on cover. -flap copy
-fact sheet/book brief, used internally -design pages (font, etc.)
March: pre-sales (launch) meeting. Selling the book to the rest of the house, which of course has no time to read the vast majority of books they are selling. -publicity planning
-co-op advertising considered (money spent with booksellers) -set price
-book is positioned -editor prepares the catalogue copy April: 1st pass of the galleys -bound galleys are sent to reviewers -marketing budget -press kit
-catalogue comes out May: sales reps get kits
-BEA, the old ABA convention, although this is getting less and less important as sales break down right now are roughly: Chains= 40%; Internet= 10%; clubs= 10%; Independents= 25%; wholesalers= 15%. These numbers vary depending on whether it is a hardcover, mass market paperback or trade paperback. June: orders come in. -pub date confirmed. July: the book is actually printed. August: the book is in warehouse. -the book is shipped—bound book date. -last week of the month the book is in the store. September: pub date.
Quiz: How many months from signing the contract to the bookstore? Right. Eighteen. Add in the time it takes you from original idea to finished manuscript. How long does that come to? Two years? Three years? Go way back to where I wrote about your story idea. Factor in a—say at least a 2.5 year, more likely three-year process. What that means is if you are writing about a subject that may change in the next three years then you'd better be careful. My first manuscript in 1989 was overwhelmed by world events. I had the Russian bogeyman as the enemy. Well in 1988 they were. In 1989 the Wall came down. Oops. A word to the wise: Be careful with time sensitive stories.
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