Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lesson 2: What and When

What is the most important part of your book contract? You might think it is royalties or subsidiary rights or who owns the copyright, but you'd be wrong. They're all important, but if you and your publisher have different ideas about what you're writing and when you'll deliver it, nothing else matters.

One of the first clauses in your book contract should describe the work. This normally includes the book's subject matter and tentative title. You also want it to include an approximate word (or page) count. And if you haven't written the book yet, try to get the outline or synopsis attached as an exhibit.

I've seen contracts, especially with smaller publishers, that don't include information on the book. This can be dangerous, especially if you sold the book on a proposal. You don't want to give the publisher the opportunity to claim that you aren't giving it the book it bought. Most publishers are honest, but even Christian publishers have been known to weasel out of contracts when the market weakens. (In a later post I'll talk about clauses that allow publishers to cancel contracts in a more ethical manner.)

If you have a specific direction you want the book to go, try to get the contract to describe it. This will help ensure that the publisher is looking for the same book you are writing and is particularly important for edgy fiction or for non-fiction with a limited audience.

As to word count, the legal guides I've read give conflicting advice. One recommends using page count rather than word count because it provides more flexibility (since the typesetter can adjust the number of words on a page), while another disagrees. Personally, I prefer using word count because the author can control the number of words but only the publisher can control the number of pages in the final, published product.

The contract will also say when you have to deliver the completed manuscript. Sometimes it will be a single date, and sometimes the contract will ask for the manuscript in sections. Or it might set one deadline for the original manuscript and another for returning the galleys. Make sure any deadlines listed in the contract are realistic for your writing situation. Some publishers will be gracious and provide additional time, but others won't. The publishing business has certain release dates, and publishers try to fill a set number of slots for each one. If your book misses its slot, your publisher won't be happy.

Publishing contracts may also spell out how you are to deliver the manuscript. This can include both the delivery type (hard copy, disk, e-mail attachment) and the document format (e.g., Microsoft Word). Make sure you either know how to comply with these requirements or have a computer-savvy child, friend, or co-worker who can do it for you.

Because it's all about the manuscript.

Kathryn Page Camp