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Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts

19 May 2012

A good discussion of some typical publishing contract clauses from Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware:

Over the past couple of days I’ve gotten several emails and Facebook posts alerting me to a blog post by writer Mandy DeGeit about her bad experience with a small publisher called Undead Press. When she received her author’s copy of the anthology in which her story was published, she discovered, to her dismay, that not only was there a mistake in her title (an inappropriate apostrophe), but…

They changed my story without telling me.

Let’s see: They turned a non-gendered character into a boy, they named the best friend, they created a memory for the main character about animal abuse. They added a suggestion of rape at the end…

When she complained about, among other things, the gratuitous addition of sexual content, she received this delightfully professional response from the publisher, Anthony Giangregorio:

on the contract, it clearly says publisher has the right to EDIT work. you signed it. are you saying you are a dishonest and immoral person and will now try to deny you signed the contract? well i have a copy right here
and as for the story. the editor had a hard time with it, it was very rough and he did alot to make it readable. despite what you think, your writing has a long way to go before its worthy of being printed professionally.
we did what we had to do to make the story printable. you should be thankful, not complaining. ah, the ungrateful writer, gotta love it

. . . .

Editing clauses are one of those contract areas where there needs to be a balance between the publisher’s interests and the writer’s. A publisher needs a certain amount of latitude to edit a manuscript to prepare it for publication (assuming it’s professional enough to do editing at all–you might be surprised how many small press contracts I see that don’t include editing clauses). It also needs to have the right to final approval–it doesn’t want to be forced to publish a manuscript that the author can’t or won’t revise to the publisher’s satisfaction.

A writer, on the other hand, needs assurance that they will be a partner in the editing process, and that their work won’t be changed in major ways without their permission.

. . . .

Here’s an example of an editing clause you don’t want to see (this and other clauses quoted below are taken from actual contracts in my possession):

Publisher shall have the right to edit and revise the Work for any and all uses contemplated under this Agreement.

What’s missing here? Any obligation on the publisher’s part to seek your approval before making the edits and revisions. A clause like this allows the publisher to edit at will without consulting you or asking your permission. If you sign a contract with this kind of  language, you are at the publisher’s mercy, and shouldn’t be surprised if the publisher takes advantage of it.

. . . .

So what should you look for? Here are several examples of better editing language, taken from various book contracts I’ve seen, including my own:

The Publisher shall make no changes in, additions to, or eliminations from the manuscript, except for typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors, without Author’s consent. Any other edits will be requested of the author and agreed upon between the author and editor prior to preparation for sale.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware and thanks to Sophie for the tip.

PG will add one more piece of general advice concerning all types of agreements: Don’t do deals with crooks or jerks.

Even with the best contract in the world, if the people on the other side of the agreement are crooks or jerks, you’re going to have a difficult time. On more than one occasion, PG has told a client something like, “With some work, I can probably get your contract whipped into shape, but this guy is still going to drive you crazy and figure out some way to steal from you.”

PG has read enough contracts so he sometimes picks up hints of jerkiness in the way the contracts are worded or assembled.

He can think of one contract from a romance publisher that included all sorts of short clauses about minor items he doesn’t usually see in publishing contracts. The net impression for PG was that the owner of the publisher was a control freak who was going to tell the author exactly how every little thing would be and expected no back talk. The answer to any question or objection by the author would be, “I’m the publisher and you’re not.”


25 Comments to “Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts”

  1. Most of the rest of the English speaking world have moral rights. Not America, unfortunately. You are limited to the protections in the contract. However, the publisher would run into difficulty if they wanted to sell this book in this form in most foreign jurisdictions.

  2. I spent 10 minutes Googling this Giangregorio clown. I’m unimpressed, to say the least.

  3. Wow! How unbelievably rude! If they thought her work was really that ‘unprofessional’, they wouldn’t have contracted to publish her in the first place. This guy is just being defensive in getting caught abusing the meaning of the word ‘edit’ in her contract. And his response to her just screams unprofessional to me more than anything does.

  4. “The Publisher shall make no changes in, additions to, or eliminations from the manuscript, except for typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors, without Author’s consent.”

    I wouldn’t want to sign this, because I don’t trust editors not to put typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors into my text. There are few things more annoying than having one’s correct English ‘corrected’.

    • As it turns out, he edited her title from “She Makes Me Smile” to “She Make’s Me Smile.” Much better!

  5. Earlier this week I investigated this story. My takeaway was that writers need to more closely investigate publishers. I don’t know how many online publishers I’ve checked out for friends, and found a few run by crooks and scammers, but usually I see red flags that indicate incompetence or cluelessness. Five minutes on Giangregorio’s website shows he publishes (for no pay) other writers in order to subsidize his own writing. It doesn’t matter what his contracts say about editing, he’s going to do whatever he wants and pfft to the writers who complained.

    While I appreciate Writer Beware bringing up a very important contract clause, there’s a bigger concern in this instance. Even if Giangregorio had an editing clause crafted by PG himself, he probably would have done the same thing and the writer would still find herself in the same position as she’s in right now. Just as anyone can call himself an agent, anyone can call himself a publisher. No training, no experience, no clue. Even with the best intentions, a noodlehead is going to make a mess of things.

  6. Yikes. This guy sounds like a sociopath. Take stories by unsuspecting newbies, insert pornographic passages and tell them they’re dishonest and immoral if they object–and besides, they deserve it because they’re bad writers.

    And it’s totally legal? Too bad people like this don’t have “jerk” tattooed on their foreheads. Unfortunately, sociopaths are usually quite charming when they approach their victims.

  7. This is Giangregorio’s cover for “The Day the World Died”: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1611990548/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwperfectbyd-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399349&creativeASIN=1611990548

    I knew that I had seen that picture before when I was hunting for a licensed image to use on my new book cover: http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-zombie-aftermath-image24317996

    Please note how the author’s name on the cover is exactly where “dreamstime.com” should be.

    What are the odds that the honorable Mr. Giangregorio paid for that image?

    • Hard to tell. The only part that would show with his crop is the top of the ‘I’ and the image has been roughed up quite a bit. Possible, but hard to confirm.

      Note: it would be an easy steal. I played around with the clone tool and had no issues hiding it after a little controlled blur was added.

      (Before anyone asks, I buy all my stuff from Fotolia.com – which is excellent by the way.)

    • Wow! It’s a direct crib. No attempt made to even disguise the artwork. How sad – and it probably happens all the time.

  8. One thing I liked about Cricket Magazine — they knew they were going to be editing for house style and that some choices would be ones authors wouldn’t like.

    So they didn’t send you the contract until both sides agreed on the final form of the story. The work was done by the editor, so it wasn’t like they did it to get free work out of the author with only a chance of purchase. The only work the author did was read through and approve/disapprove.

    With a good editor, it usually only took one round to agree. Later on, when the best editors retired, the one who took over wasn’t so hot, and it took several rounds.

    It paid well and there were no surprises. (At least it did when I was writing for them. Don’t know if it’s still the same way.)

  9. Oh crud, this dude lives in Massachusetts. Another Masshole.

  10. The editing clause of my current contracts. The section in “** **” is the part we (my lawyer and I) added.

    “The Publisher shall have the right to publish the Book under its present tentative title or under such other title as the Publisher may deem most advantageous to the sale thereof, and to make any changes, additions and deletions whatsoever in the material of the Book. **However, any additions,
    deletions or changes that materially alter the Author’s intent are subject to the Author’s approval, such approval not to be unreasonably withheld.** The Publisher agrees to furnish the Author with proofs of the Book for the Author’s approval. However, the Author must return the corrected proofs into the hands of the publisher within ten days of receipt. The Author agrees to make only minor changes in these proofs, understanding that major changes in the text at this point in
    production would prove too costly. The Publisher will make its best efforts to institute Author’s corrections.However, it must be understood that these corrections can only be made if the Author returns the proofs to the Publisher on time.”

    I entered my current publishing relationship well aware of the publisher’s good reputation, my editor’s good reputation, and my editor’s opinion of my work and comments about it before acquisition–which gave me the impression (accurate, I can state, several books/years later) that we would work together compatibly.

    Nonetheless, my parents didn’t raise any writers silly enough to give a publisher artistic control over their intellectual property, and so we insisted on this clause: “However, any additions,
    deletions or changes that materially alter the Author’s intent are subject to the Author’s approval, such approval not to be unreasonably withheld.”

    And the publisher, being a =legitimate= publisher, said, “Of course, no problem,” and added the clause.

    You’d have to be crazy to deal with a house that does NOT want to include a clause like that in the editorial portion of the contract.

    (Note: The exception to this is work-for-hire contracts. In those instances, the publisher owns the intellectual property–and the deal is often for worked based on an already-existing property. In cases like those, the author often doesn’t get any sort of artistic control whatsoever, and I wouldn’t view that as a dealbreaker. You are, after all, agreeing to write something that will not be your intellectual property.)

  11. And, reading the “publisher’s” comments to the author, I’d also add, never EVER work with an “editor” or a “publisher” which is unfamiliar with and incapable of employing, in its professional correspondence, the competetence in using punctuation which is normally expected of a reasonably well-schooled 8 year old child.

  12. Wow. Just, wow. I am currently earning an MA in Book Publishing. I am horrified that this “publisher” would act in such a way. I have to confirm what Ms. Resnick says, “the publisher, being a =legitimate= publisher, said, ‘Of course, no problem,’ and added the clause.” That is key. A legitimate publisher is willing to negotiate contracts, and understands that writers must maintain control of their IP.

    Of course, writers need to also be willing to take editing advise. Publishing professionals do have valuable experience, and do have the book’s best interest at heart. Just make sure that you have an agent or lawyer look over your contracts. Most importantly that you understand the vision your editor/publisher has for your book, and that you know you will be able to work with them.

    I do have to add as well, there are a lot of crooks out there (in every industry), but that does not mean that everyone in the industry is a crook. There are many wonderful people in the book publishing industry that are a joy to work with. Do your homework when it comes to publishers, but don’t treat everyone like a crook. We are so often painted as bad guys, when the truth is we chose our industry because we LOVE books.

  13. As the hard-won wisdom goes, “It’s always ‘who are the folks, and what’s the deal?’, and never the other way ’round.”

    Thanks for pointing out the better example, PG.

    • Right? I felt that way when I heard that people working for James Frey were getting screwed. It’s like, You were expecting James Frey to be honest? Why?

  14. As an aside, there are two separate issues here– the issue of the title change, and the issue of the text changes. In most publishing contracts, the publisher will have the right to publish the book under any title it chooses (grammatical or not). If you (or your agent or your attorney) have a certain amount of leverage, you may be able to get approval over the title. In any event, you should certainly get an agreement on meaningful consultation (so that when the publisher suggests the title of your book should be THE DAVINCI CODE, for example, you can point out that someone else has already used that particular title.) If you have more leverage, you can get approval over the final title.

    With respect to the text, it’s usually possible to negotiate some language that only allows the publisher to copyedit the manuscript after it’s been formally accepted for publication. Even so, you should also try to get a provision in your contract that allows you to review the final, copyedited manuscript and approve it.

    • Leverage is always helpful.
      One of my favorite quotes on editing in general and whether or not writers absolutely have to have it is from a Q&A session about four years ago.

      Q: “How much influence has the publisher on your books?”
      A: “Nowadays my books sell six digit print runs, several thereof. I know exactly how I managed to reach this position in my career and I certainly want to stay in it for as long as I can. So if a publisher wants to influence my work I’ll take my books and walk, again.”

      If you sell enough books you can obtain a lot of leverage. Having your very own support structure and not depending on in-house editors in the first place also helped a lot in this authors case.

    • Titles are one of those things that are so individual to the situation, too.

      I prefer to come up with my own titles, but I regard it as a cooperative effort. I’ve always worked to come up with titles my publishers think work. And I’ve eben fortunate on a couple of occasions that there was a late-breaking problem with a title, my publishers had good suggestions for what to call a book isntead.

      But I’ve known at least one writer who says she never knows what to call a book and usually just asks her editor to think up a title.

      And, alternately, I’ve known writers who’ve worked with obdurate and disrespectful editors or publishers who force AWFUL titles on them.

      It can depend how hard you’re willing to battle NOT to be saddled with a title you don’t like or want (I’ve always been willing to fight about this, but haven’t really had to), and also how much mutual respect and cooperation there is between author and editor/publisher.

  15. I read through a bit of this situation. It seems the publisher is somewhat shady (although has done occassional good pieces of work). Also, the rather inexperienced editor was given a bit too much freedom and ended up overdoing things a bit, which led to this issue (including that there were no checks on him, nor clear house direction). The author called them on it and the world got involved.

    Overall, this is what some small presses are like (not all). The reality is we need to be so careful who we work with. Authors have a steep learning curve and walking in not knowing your publisher, contract or editor is a recipe for this sort of thing. We all need to be more careful with what we do: Big publishing or small.

  16. Thank you for this post! It’s useful to know not only what you don’t want to see in a contract, but an idea of what a good editing clause looks like.

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