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.”