Book Files and Formats: How to Protect Your Writing Investment

From Jane Friedman:

A writer’s investment in their book is more than time and creativity. Our words, and sometimes visuals, are then turned into electronic files—another investment. Publishers cover the cost of creating publishing files, while indie authors bear the expense of creating the files for their books.

This has long been the case, but when bringing a book to market in today’s shifting publishing landscape, doesn’t it pay to be proactive in terms of file ownership?

A traditionally published author may one day have their publishing rights reverted. For indie authors, the firm or freelancer you hired to prepare files may close or disagreements may develop. Or perhaps you want to publish your next book using a different team.

The costs to republish a book or to make changes to a book—or to take your book to a new designer—depend on whether or not you have the appropriate files. Common file types used in publishing are Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign (an industry-standard software program for typesetting manuscripts), and PDF. The type of file you have determines how easy, and how costly, it will be to make changes to the book.

Here are five real-life author stories about corrections and republishing, and an explanation of why having the files—the right files—is important:

  1. Mark’s publisher reverted the rights to two of his books but wanted to charge him for the PDFs. Mark instead found his old manuscript in Word and had to update it to match the published version. It was time-consuming because he had to cross-check the Word document with the printed book to find last-minute changes made during the publishing process.
  2. All Michael had was a physical book. With no files at all, the only option was to cut the spine off the paperback book, scan the loose pages, and then correct the errors created during the scanning process. This expense was in addition to standard publishing fees incurred for republishing.
  3. Tiffany could no longer use her original book designer and needed to make corrections to her book. She had an InDesign file, but it was missing the image files. The project was abandoned.
  4. Mary Jean chose to republish her three books using her own publishing imprint. One of the books required changes to the cover but all she had was a PDF, not the publishing source files nor the original image file. The cover had to be redesigned.
  5. Grace had an agreement with a hybrid publishing company, but during the proof review phase, she learned that the firm was going out of business. Unfortunately, she had no recourse in getting her publishing files, and she found herself back at square one, with only her Word file.

The difference between source files and publishing files

Publishing source files are files that can be edited or changed—for example, adding a new chapter, correcting a spelling error, or changing a font.

An InDesign file is a publishing source file (and often a group of files, when you include fonts and images). Many authors draft their manuscript in Word, which is imported into InDesign for the design, layout, and formatting process. Once the book is designed, it is output as a PDF, and this PDF file becomes the publishing file.

It’s also worth noting that it is possible to design and format a book using Word (or Google Docs). In this case, Word is a publishing source file. As with InDesign, one then saves their Word document as a PDF for use as the publishing file.

But in all cases, a PDF is never a publishing source file. A PDF is simply a publishing file to be used for printing the book and it cannot be edited the same way one edits a publishing source file.

. . . .

For ultimate protection, negotiate ownership of the source files

As noted above, getting ownership of the source files will allow you to make changes and republish your book, should the need arise. Will getting these files be possible in all situations? Probably not, but the truth is that you won’t know until you ask. It comes down to negotiation.

  • For traditionally published authors, the most common option I’ve seen is to purchase the PDF of their book from their publisher in the event of a rights reversion. Perhaps you can negotiate the price, or even get the source files. The point is to ask.
  • Authors working with a hybrid publisher, freelancer, or publishing services firm should have better luck getting the publishing source files. After all, you are paying for this service, right? A services provider that refuses to provide the source file seems to me to be taking an unreasonable position. The primary source file of the book’s design with your content has no value to anyone but you. It’s certainly worth asking about.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

1 thought on “Book Files and Formats: How to Protect Your Writing Investment”

  1. As I commented at the OP, first, Microsoft Word and Adobe In-Design are not file types. They are software programs. They generate file types. Second, everything in this article is an excellent reason to go indie and self-publish. But most importantly, going through a subsidy publisher is NOT the same thing as self- or indie-publishing.

    Please, before you throw money at any subsidy publisher, see “Advice on Self-Publishing” at https://hestanbrough.com/advice-on-self-publishing/.

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