Think before you sign & do it!

Eoin Purcell


I talked in my last post about how to deliver a final text in Word. I thought today that I might also post some thoughts on manuscripts and contracts and how they relate.

All too often authors are so concerned with getting their book contract agreed that they pay a little less attention to the detail of the contract. They also tend not to think in terms of the editor and the publishers pressures. Now that is all fair enough in one sense. But in another this thoughtlessness can be exceptionally damaging to the working relationship because it creates big problems for the publisher.

Three main problems can arise that cause problems in my experience to date:

    1) Late Delivery
    2) Extent issues (manuscript longer or shorter than agreed)
    3) Content issues (again substantially different from the agreed content)

And these are problems for you because?

Most publishers operate a rigid timetable. Six – nine months before a book is published the sales force will be briefed and they will attempt to pre-sell titles to large chains, independents and other outlets. That means things like price, page extent, cover design, image numbers and colour have to be locked down and ready for the sales department at an early stage.The contract forms the basis for these details.

From terrible experience I can assure you that missing these deadlines is exceptionally counter productive to the process, engendering only derision, discomfort and distrust on all sides. It may not seem very flexible (and it is not) but those are (at least for now) the rules of the trade game and if you want to play that game you play the rules.

As you can see then for the publisher to have all those details locked in delivery of the manuscript on time and to contract is literally vital. Some publishers will take manuscripts a year before publication others longer and for those who operate a little closer to the edge they may take manuscript delivery much closer to the date of release. That makes it especially disastrous if you deliver late. The schedule goes awry, work that should be done one month drifts into another and obstructs work that should have been done then. All in all late delivery endangers the timetable and thus the proper release of your book, never a good idea.

No one will have a problem with an early delivery. Though the author may wonder why matters have not happened earlier as he/she got the text in on time or early, the reason is of course the same reason why a late delivery is such a dramatic problem, publishing timetables.

Almost like the early delivery issues, a manuscript considerably shorter than envisaged is not the worst of issues. Unless the cover has been printed before delivery in which case large issues might arise and the cover may have to be scrapped and reprinted. A great way to cost your publisher money and lose their favour!

Text that exceeds the contracted length is a problem for so many reasons:

    a) It may require printed covers to be scrapped and reprinted.
    b) It increases costs of paper and thus forces the publisher to accept a lower/non-existent profit or raise the price.
    c) If these issues arise after the book has been pre-sold the publisher is faced with pissing off retailers or cutting the book to length or taking a hit.

All in all you will have a very angry publisher on your hands simply because you failed to deliver the text at the right length. Bravo!

I am sure you have spotted the trend here, late delivery, not to contract delivery or substantially different to contract delivery makes for a very annoyed publisher, a messed up schedule and a book that needs very little to tip it into the also ran category. But all of this is avoidable.

Avoiding Disaster

Don’t sign up without fully considering the deadlines, delivery details and the conditions. It’s kinda simple but so often overlooked it hurts! Only agree to deadlines you can keep. Write the length agreed. Write the style and form agreed unless you agree before delivery to change tack. I could write more on reading the contract but that too is for another post.

See, nothing too challenging there.

What is more if, despite doing everything right, you see an issue arise, contact the publisher ASAP and say so. They will welcome the early warning that might prevent expenditure and timetable difficulties and they will certainly prefer to know before they have started submitting the book to retail buyers.

Getting ready for the weekend!


7 thoughts on “Think before you sign & do it!

  1. Another great post full of extremely useful information. I have signed onthe dotted line already to submit my book in August 2007 and I believe my word limit is about 75,000 (only a small book). I promise with my hand on my heart to do my best by my publisher and stick to the rules. But you can imagine what it looks like from this side when I haven’t got a word out yet (starting to write in 10 days if all goes well…).

  2. Hey David, nice site with some good stuuf. I intend to spend a good deal more them on your blog over the next while!

    I have no doubt you willd eliver, in fact I predict your problem being to restrain your writing length! Certainly if your blog is anything to go by you seem to turn out wonderful posts with such regularity it puts most of us to shame! You make a good point about the authors perspective!

  3. This is the story of the next book my company will be publishing – the wonderful Coven of One by Kate Bousfield, otherwise known as blogger The Inner Minx. Submission to offer to publish – 2 weeks, then 4 weeks editing and preparation for printer, then 3 weeks printing – launch date October 31st, total time from submission to launch about 8 weeks.

    This is not a POD book by the way. It is being printed by a traditional book printer and marketed through all the usual channels.

    I know this doesn’t conform to the industry norms but it can be done. Publishers still work on models of publishing that might have been relevant 50 years ago but it’s just silly now with current software and e-mail shrinking the process.

    Of course, sales and marketing cycles are the biggest obstacles to success in this way but maybe the blogging buzz will help to overcome these.

  4. Hello Skint,

    A great point and sometimes even the majors release books in a rush or new editions of old books to captured re-newed interest in topics!

    I agree that the lead time seems out of kilter with the modern age and thunk that over the next decade we will see a huge change in the way the market works.

    Sadly for now though most authors will have to contend with a much slower process than the lightening fast one you have just descirbed!

    Go You by the way! Sounds like a wonderful coup!

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