Friday, November 03, 2006

The Authors Guild at Georgetown - November 8

What kinds of questions will you want to ask when the Authors Guild is here November 8? To get the most out of this busy, informative session, do consider submitting your contracts ahead of time for review. Here are just some of the pressing questions this office has dealt with since it opened in January:


1. The publisher said it "doesn't negotiate," so you signed a boilerplate contract seven years ago. Now your editor says you have to produce an updated version of your book, even though you've long since moved on to other projects, you don't have the time, and you don't need it for tenure. The editor threatens to produce the volume with or without your cooperation, and to put your name on it anyway because she claims the publisher has that right. Can she do this? Do you have options?

2. You signed a contract allowing your journal publisher to distribute your article in all forms throughout the world forever. The publisher also kept the right to revise your article "as necessary." Consequently, the article was edited by someone whose political opinions are the opposite of yours. Not only were your boldest assertions watered down to the point where you sound weak and ineffective, but the publisher plans to distribute this piece worldwide, including electronic archives. Do you have any recourse?

3. Although it now wants to be seen as a literary force in the world of the big-box bookstores, a prestigious university press publisher also claims it never pays advances, so you accept a contract with no money upfront. Then you find out one of your junior colleagues did get an advance. What next?

4. You have a choice between two important university presses whose reputations are functionally equivalent. They each came to you and offered you a pre-contract for your high profile project. What does this mean? Is either publisher obligated to publish your book? Can you go ahead and continue talking to both of them in good faith while you finish your book, or do you have to make a decision about which one to publish with now, before your book is finished?

5. Speaking of pre-contracts, what if you're up for tenure in the future and a university press offers you a pre-contract? Should you take it? What does that nagging term "pre" actually mean? Can you count on them to publish your book?

6. Prestigious university press A offers you a contract and asks you for a $1,200 subvention. Less prestigious but still excellent university press B offers you a contract and does not ask for a subvention. You have no funding through your department at the moment because you used it all for another worthy academic project. Which publisher do you choose and why?

These are just some of the many real-world situations that professors find themselves in with university presses. The good news is that you can always negotiate a university press contract. There is no such thing as a business entity anywhere that "does not negotiate," no matter what its representatives say. The better news is that most university press editors and publishers are in it for the love of the game anyway (they could be making more money doing something else, even in publishing!), so you'd be surprised how many times they are tacitly on your side even when they seem to be pushing the old party line. Learn more about your rights, your responsibilities, smart strategies and more on November 8.

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