Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Understanding the Acceptability Paragraphi in a Publishing Contract

Authors who have signed a contract with a health care educational publisher have no doubt come across a paragraph that says that the publisher won't publish the book unless it finds the author's manuscript "acceptable."

The paragraph also comes with a date by which the author must present the "acceptable" manuscript. If the author hasn't presented the manuscript by then, a publisher may cancel the contract and try to recoup its losses.

Yikes!
That can be one scary paragraph.

"What if my book isn't good enough?"

"What if I didn't do exactly what they wanted?"

"What if I don't get the book to them in time?"

Seldom used

First, take a deep breath. Publishers seldom invoke that paragraph, and when we do it's typically because we received a truly lousy manuscript despite all the work a developmental editor surely would have done by then.

We want authors to succeed, because when they succeed, we succeed. So we'll work with a manuscript as much as we can to ensure success.

Sometimes, though, nothing we do can salvage the manuscript. In those instances, yes, we'll invoke the acceptability clause. But we don't like doing it.

In more a decade at F.A. Davis I've invoked that clause exactly twice.Most of us publisher-types have, I think, invoked that part of their own contracts at about the same rate.

Seldom abused

That paragraph is also seldom abused by authors. Well, the acceptability part of the paragraph anyway. But we find that many, many authors don't meet their manuscript deadline. Many.

Lots.

Numerous.

Copious numbers.

Did I say "many"?

See, we're accustomed to authors who, for one reason or another, find themselves unable to deliver a manuscript by the date on the contract, even when we think we've provided more than enough time. We understand why that happens..

We don't like it, but we understand it, and we work with it.

To a point.

So, where's that point?

That point varies with each publisher and with each product. Some of us are more forgiving than others, and some products are under less pressure to publish than others.

Example: We published a book a year or so ago a full ten years after the contract was signed. The only reason we allowed it to go on was that, for that particular book and that particular market, the author under contract was the best person to write it and the book was still sorely needed by the market.

That's an exception, though, and certainly not the rule. I would say that, on the whole, regardless of the publisher, if you haven't been able to finish your book within, at the outside, four years of signing your contract, you probably won't be publishing a book.

By the way...

I should mention that the publisher is and must be the sole arbiter of what makes for an acceptable manuscript. The author certainly can't do it, so who else can? Who else should?

Right. No one, just the publisher.

Now, about that paragraph...

The gist of that whole acceptability paragraph are these two points:
  1. Your publisher will most likely do everything in its power to help you develop an acceptable manuscript. So work with your editors, learn from them, and grow. That's what we want to see, growth. We want authors who can succeed, and we'll work to help them get there.
  2. Don't dilly-dally. Your publisher has only so much patience, and then...bye-bye.