Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When It Comes to Contributors, Who's the Boss?

Well, maybe not that cranky.
What happens when an author the publisher is the "boss" over a contributor?

I'll tell you what. The publisher gets cranky.

Let's say you're authoring a book on, say, data management in hospitals. You feel fully confident in writing pretty much every chapter, but you feel less sure about the content in two of those chapters. So you decide to have someone else write those chapters for you.

That person would be a contributor, and their chapters (yes, I wrote "their" instead of "his or hers" or some other dastardly construct) would become part of your book, part of your intellectual material. Contributors are usually compensated for their contribution to the book, but are usually not part of the royalty structure.

In essence, the author hires the contributor to do some work -- in this case, to write two chapters -- and pays the person for that work. The author, then, is the "boss." The budget master. The decider.

This role can seem to conflict with the author's relationship with the publisher, in which the publisher is the boss, so to speak. When that happens, the author may turn to the publisher to do things he should be doing himself. (See how I switched gender up, there?)

Yeah, that's not good.

When you're the author, you are responsible for:

  • Finding the contributor
  • Telling the contributor exactly what you want done
  • Negotiating with the contributor what he will be paid for each piece of work
  • Reviewing the contributor's work
  • Sending the work back to the contributor if it isn't what you wanted, and then working with the contributor to provide the correct content
  • Performing a final review of the work to make sure it's exactly what you want
  • Letting the publisher know exactly what you've asked the contributor for, what they supplied, and how much the publisher should pay, assuming the payments will come out of the author's royalties, the typical scenario

The publisher is generally, but not always, responsible for:

  • Developing a contributor agreement based on specific information supplied by you, the author
  • Sending the agreement for signatures, electronic or otherwise
  • Securely storing the executed agreement
  • Paying the fee for the contribution, usually when the book publishes, sometimes before

So don't ask the publisher to tell you what you should pay to a contributor. Don't ask the publisher, "Can you take care of paying Such And So for doing those chapters?" Don't assume the publisher will play a boss-like role in that author-contributor relationship, because that will make them cranky. (Whoops, went back to plural, there.)

Happy, good.

Cranky, baaaad.