Q&A: Date of Publication

Q.  Should I negotiate the date of my novel’s publication?

A.  Yes!  There always should be a limit to the amount of time a publisher has to publish your work.  If no time frame is specified, you run a significant risk: What if the publisher runs into monetary problems, or reorganizes the types of books they publish?  Or maybe they’re not even really sure if they want to publish it anymore, but they’ve already paid your advance, so they think they should hang onto it just in case.  And rarely, a publisher may buy a book that stands to compete with a book they’re about to publish (or have already published), then purposely hold it, or fail to market it, because it may interfere with the success of the other book.

Your publishing agreement should stipulate that the publisher has somewhere between 12 and 24 months to release the book after the publisher has accepted the manuscript (you also should have a time limit for manuscript acceptance — see “Manuscript Acceptance and Revision” in the June/July 2007 issue of The Third Degree).  Always aim for the shortest time possible while understanding that you probably don’t want the publisher to rush your book to print in less than six months.  First novelists should be aware of the many steps that need to be taken care of before a book is released: editing, copy editing, typesetting, proofreading, cover design, endorsements, catalog inclusion, listing with Books in Print, press releases, advance review copies to the trade, etc.  Twelve to 18 months, at maximum, is plenty of time.

Sometimes the problem isn’t even the publisher’s “fault,” but a shift in the market. For example, many thrillers about terrorism were delayed after 9/11.  Then there are the “force majeure” (“Act of God,” unavoidable catastrophe) problems: What if the publisher’s building burns down, or there’s a flood, earthquake, hurricane, or other such emergency that forces the publisher to delay your book’s production?  In such cases, the author always should have the right to take the book back if the publisher doesn’t show plans to get the book released right away once the immediate problem has ended.

Here’s a contract clause that will accomplish this goal:

“If the Publisher does not publish the Work within the time specified above for reasons other than first serial or book club use, delays of the Author in returning the copyedited manuscript or proofs, the Author’s failure to comply with requests made by the Publisher’s counsel or delays, caused by circumstances beyond the Publisher’s control, and if the Publisher at any time thereafter receives written notice from the Author demanding publication, the Publisher shall within 90 days of the Publisher’s receipt of such written demand either publish the Work or revert to the Author in writing all rights to the Work granted to the Publisher in this Agreement, subject to any outstanding licenses, which shall be assigned to the Author, and the Author shall retain any advance payments made under this Agreement prior to such reversion as liquidated damages for the Publisher’s failure to publish the Work.

© 2008 Daniel Steven

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