Q&A: Manuscript Submission

Q. I turned in my book’s manuscript on time three months ago, but my editor still hasn’t “accepted” it.  What are my rights? And can my publisher make changes without my approval?

A.  As always, your publishing agreement controls.  An industry-standard publishing agreement typically gives the publisher the right to accept, reject, or ask for revisions in your manuscript.  But keep in mind that the editor who acquired your book may not be the same editor who sees it through to publication; we all know that editors change publishing houses frequently.  If a new editor comes in before your manuscript has been accepted, he or she might just sit on your book while pet projects take priority.  You need some assurance that the publisher: a) won’t unreasonably delay production of the manuscript or payment of your remaining advance by never getting back to you about what changes the editor wants; and b) can’t reject the manuscript outright without giving you a chance to revise the manuscript.

The solution is to insert a contact clause such as this: “Within 45 days of its receipt of the complete manuscript of the Work, the Publisher shall notify the Author in writing whether or not the Work is acceptable to Publisher.  If the Work is not acceptable to the Publisher, the Publisher shall give the Author a request for changes and/or revisions.  The Author shall have 60 days from the Author’s receipt of such a request to deliver to the Publisher a revised Work that is acceptable to the Publisher.  The Publisher shall advise the Author within 45 days of its receipt of the revised Work whether or not the revised Work is acceptable to Publisher.  If the Work as resubmitted is deemed unacceptable, the Agreement shall be terminated at the option of either party and neither party shall have any further liability to the other.  If the Author does not receive any notice from the Publisher within the 45-day periods set forth above, the Work shall be deemed to have been accepted.”

Although some publishing agreements already will have a time limit for the publisher’s acceptance, they will require YOU to notify an editor and/or an executive of the house that “failure to respond shall be deemed acceptance.”  If so, make sure you follow the specified procedure: Failure to do so will leave you in limbo.

Also, who gets the final say on the manuscript after acceptance?  Some contracts allow the publisher to make changes “provided the meaning of the text is not materially altered.”  In whose view?  Generally, a publisher should only have the right to make copyediting changes.  You should have the right to approve all material changes to the manuscript before publication.

© 2009 Daniel Steven