Today’s Topic: Self Publishing Vendor Agreements - Rights, File and Design Ownership, and Correcting Something That’s Gone Wrong…
It was recently brought to my attention by a new client wishing to hire me for services that perhaps there are some misunderstandings with ownership of files and rights in the book publishing process. I thought this might be a good topic for discussion for the self-published author. I think we can easily cut through some of the red tape with a pretty quick episode to help you gain an understanding of how to protect yourself and move forward as a self-published author.
What I learned in conversations with the gal, that did eventually hire me, was that there is more than likely a breakdown in the understanding of processes more than anything else. You see, if you’ve never done this before you just don’t know what you don’t know. And knowing the process will clear up a lot of misunderstanding. You still need to have a certain level of protection, but once you learn the core of the process then you can apply it to any designer, editor, or coach that you end up hiring to help guide you on the way to becoming a self-published author.
So, here’s the 10,000 foot view of what it takes to get your book to print. You’re more than likely going to be working with each vendor as an independent contractor if you’re self publishing. So, that means every next step with a new vendor requires you have to have eyes on that individual agreement and know where you stand.
An editor, for example, edits your work and they put in a lot of time getting things just right, but at the end of the day, as long as you have access to this file, or at minimum, the most recent version of the file, then you basically have your manuscript. You loose access to the changed file (and it should only be one file, likely a Word document) then you loose access to full and complete ownership. If you hand things off and it goes into an abysss and you never see it again then you can’t take your work to print, right? Knowing the editors process will help you understand what exactly is happening with your file when it’s handed off for editing.
I mention this because I was recently on a phone call with a woman that started working with some kind of publishing system and she hasn’t seen her manuscript in months. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here, but the whole process should only take weeks, not months. But, I believe she hired a ghostwriter and they probably interviewed her a few times and started writing. She seemed to hold nothing in her own hands, no manuscript at all. If you’ve hired anyone to write anything for you that’s an entirely different journey… and one I don’t recommend you take. Even if you have bottomless pockets, you are still never going to completely stand in your authentic voice. Your ghostwriter might get pretty close, but the best way to capture your own voice is to actually do the hard work and write the book yourself. This is so important for speakers and coaches because if you’re out doing either its going to become pretty evident your book isn’t authentically you the minute you start speaking.
But, if you’re writing your own manuscript, and I hope that you are, then you are writing what you eventually will hand over to the editor. If the editor makes changes and you don’t get those back fairy promptly then perhaps they are just a bad editor. You can always hire another and still have what you started with, or the last changes that were made. You’ll have a manuscript in process before completion, but, once you have the manuscript complete then you may have more issues of rights. There are file rights and content rights. They are issues more of technology and the physical file and making sure you have access to it and then there is what you write in your voice and the ownership you have to your own work.
As long as you and your editor agree that the editor holds no rights to the material and won’t repurpose your material, you’re good. However, an editor isn’t very likely to take what you’ve sent them to print with their own name on it, but there is always that chance if you are not getting something in writing stating that won’t happen.
For some reason, the client that was looking to hire me thought I was going to do something with her files, but in reality, it’s probably the editor that you would want to be more concerned with, as they the ones really looking at the content. The Designer simply puts the content in a neat package for print. But, I guess, if you’re not working with a good system or team there’s room for everyone in the process to re-purpose your material on some level. I’m never really quite sure what the hang up is for each author because ultimately this is a public work. I mean, really, what’s to stop any person from doing a copy and paste of anything you produce and using it as their own, right?
In all honesty, it’s generally the cost to put something into print that will stop any vendor in the self-publishing process from taking any authors work. In fact, it’s what often stops authors… the reality of the expense. A final note on editing: before you even hire an editor, you’ll want to only send them samples of your manuscript before you send them the complete work. Many times an editor will ask you to send them something so they can do a sample edit to show their work off before they are hired. In most cases you’ll want to just do a copy edit. Unless of course you have a bit extra to spend… or you’re a really bad writer and you want them to spice up what you’ve written.
But, since design is my more my personal specialty, lets move on to talk about some of the responses and requests I get from the occasional smart new author when they are reviewing my agreement. In some cases it comes down to a misunderstanding in process and technology that slows down the negotiations. Not everyone is detail oriented and, in fact, most new clients just agree to the agreement and send payment. But, occasionally I get someone that wants me to detail out who owns the rights and what exactly is owned and when files are generated they sometimes want a copy. But, what happens from the Designers perspective is generally that there are files for viewing and files for production. There are unique files created to work with each print environment and what a client sees is generally not the final file - it’s more for show. So, there can be some confusion about the tech side of things and the files that are generated.
The other thing that some authors want to confirm is that the Designer is not marketing their work. Honestly, I find this a bit strange in most cases. If you are producing a book it is public material. Most authors want more eyes on than less. But, often times people worry that something is gained by the Designer by showcasing their work. I can tell you that it’s hard enough for an author to sell their own book, so any Designer showcasing their work in a portfolio or marketing piece is only enhancing the author or their book. But, for some reason, some authors are a bit fussy about how a Designer might market their book. The last client I had said she doesn’t want her book displayed next to anything that would be a conflict of interest to her subject matter. I think that’s generally smart but if I were advertising it it would be to get more book clients, so in the right environment sure this might be problematic with conflicting subjects, but in most cases it’s a matter of atmosphere.
I’ve heard a few horror stories lately about the publishing industry. Every now and again I am contact by a would-be author that had been run through the ringer by some publishing outfit. Oftentimes I am contacted with the idea that I’m going to help them straighten it all out and they will continue with my services. The first thing I always ask is “Do you have your manuscript?” If the author has the manuscript then we don’t have to start from scratch. We have to start with what they have.
The design files for the cover or layout really are pretty meaningless as every Designer generally has a unique and different way they do things and it’s far easier to start over. In fact, I’ve been doing this for over a decade now and I don’t ever use another Designer’s work, unless of course, the author insists on me collaborating with a Designer of choice. And, as talented as many other artists are, its not often anymore someone works in the world of print. I see this very quickly when I’m sent a file. I have moved to a point of actually beginning to charge more for working with another Designer because there is a lot of attitude of superiority and knowledge and the author generally likes what is being handed off, but neither party understands the extra labor that is required for me to work with what they’ve created.
Only once, in the more than a decade of doing this work, did I ever use a Designers work because he was the son of the author. But, I never said a word because most of what he created needed to be re-done to make it print ready. He was a Designer for digital art and there is a huge difference with that and print-ready art. It was without any doubt the most challenging project I have ever worked on in all my years in this business. I was not held with high regard and disrespected more times than I can count. I was even told I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve done hundreds of book covers over the years and I can assure you I know very well what I’m doing. And the worst part is that if I didn’t compile the project it might still be in the cue to go to the printer.
I’ve recently been working with another piece of artwork for another client. Generally, both the author and artist work in the digital world and don’t understand that images are backlit on the screen and they always re-produce in print much darker than they appear on screen. As well, there are issues with color formatting and margins. But, this is all an issue for another podcast.
The Designer has a challenging job on many levels and so much of what they do is unappreciated or unknown. It’s a regular challenge for me personally because there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. When the author sees the final designs they don’t understand that they are only put together loosely for showcasing ideas. Pretty well everything has to be re-worked for the final printing. The interior design is one thing, but the book jacket or cover is another. When the designs are presented to the author it’s always the main front cover they are most concerned with. There are many things to consider for the designer as these are presented however. We have to consider how images get wrapped around the book spine and what goes on the back cover. Then, everything has to be compiled for print production.
In the process of producing a self-published book, your final manuscript is going to be worked on with the editor, the designer, and then handed to a printer. All parties could do something with your work, but it’s highly unlikely. My most recent client wrote a book on addictions. I don’t even drink and I have no reason to showcase anything she’s written or claim it as my own. And, honestly, I’m glad there are people that work as therapists in this world, but it’s not even remotely on my radar as something I’d ever care to get involved in to claim as my own work. I had another client a few year ago that wanted me to agree that I would not take on any other work related to his subject within five years of producing his book. I found that unique, but I agreed. I also have a repeat client coming in soon that is looking to keep the rights to her material and she doesn’t want it sold on Amazon. She actually doesn’t even want to print the manuscript. She wants to have me lay everything out for print but only produce a PDF file and she will sell it on her website. A PDF can be copied and pasted or you can now do a screen grab and the words get converted to text my the common iPhone. So, the reality is that once you put your work out there as an author - it’s public! It’s no longer privately held in your head. The only way you can truly protect yourself is keeping it all bottled up in your brain!
It’s generally the people in the production process that you can trust the most. Once you get things out in the general public it’s very easy to copy, paste, and share just about anything. Having unique content these days is harder and harder. Books get produced by my clients that have never even met one another and they use the same quotes over and over. And, sometimes they cite a different author than the original voice.
So, when it comes to how you protect yourself. Honestly, just get a simple statement or agreement that says each party holds no right to the work. Don’t worry about the technology so much. Design work is generally only going to be a concern if you’ve hired an artist. You simply give credit to them on the copyright page or cover. I have a reproduction rights statement in my agreement that reads: “Designer retains the right to showcase the final book cover design in their website portfolio and will not reproduce the book in printed or digital form outside of Client’s request.” It’s pretty simple but says what most clients want to know.
Before we end this podcast, let me hit briefly on the publishing imprint and the potential rights issues you might run into there. When you’re self publishing a book and you don’t have your own publishing company, then you’re going to need an imprint. In other words, representation from either a publishing house or perhaps something resembling a publishing company. If you were working with a large publishing house there is always something exchanged for the relationship. I refer to all things related to a publishing house like “how much of your soul are you will to sell?” to get exposure for your work?
The simple way to look at things is wherever there is a fee associated you are making an exchange. If you’re planning on selling your book someplace there’s probably going to be a distribution fee. If you’re wondering about your rights, you really just have to start looking at fees. Distribution fees are any place you ask for help to sell your book and it’s the cost of doing business in most cases. But, if you’re working with a publishing company, you’re going to also have to pay them a fee for every book sold if they are helping you market and sell your book. If they are not helping you market and sell your book, you might simply be buying the imprint. This is probably the one place you’re going to want to pay the most attention when it comes to where rights are held.
I created a New York publishing company that I set up if someone requires an imprint, but doesn’t know how to get one. I don’t expect to receive any more than payment for the imprint. Generally speaking, you will get provided an ISBN number, and the little image that goes on the spine of your book… The imprint. I register your work with the Library of Congress for another fee. Some places you might buy an imprint are functioning as a publishing company and will charge you a fee for every book sold under their label, while others will not. If it’s too confusing to think about, I have you covered. I’ll sell you the imprint and the LOC and there are no strings attached. I like to keep it simple.
If something has gone wrong for you because you have hired a team that is less than professional, I am happy to guide you on what you need to do to get things moving again. Generally it’s simple. Let go of the emotional attachment and simply get your hands on the manuscript. From there I can guide you through a much easier and simplified process to get your book self published. It doesn’t have to be complicated or take a long time. Most authors that take a long time are wrapped around their ego, but occasionally they are taken advantage of in a system with no accountability or where they are not looking out for the authors best interest. Wherever you are at in the process, I’d be happy to work with you and get you on the right track.
If you tuned into my last podcast episode, you heard me talking about Bella’s rescue. So much has happened since we were out there that’s it’s honestly been hard for me to focus on producing the next episode. I’m finally back on track and I will share with you what has occurred since her rescue. It seems that God had a plan out there bigger than any of us realized.
For now however, and as always… I’m wishing you peace, love, and light.
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