Publication Process Quotes and Agreements

A couple of questions have come in lately about outsourcing editorial and design work that aren't specific to self publishing. The latest was from an aspiring publisher who was concerned that a book designer, who was also a small publisher, would sneak his own ISBN into the book and thereby steal the revenue stream. I've heard of all sorts of frauds and rip-offs in the publishing world, but that would be a new one on me, and it's a basic business law issue. It did remind me that for many authors, self publishing a book is their first experience in business since selling scout cookies, and they may become overwhelmed with all the new relationships. Nearly all self publishers will at least contract with a printer and enter one or more distribution agreements, and most will outsource some part of the editorial and design components of the publication process.

An author who goes the full route of hiring an editor, copy editor, proofreader, cover designer and interior designer ends up with over a half dozen new business relationships. Some of agreements are take-it-or-leave-it deals offered by distributors or retail chains, where your only option to do business through that entity is to sign on the dotted line. But most outsourcing deals are undertaken without a formal contract, and in many cases, without even obtaining a written quote or establishing a scope of work.

The first rule in business is to get it in writing. It's not only a question of establishing a paper trail should the worst business outcome (a legal dispute) arise, it's also important for a good human outcome. Without a written agreement, even if it's just an exchange of e-mails, both parties will be relying on the memory as to what was said and what was intended by in a verbal agreement, and honest differences of opinion can result in disputes over thousands of dollars. A written quote, ideally one that includes a timetable and milestones at which the ongoing work must be reviewed and approved, limits the downside for both parties. No editor or designer wants to complete the work on a book only for the client to say, "That's not what I had in mind at all, I won't pay (or want my deposit back)."

The issue of scheduling is often overlooked in agreements, and I've stumbled over this one myself even when working with people I've previously employed. Anytime your publication schedule is dependent on outsourced labor, delays on the part of one individual can affect several other people whose own schedules may not be flexible. If your editor is running two months behind, that pushes back your copy editor, proofreader and typesetting start times by two months. Each of the people you've contracted to do that work may not be immediately available when their newly scheduled turn arrives, creating further delays. And while you can rough out an interior design for book without the final text, or design a near final cover (the spine width isn't final without the page count), it's easy to lose three or four months before you know what hit you.

So put it down on paper and maintain an open line of communications about the progress so you don't get blindsided with a "I haven't quite gotten started yet" phone call on the delivery date. When I was working for McGraw-Hill as an author, I used to fume over their slow publication process, even when they got it down around three months. These days I'm happy if I can get a book through my own publication process in three months, and that's really just editorial outsourcing since I do my own design work.

The following is a rerun of a mini-lecture on the outsourcing subject from last year:


Captain Tom Mengesha said...

Hello Morris,

You make a very good point. I hired a "friend" of mine to do some editing. Paid her money up front and ended up having to fire her because she never completed the work. In fact, she asked to get a loan as she was having financial difficulties in her life. When I told her no she became angry and started to rant how she could have charged me more.

The bottom line is pay as you go and ensure you have an opportunity to review the work. Had I done that, I would have saved myself hundreds of dollars.

Oh well at least I have learned my lesson for my next book. Enjoy yourself in Israel.


Morris Rosenthal said...


Arggg. It tends to go that way when we don't get things in writing. And I've been bitten by that "You helped me before, why won't you help me now" trap myself. Funny how some people blame their problems on others.