Sunday, October 3, 2010


Dear You--

LinkedIn is surfacing some fascinating issues. I suspect I'm going to be appallingly indiscreet soon - because I intend to write about some of my own real life experiences (and will be naming names) - but for now let's focus on the broad issues. They're important because I think many people believe we are free-er than we are. 

Kudos to Ralph Murray fir raising the issue.

Question asked by Ralph Murray

Ralph Murray: When a manuscript is accepted by a publishing house, does the author have any say in any cuts or revisions that its editor wants to make?

Victor O'Reilly: This is a very interesting question. In strictly legal terms, it depends upon how one’s contract is written – and they do vary.

In terms of custom and practice, essentially a book remains the property of the author so that he or she has to agree to cuts before they are made. The kicker is that, where an advance is concerned, contracts typically include “subject to acceptance” which means if a publishing house doesn’t like what you have written, the deal is off. That imposes considerable financial pressure on authors and, in turn, give editors considerable clout (arguably an understatement).

An extremely successful lawyer friend of mine once memorably commented to me that he didn’t consider typical publishing contracts ‘real contracts’ – and refused to handle them – because the ‘subject to acceptance clause’ favored the publisher so strongly.

There are a number of points to note here: (1) The law concerning the respective rights of author and publisher needs a thorough overhaul with the objective of achieving a fairer balance. Right now, the publisher is dominant. (2) Authors need to be legally advised by their own independent lawyers. (3) there is a tendency of editors to try and make authors conform to the norms of a genre even though the submitted manuscript may be totally acceptable in literary terms. (4) A strong case can be made for a stronger and more active writers’ guild. (5) The power of editors – who are in turn controlled by owners – is such that far more censorship exists than is generally understood.

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