Signing on the Dotted Line
Barbara Sigler, RN, MNEd
The author's final step in the publication process involves reviewing and signing legal documents called author's agreements or contracts. With these documents, the author transfers publication rights to the publisher, and the publisher holds the copyright of an author's work (unless the author has previously secured a copyright for the work). Other components of these documents include a guarantee of ownership, manuscript specifications, and publication specifics. An author should review these documents carefully before signing them, and, once signed, adhere strictly to the points outlined in the contract or agreement.
When you receive confirmation that your manuscript, book proposal, or book chapter has been accepted for publication, you will receive an author's agreement or a contract. These legal documents need to be reviewed, signed, and returned to the publisher. But what should be reviewed? What should an author be aware of before signing on the dotted line?
Signing a Contract
Author's agreements and contracts are legally binding documents and contain similar information. Generally, these documents outline the roles and responsibilities of the author and publisher and contain information about transfer of rights, copyright, ownership, manuscript specifications, use of copyrighted material, publication specifics, and review of final copy.
Many authors are so thrilled to have their work accepted for publication that they sign authors' agreements without giving them much thought—or worse, some simply sign the forms without reviewing them at all. Although these documents may be somewhat intimidating, they need to be reviewed carefully in order to understand your role in the publication process. A careful review also helps protect you and your interests and guides you in developing a list of things that you need to do and a timeline for getting these things done.
Parts of the Contract
Grant of rights: A standard part of every contract is the transfer of rights or grant of rights. This gives to the publisher the exclusive right to print, publish, distribute, and sell the product (journal or book). Most contracts also contain a transfer of rights for electronic media; the publisher can publish your work online, on a CD-ROM, or on other types of electronic media. The grant of rights portion of a contract transfers the ownership of your manuscript to the publisher. You no longer "own" this content (Kilian, 1999). Some publishers will insert a clause in the contract granting the author the freedom to reprint parts of the article in other scholarly works, without charge (Chicago Manual of Style, 1993).
Copyright: The copyright for the publication is taken in the name of the publisher. In other words, the publisher, not the author, holds the copyright to the author's work. Exceptions to this include a concept, model, or instrument that an author has developed personally and owns the copyright on. When an author already holds the copyright to an item and wishes to include it in an article or book, the author assigns the copyright for publication to the publisher for use in this specific instance. The copyright holder is responsible for filing all forms and copies required by the U.S. Copyright Office and is asked for permission to reprint or adapt the information in future publications.
Guarantee of ownership: In this section of a contract, the author guarantees that the manuscript is original, except for those sections that are being adapted or reprinted with permission. This section usually also contains a statement that the material being published has not been submitted to or published by another publisher.
Manuscript: Every agreement or contract contains in- formation about manuscript requirements. The first manu- script topic usually listed is the delivery date, or the final deadline for submission of required items. Most publishers are very strict about these final deadlines. A delay in the receipt of one article or one book chapter can affect the overall production schedule. Therefore, the publisher has the right to refuse any copy not submitted on time.
The agreement also stipulates how to submit figures, tables, and illustrations. Generally, items must be submitted in "camera-ready" format because photocopies do not provide clear images when scanned.
The publisher may include a total estimated page count of your manuscript in the agreement. The actual ratio of manuscript pages to printed pages varies depending on the book or journal's page size and format. In general, three double-spaced, typed manuscript pages are equivalent to one article or book page. The author must adhere to the page count specified in the contract. When the book or journal issue is being planned, an estimated page count is computed. If the manuscript is too long, the editor or publisher has the right to cut pages. If it is too short, the editor or publisher has the right to find a replacement chapter or article.
This section of the agreement also defines the manuscript format that is acceptable to the publisher. If the manuscript is not submitted in an acceptable format, including reference style, the publisher has the right to refuse the manuscript. For books or book chapters, the publisher also has the right to have the manuscript reformatted and charge the total cost to the author. To minimize this possibility, research and use the correct format when starting to write and adhere to all manuscript requirements as outlined in the book publisher's or journal's guidelines.
Finally, the manuscript must be in its finished form and complete when submitted to the editor or publisher. Only minor changes can be made later in the production process.
Use of copyrighted material: Anything that has been published previously is protected by copyright laws. The author is responsible for obtaining permission to use any table, figure, or information that has been published in another form. Written documentation of permission from the publisher or individual holding the copyright to the item must be obtained before the production process can begin. Pending permissions will delay publication, and the author, not the publisher, is responsible for following up on permission requests. Some publishers charge a fee to reprint or adapt previously published material, and the author is responsible for this payment (American Psychological Association [APA], 1994; Chicago Manual of Style, 1993).
The terms "reprinted," "adapted," and "based on information from" all refer to the use of previously published information.
- Reprinted—Using something that has been published elsewhere in its entirety. Credit must be given to the previous author and publisher, and written permission must be obtained from the copyright holder. Some publishers require that permission also be obtained from the author.
- Adapted—Any alteration of previously published material. Credit must be given to the author and publisher, and written permission must be obtained from the copyright holder.
- Based on information from—No written permission is required if a table or figure is newly created from information obtained from other sources. However, the sources of the information must be cited as a credit line.
Publication specifics: Many book contracts will contain specific information about the production of a book. The publisher determines the page size, design, color, layout, and binding for a book. Likewise, placement of an article in a journal is left to the editor's discretion.
Payment for services: Payment rarely is offered for publication of a manuscript in a journal. Instead, journal authors sometimes receive article reprints or an extra copy of the journal.
An honorarium may be offered to an author of a chapter in an edited book. The current publishing standard is $5-10 per book page. In addition to this small honorarium, most publishers provide a complimentary copy of the book upon publication. If two or more people write a chapter, the honorarium is divided among the authors.
Royalties, advances, and grants may be offered to the editor of a book. A royalty is a standard percentage of the selling price of a book that is paid to the editors for each book sold. An advance or grant may be given to the editor as "up-front" money to defray some of the initial costs of preparing the book. The money given as an advance is taken against the royalties earned from book sales. A statement of royalties earned is still provided; however, any money paid prior to publication is subtracted from money earned. The amount of an advance is usually no more than six months of anticipated royalties.
Some publishers provide a grant rather than an advance. The main difference is that an advance is a loan against royalties and a grant is not based on royalties. A grant is a set amount of money provided to the editor by the publisher to use to prepare the book. If for any reason the book is not published, the editor must reimburse any money paid by the publisher. The amount and intent of the grant always is stipulated in the contract and must be followed (Kilian, 1999).
Complimentary journal copies and books: The agreement or contract may state the number of complimentary copies of the journal issue or book the author will receive. In addition to complimentary copies of the finished product, many publishers also offer a discount off the cover price of a book for additional copies purchased.
Editor/author corrections: An agreement or contract usually stipulates that the author must respond in a timely manner to any questions the publisher poses. A manuscript for a journal article or book chapter will undergo both copyediting and technical editing. Any questions that the editors have will be referred back to the author for clarification. The agreement usually includes a specific turnaround time for responding to any questions. This turnaround time usually is short and must be met (APA, 1994). An unmet deadline for return of a manuscript can halt the production of the entire publication. In addition, the manuscript may be denied publication and another one published in its place. Once the editing has been completed and the article or chapter appears in layout form (sometimes called "galleys"), the article or chapter is far along in the production process and revisions or rewrites cannot be made.
Contracts and agreements are very specific about the author's responsibilities. Therefore, the author must read the contract carefully prior to signing it to be sure that all the points of the contract can be met. Remember, a contract or agreement is a binding legal document and authors are held accountable for meeting the points of the contract. If a second copy of an agreement or contract is not provided, make a photocopy and retain it in your records for future reference.
- American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Chicago Manual of Style (14th ed.). (1993). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Kilian, C. (1999). Reading a contract. Retrieved January 25, 2001 on World Wide Web: http://www.capcollege.bc.ca/magic/cmns/contracts.html.
At the time of this writing, Barbara A. Sigler, RN, MNEd, was director of Commerical Publications at the Oncology Nursing Society in Pittsburgh, PA.
- Author's agreements and contracts outline the roles and responsibilities of the author and publisher after a manuscript or book chapter has been accepted for publication.
- Agreements and contracts typically contain information about copyright, transfer of rights, ownership, manuscript specifications, and publication production specifics.
- An author should review these legal documents carefully before signing them and strictly adhere to the points outlined in the agreement or contract.