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Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

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Offline locutus
02 Nov 2015, 06:35 PM | Post: #1

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Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

1)  Is a publisher legally required to follow the instructions of an author's family regarding the completion of a book if the author dies just before the book is completed or can the publisher complete the book as it thinks best and publish it?
2)  A publisher can take its fee from a book’s royalty payments. How would the author know if that has been done? 
3)  If there was a dispute over the fee owed to a publisher, how would you stop the publisher from taking money from the royalty payments?
4)  If you had a complaint about a publisher in England, what would be the best organization to complain to?

Thanks.
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Offline JMac Reading
02 Nov 2015, 06:51 PM | Post: #2

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RE: Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

Sorry, but I can't help with any of your questions as I do not have any experience of working with a publisher. Many of the authors who post on this forum are 'indies' but there are some who have traditional publishers so I hope someone else may be able to help.
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Offline Campbell
02 Nov 2015, 06:52 PM | Post: #3

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RE: Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

1. That would depend on the contact. A bog standard boilerplate publishing contract would not contain any 'final approval' type term that the family could rely on, and even if the contact did have such a term only the executor of the estate / heir after probate would be able to rely on said term, and even then only if the term were appropriately worded to include heirs and assignees (or rather, not preclude such class of people exercising said rights). So no the publisher probably isn't bound by the wishes of the family of a deceased author.

2. Publishers do not 'take a fee' from the royalties (unless they are not a publisher but a vanity press). True publishers pay royalties. A book is sold by the publisher via wholesales/ distributors at a % off list eventually reaching retail / web stores where the store sells it. The publisher should then pay a royalty as per the contract (again a boilerplate contract will be a % of the list price - the number printed as the RRP on the book).

3. There should be no fee. Only vanity presses charge fees - and the advice for a vanity press would be markedly different. A dispute would need to be dealt with by the contract - which may mean arbitration if an ADR clause exists, or otherwise by litigation if you cannot work it out with the publisher.

4. The courts are the only recourse you have. There isn't a regulatory body or trade association / redress scheme. If you've got a valid dispute you need a literary lawyer.

This may not be particularly helpful because we can only deal with abstracts without knowing who the dispute is with / what the contract says. By the sounds of things you're dealing with a book owned by a deceased author who contracted with a vanity press to publish his book. That makes this more complicated as you'll need to look at who now owns what rights/ obligations; who the heir is, what the estate is worth (as any debts would be settled by the estate during probate) and then consider the nature of the contract that has been signed.

If I were you I would consult with a solicitor/ direct access barrister (or pro bono legal advice service).
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Offline Tim_A Reading strictly murder by Lynda Wilcox
02 Nov 2015, 08:24 PM | Post: #4

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RE: Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

1. A publisher is legally obliged to follow the terms of the contract. Nothing more, nothing less.
2. Publishers don't have "fees". They pay an agreed royalty after any advance has been earned out, as per the written contract. Many books never earn out their advance. Any organisation charging fees to publish a book is not a publisher, but a Vanity Press. Regardless, you and they are still bound the terms of the contract.
3. Publishers pay authors. Authors do not pay publishers.
4. If you believe a publisher is in breech of contract, seek advice from a literary lawyer.
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Offline locutus
03 Nov 2015, 08:38 PM | Post: #5

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RE: Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

Campbell and Tim_A,
I guess I didn't realize that my case was unique and I should have explained it better. The author was my dad. The book will be his final book on ancient Roman history. He was not able to do the index himself (I'm not sure why. An index is a huge job - maybe he thought it would be exhausting for him) so he used the publisher's indexing service. My dad provided instructions and a previous book he had written to serve as a guide. The publisher outsourced the job to someone. The publisher sent drafts of the text and the index to my dad for proofreading. My dad died just before he saw the final draft of his book (3 months ago).. He told me and my mom, he didn't like the way the index was being done. I am now trying to fix it myself with the help of a colleague of my dad's. The publisher told me the fee for doing the index and said if I wanted, it could be deducted from the royalties. We're not happy that the indexer refused to follow instructions. When you hire someone to do something and they don't follow instructions, why should you have to pay them? If I was hired to do something, provided with instructions and something to serve as a guide, I would follow the instructions and the guide exactly. The indexer wasn't even close. That's the whole story. I assumed other authors had fees from publishers. The indexer definitely does not deserve to be paid the full amount they're asking for since he didn't follow instructions. The publisher hired the indexer so it was their job to make sure the indexer did what he was hired to do.
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Offline Campbell
03 Nov 2015, 09:25 PM | Post: #6

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RE: Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

This post was last modified: 03 Nov 2015 09:28 PM by Campbell.
This is definitely a situation in which you'll want to get legal advice from your own lawyer as it goes well beyond the usual replies (as this is a forum full of fiction authors and the situations we all deal with are not typical of academic publishing which is a very different beast).

I suspect it may come down to who is contracting with who: if the publisher has contracted the index then only the publisher has any recourse to complain about the quality. In that instance you'll need to talk to publishers concerned and point out that they have not fulfilled the contract (assuming of course that the deviation from instructions is something which was proscribed in the contract rather than a wishlist which did not make it into the contract itself).

On the other hand if your Dad personally contracted for the indexing service (albeit one picked/recommended by the publisher) then it comes down to what exactly was agreed in the contract for the supply of indexing services; I would hope there is a written contract detailing with what was expected. If there has been a material breach then the beneficiary of your Dad's will (or executor if in probate) will need to talk to the indexer (and or publisher) and come up with some sort of solution;m and failing that litigate the contract issue. Academic indexing is difficult, specialist and can ruin a non-fiction book if it isn't right.

Who agreed with who and what they agreed is going to be the crux of the matter. There is a contractual issue in play; a probate one (as to who inherited the right to sue on the contract) and then there's the issue of whether the publishing agreement can/ will proceed without the contracted-out index.

Is the publisher intending to go to print with the contracted-out/ incorrect index?

My advice: talk to the publisher, read the contracts, and get legal advice.
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Offline Tim_A Reading strictly murder by Lynda Wilcox
03 Nov 2015, 09:54 PM | Post: #7

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RE: Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

As campbell says, Academic publishing is its own peculiar beast, and beyond my expertise. But as in all things it will invariably boil down to: did your dad get his wishes for the index agreed to in writing. If not, they are probably within their rights to ask for payment to cover costs (there may even be a clause for that in the contract.

Might be worth contacting the Society of Authors - http://www.societyofauthors.org
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Offline Katherine Roberts Reading I keep forgetting to update this!
04 Nov 2015, 12:05 PM | Post: #8

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RE: Questions about Publishers in England (laws, complaints, etc)

As Tim says, The Society of Authors are brilliant for advice regarding publishers and will also advise on publishing contracts before you sign them. It's well worth joining. I've been a member for about 15 years now, and while at first I didn't need their help, I have been very grateful for their support in the past few years while I've been working without an agent.

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