The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Even with the best will in the world, disputes between author and publisher are unavoidable. Problems generally arise because of misunderstandings which can be settled amicably with a literary agent or friend as a go-between. When the issue is serious — the flouting of a central clause in the contract, for example — it may become necessary to bring in the lawyers. But this can be a costly business in which success, as much as failure, can lead to a hefty bill.

What are the central issues over which disagreements arise and what can be done to settle these out of court'

As in all relationships, there can be several irritants, but these can be sorted out if both parties agree to cooperate with each other and if there is no breakdown of trust between them. But there is one issue over which both parties refuse to budge: delays.

On the publisher’s side, delay means failure to stick to the deadline for the submission of the manuscript, either as typescript or in a floppy. Nearly 90 per cent of all books published in the last two decades have been commissioned, that is, publishers have invited authors to write on specific subjects, be it non-fiction or the usual ones that spin off into television serials.

All commissioned books have a deadline clause — the deadlines can be discussed before signing the contract and must be adhered to; otherwise it is a no-go. The publisher places great importance on deadlines because he thinks the market wants the finished book by a specific date. As in newspapers and weekly news magazines, delays mean stale news. Very few publishers would accept work for publication if the deadline has been missed.

For authors, “delays” mean the lead time between the submission of the copy and the printed book. These delays are particularly galling if the author has taken the trouble of submitting a floppy, which saves the publisher both time and money in composing and proof-reading. Delays are inexcusable because nearly 50 per cent of the work has already been take care of by the author — all the publisher has to ensure is timely delivery of the paper to the printer and the printed forms from the printer to the binder’s.

The second delay is in the payment of royalties at the end of the financial year in March. Some Indian authors believe that the number of copies sold is more than shown and therefore, royalty statements are fudged. With standard publishers this is not true: all sales are computerized and accounts audited by chartered accountants. Put in another way, the cost of fudging accounts is much more than the royalties paid out, and the goodwill is lost.

It is not so much “doctored” royalties but the delays in payments that is the cause of all the friction. Three months after the end of the financial year is enough time for closing and auditing of accounts but any further delays is not justified. Most Indian publishers take a longer time.

All said and done, the author-publisher relationship is grounded on mutual trust. There is nothing left if the trust goes. And in a divorce, both parties lose; only lawyers stand to gain.

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