Congratulations! You’ve written an amazing book, you’ve landed a publishing deal, and you’re on the road to success.
Then you discover your publisher wants to change certain aspects of your book to make it fit the market. Your heart sinks. If you make all the changes your publisher is suggesting, your book won’t feel like your book anymore.
Don’t worry. In this article, we go over what kinds of changes publishers typically make, what your rights are as an author, and how you can avoid making changes you don’t agree with.
Changes Your Publisher Will Make
First, let’s talk about some of the changes publishers commonly want to make:
1. Your publisher will change your book title.
Publishers often want to change the title of a book. They may want to shorten the title to make it a little punchier or to fit the cover better. Your publisher may want to change your title to include better keywords so people can find your book.
Lastly, the publisher may feel that your title doesn’t tell a potential reader enough about your book. All of the reasons your publisher will want to change the title of your book have to do with making it more marketable and selling as many copies as possible.
If you like the title you already have, this might cause some friction with the publishing company. If maintaining creative control and keeping your title is a make or break issue for you, we would recommend taking the self-publishing route.
2. The publisher might change your pen name.
Another change your publisher might suggest is for you to write under a different name. Publishers might ask you to use your initials or a pseudonym for a number of reasons.
If you use initials, for example, readers can’t tell whether you’re male or female. Some people look for authors of the same gender as themselves, and this can be a way around that. If you’re a fiction writer, publishers might have you use a pseudonym of the opposite gender to sell more in a market that has primarily male or female readers.
If your name is difficult to spell, publishers may want you to abbreviate it or use a pseudonym to make it easier for people to find you using search engines. By simplifying your name, your publisher is trying to achieve more sales.
While a name change isn’t bad in itself, if you really want to go by your actual name or a name other than what the publishing company thinks will help your book sell, you may not be able to. This is another reason to consider self-publishing.
3. Your publisher will write your book blurb.
The blurb on the back of your book and any sales copy are meant to help your book sell. Your publisher will therefore want to rewrite your blurb or write a completely new one approved by their sales and marketing experts.
The upside to this is that if you don’t have great copywriting skills, you’ll have some help from experts. The downside is that the publishing company will portray your book in a way they think will help it sell but which might not reflect your intended message.
4. Your publisher will choose your book cover.
Your publisher will choose your book cover based on what is selling in the market. They’re not going to take a risk with something new or innovative, as the cover is one of the biggest factors affecting potential sales.
A publishing company will style your cover after other covers within the genre while still trying to set your book apart. They will listen to their sales team and base the book cover on what they think will sell. The upside to this is that if they’re right, you’ll get more book sales.
The downside is that you have less creative control. You don’t get to choose how your book is presented to the world. Even if you already had an idea in mind for a book cover, the publishing company will ultimately choose what will sell.
5. Your publisher will want to edit your book.
Some authors hate being edited. They don’t want someone to come in and tell them to get rid of entire chapters, characters, or subplots. Fortunately, in today’s competitive book market, if you get a book deal, you probably won’t have to do that.
If the publishing company wants your book, that means they probably already like most of its elements. Instead, your publisher will offer proofreading and some minor changes. They might ask you to rewrite some sections or change something about a character, but your book will not require a complete makeover.
The catch here is that you might not agree with their recommendations or changes, yet if you’re under contract, you’re obligated to make the changes they want on the timetable they give you. You will need to work diplomatically with your editor to make sure your book is a success.
6. Your publisher will set the release schedule.
Your publisher is going to time your book release according to when they think it will earn the most sales. They will schedule book launch events according to holidays, other books that are being released, and what is happening in the book market. Their motivation will always be to make as many sales as possible.
The downside to this is that you might be waiting a while for your book to come out, or you might end up having to do extra work to get your book ready in time. In short, you are at the publishing company’s mercy in terms of your book release schedule. Additionally, they could change the book schedule based on the market, current events, or other books that are released.
Your Rights as an Author
Before we spell out your rights as the author, we’ll clarify what we mean. You have all the rights to your book until you sign them away. If you’ve already signed a contract that gives your rights away, then you’ve already agreed to the changes your publisher wants to make.
You will have signed some kind of agreement with your publisher that allows them to publish your book. The agreement should cover all the details about your deal, including when your book will be published, what formats it will be published in, the advance and royalties you will earn, when you will be paid, and how the copyright will be handled.
The terms of your publishing agreement will vary based on what you’re publishing. If you submit a short story to a literary magazine, for example, the agreement may be more simple. For example, you may agree that your submission can be used only in the publication you’ve submitted it to, and you’ll reserve copyright privileges.
If you choose to give copyright privileges over to a publisher, you will no longer own the rights to your work. This means you will need to get the publisher’s permission to promote your own book, whether on your website or by giving copies to reviewers. The publisher may give you some of your rights back so you can promote your book, but their motivation is always going to be to sell more copies.
If your contract grants copyright privileges to your publisher, the publisher can allow third parties to use your work. Writers also often grant the publisher ownership of their works through a license.
You can give your publisher one of two types of licenses: an exclusive or a non-exclusive license. Both involve surrendering your rights to the publisher to some extent.
1. Did you grant your publisher an exclusive license?
If you’ve given your publisher an exclusive license, that means the publisher has the right to publish your book, communicate about its publishing, distribute it online, and sublicense it.
Your publisher owns these rights exclusively, and you can’t give them to anyone else. Additionally, you have given up your rights by signing the agreement.
There can be exception clauses, but if you’ve given your publisher exclusive rights and you can’t get out of your contract, you will have to submit to whatever changes your publisher wants to make to your book. All you can do is express your opinions and ask for them to be respected.
2. Did you grant your publisher a non-exclusive license?
If you’ve signed a non-exclusive license, you can share your book with third parties. However, your situation will have to warrant this.
You can use a non-exclusive license only if you meet the following criteria:
You created the book and own its copyright.
You are the only author of the book.
You have included third-party material that was created by someone else, but you got copyright permission from the copyright owner.
The Self-Publishing Option
Finally, a word of caution to those who are considering traditional publishing: If you don’t want to surrender creative control of your work to a publisher, we recommend that you self-publish. This route can seem more intimidating, but we’ve gathered some great resources to help you get started.
If you’re already under contract with a publisher and don’t like some of the changes the publisher has made to your book, you may want to explore the creative freedom of self-publishing for your next title.