Can I Get Approval Rights for the Cover’s Design?

Q. How typical is it to get approval in a contract for the design of the book’s cover?

A. It is extremely difficult—generally nigh to impossible—to get a provision in your contract giving you approval over design of the book’s cover or dust jacket. The best way to handle this situation, in practical terms, is to be in constant touch with your editor and be aware of the production schedule for your book, especially the dates when someone will be assigned to design the cover and the deadlines for its submission, approval and printing. This will enable you to ask the editor if you can see sketches of the design, cover proofs, etc. If asked properly (i.e., not as a demand or as a matter of right), many if not most editors will allow you to see them, though some reluctantly.

To make this more than an informal arrangement, there are provisions that many publishers will insert in their contracts that will give you the right to see the design and comment on it. Though this will (properly, in my opinion) not give you the right to substitute your judgment for that of your publisher’s marketing department, it will enable you to express your viewpoint and, in most cases, to hear the design and marketing reasons for their decision. Doing this also enables the publisher to get your input and particular knowledge of a subject to avoid gaffes (e.g., the use of the color orange in a book about Ireland—unless the subject is Orangemen— or the depiction of angels with wings in a book directed to Southern Baptists).

An example of the type of clause often accepted is the following:

“Cover Consultation. Publisher agrees to show Author the sketches and designs for the Work’s cover, as well as the proofs thereof, in time for Author’s suggestions and responses to be incorporated if Publisher agrees with them. Publisher shall use its best efforts to include the same or a substantially similar clause in any license for English language reprint editions of the Work, for publication primarily in the United States, which Publisher is permitted to license under this Agreement.”

(Originally published in the Winter 2007 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin. © Mark L. Levine)

Answers to questions on this site are general in nature only. You should consult a lawyer for information about a particular situation. For more information about book publishing contracts and issues, see Levine’s new book.

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