Do I have cover approval for the paperback edition of my hardcover book?

Q. My contract grants me cover approval but the paperback publisher never sent me the cover to look at. It’s totally different from the dust jacket on the hardcover, which was fabulous. I’m told that paperback publishers have the right to design their own covers. Is that true?

A. The contract between you and your publisher essentially covers only copies of your work published by that publisher, whether hardcover, paperback or electronic. With very limited exceptions, its provisions do not apply to copies of your work published by licensees of your publisher. If there are particular provisions in your contract that you want carried over to an edition published by any of its licensees, you should list those provisions, by repeating them or by cross-reference to the clauses containing them, in a section of the contract which says that the publisher must include them in its contract with the licensee. Another way would be to say, each time one of those provisions appears in the contract, that the provision must also be contained in any agreement the publisher signs with a licensee for another edition of the book.

Among the clauses that an author is most apt to want included are a prohibition against material by anyone else (whether advertising, the work of another author or anything else) being included in your book; the right for you to purchase copies of the reprint edition at a discount for resale; and cover approval. The most important provision—no changes to what you wrote—is generally covered by the publisher’s contract with the reprint publisher and not something you typically have to worry about.

If your publisher balks at including certain provisions you request because it thinks they might limit its ability to license the book for reprint, you have three alternatives. One is to agree with the publisher and omit them from the contract. The second is to remind the publisher that if the relevant provision in fact turns out to be an impediment to signing the license, it can ask you at that time to waive the requirement, so the provisions should be left in as mandatory. The third, for the arguably problematic provisions only, is to change the operative language in the section from “the publisher shall include the following provisions in the reprint contract” to “the publisher shall use its best efforts to include the following provisions….” I’m generally a fan of the second alternative.

(Originally published in the Winter 2009 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 book.