In other words

a new contributor’s contact!

In my last post, I discussed the contibutor’s contact I had been presented with for a chapter I have in a forthcoming collection. It was much more restrictive than I liked, including requiring that I ask them before I reuse my material in my own future publications and not allowing for any digital repository use at all. After emailing my editors and the publisher, and going through some back-and-forth, I’m happy to say that they presented an alternative contributor’s contract that I’m willing to sign!

Here are the key details in how this happened for those of you who might be contemplating this sort of negotiation:

I let my volume editors know that I intended to do this. I’m not sure they entirely understood my objections (one pointed out that he’d already put his contribution on his institutional repository; I didn’t counter that that didn’t seem permissible according to the terms we were given). But they also expressed willingness to pass my concerns and proposed amendment on to the publisher. After that informal exchange, I sent them a formal email detailing my concerns and attaching an amendment that I based on the CIC guidelines so that they could forward it to their contacts at the publishing house.

The initial response I got from the publishers was not encouraging. It laid out in fairly defensive language why their contract was structured the way it was, the reasoning having mostly to do with protecting their financial investment (“we can only publish this because we’re counting on multiple years of sales to break even and that won’t happen if there are free bits floating about!” (1) ) but also expressing concern that any agreement they made with me couldn’t take precedence over their contract with the volume editors. But they also asked for clarification on what exactly it was that I wanted to be able to do.

So I sent the following response:

I have two primary concerns, both stemming from the fact that my contribution is my intellectual property and the result of a lot of time and effort into getting the substance of it right.

The first is that I want to be able to reuse my contribution in my own work without asking for prior permission. If I want to expand this contribution into a longer article or if I want to incorporate it into a monograph that I am writing, I will of course credit its original publication in XXXX. But since this is my intellectual property, I do not want to cede the right to reuse it in my future publications.

My second concern is that I want to be able to reuse the text of my contribution and share it on my own or an institutional repository so that I am assured of continued availability and its being part of the scholarly conversation. I understand that Publisher  has made a financial investment in the publication of the book, including this contribution. And I would agree to an embargo period in which I do not share the text of my contribution. But I do not see the availability of the text of my contribution as an impediment to the collection’s marketability, especially given what I know about Publisher’s preference for collections in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, some studies have suggested that making parts of a book, or even an entire work, available freely online have resulted in higher sales, with the free samples functioning as a marketing platform for the entire work; Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence (NYU 2011) is one example of a work that has much higher sales than anticipated in part because the availability of the work online has driven interest and generated sales. More importantly, while I see making parts of  the text of a book available online for free as generating interest in and sales for the book, I also see it as a way of protecting my own intellectual investment in this work. Should Publisher no longer be interested in distributing this book, or in my contribution to it, I need to still be able to have my work be part of the scholarly conversation. My being able to place a copy of my text in my own or an institutional repository ensures that my own investment in this piece is protected.

And then I waited. Their response, when it came, was essentially, “Hey, it turns out that another division has something that says nearly exactly this!” The key, apparently, is that I was dealing with the textbook division, which did not have provisions to handle this sort of permission, but the monograph division did.

Here’s what the new contract includes:

  • specific permission to reuse my piece in my teaching and to distribute to colleagues for their personal use (though not in any systematic way);
  • specific permission to reuse my piece after publication and pending notification to the publisher in other works I’ve prepared that are not direct competitors to this one;
  • and specific permission to post my pre-copyedited piece on my website or an institutional repository as long as I’ve notified the publisher; there is no embargo before I can post my piece. (2)

So, yay! This is hardly groundbreaking, but it lets me do what I want to do, which is archive my text here and to potentially reuse it in my grand collection of my writings (which, you know, is surely imminent). Keep your eyes open for when the book is finally out in print, when I’ll share my piece here. And then prepare to be so excited about it you’ll go out and buy a copy for yourself and ask your library to buy it too! (3)

My take-away from all this is as follows:

  • Always ask for what you want. They can’t say no—or yes—until you do.
  • Be clear about what you want. I found Paul Fyfe’s comment on my last post helpful in this regard.
  • Know what your exit point is. I knew what I was prepared to negotiate on and where my line in the sand was, which took the anxiety of negotiating out of the picture.
  • Be polite and persistent. If they don’t say yes on your blanket request, spell out precisely what you want to be able to do and ask if another division might have an agreement that is suitable.
  • Finally, ask for help from your colleagues! I am hugely grateful for the recommendations I got here and on twitter on how to go about this. And I’m extra hugely grateful for my conversations with Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who was really generous in helping me work through this.

And one plea to all of you: Ask for what’s in your right to have. Please do this. And please tell us about doing this. Scholarly publishing is in a world of change right now, and we are all finding our way. My experience is that most publishers are finding their ways just as much as most authors are. The more we work together and share our experiences, the more chance we all have of finding a fair way forward.



  1. n.b.: This is not an exact quote.[]
  2. It’s worth noting that this is a contract with a UK publisher and that copyright in the UK is assumed to remain with the author, so that was never really something I had to battle over.[]
  3. One small note: I hadn’t named the publisher while this was happening because I believed that was going to make negotiating in good faith difficult. But I’ve linked to the forthcoming collection and, really truly, I believe it will be a good one.[]

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