Harper Collins Voyager Interaction

The Thirteenth Man was recently released by Harper Collins Voyager Impulse:

Posted on September 5, 2016 by Jim

I'd like to comment on the experience I had working with my editor and his team at Harper Collins. I've heard many stories where authors describe nightmare experiences working with one of the Big 5—or is it now the big 4 or 6—but I think some of that is more that we just love to hate Microsoft and Amazon, or any of the big players. My experience was the opposite of that.


First, I'd like to talk about the contract they sent me, because there are so many anecdotes about unreasonable legal terms, and reversion-of-rights clauses that are so all-encompassing they forever own your book.

I spent forty years in the optical telecommunications industry, and during the last thirty I negotiated, or was part of the negotiating team, for contracts that varied in size from a few hundred thousand to a few hundred million dollars. We learned early on that it was usually detrimental to have the lawyers present during the actual negotiations. The legal system is, by intent, adversarial, and it appeared that the lawyers could never put aside the combative aspects of their job. They tended to turn the negotiations into something like a nasty divorce, when what we needed was to come to an agreement on terms that were a win-win for both sides. They were also very expensive, and, it turned out, only a bit necessary. So we negotiated terms and drafted the contracts without them present, then handed the draft to our lawyers so they could make sure we didn't miss anything, and that all the commas were in the right places.

With thirty years of experience at that, I know how to read, write and interpret the legalese in a contract. I know contract law quite well, but I don't know the specifics and standard clauses that go into a literary contract.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first draft of the contract that HC sent me was reasonable and fair. I even had a friend of mine who is an experienced industry insider review it regarding those standard literary clauses, and she confirmed that I was correct about that. There was a minor issue with the way the options clause was worded: my "next work" was already on offer to another publisher, so if I signed the contract as-is, I'd immediately be in default. I think we changed two or three words and everything was fine.


My editor at HC wanted me to make many small changes and a couple of large, substantive ones. The small changes were mainly copy-edits and adjustments for continuity and readability. He did catch a few serious continuity mistakes; I don't know how many times I proofread that manuscript and didn't catch them myself. But that's the nature of being a writer: you're so close to the story you can't proofread it yourself.

There were also some changes I didn't want to make, though only a few. But after discussing them, and making my case, he was frequently okay with it, or we agreed upon an alternative that both of us were happy with.

The large, substantive changes were for salability and marketability. I struggled with them a bit—only a little—but in the end I made the changes and the book is better for it.


Looking back, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But most importantly, with every change my editor wanted, I was always left with the impression that it was nothing more than a recommendation. He always told me the decision was ultimately mine, and I now know he meant it, so I don't have any nightmare stories to tell. Sorry!

Thank you, David.