Author rights

Author-Editor Relationships

Submission and Author Guidelines

Activity: What would you do?


Author Rights

What are authors’ rights?

Copyright is a legal right that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, this original work may be used by others. Authors’ copyright entitles them to direct where their work can be published and how it can be reused or redistributed, for instance, whether it can be subsequently printed in a textbook or course reader, or if it can be deposited in and accessed through an archive. Any author holds the copyright on their own work until they sign legal documentation that assigns those rights to another individual, company, or institution. Authors may choose to license content to another party by granting or selling the right to reproduce their work, in whole or in part, while retaining their copyright.

Learn more: Visit Columbia Copyright Advisory Services for more information on copyright and to learn how to contact a copyright specialist at the Libraries to tease out the thornier copyright and fair use questions in your life.

Author Agreements

Author agreements clearly define the rights of both the author and the publisher. It is imperative that Columbia University Libraries journal authors sign agreements that protect the Libraries and the journal partner’s rights to publish and promote the work and to archive articles in Columbia’s institutional repository. The author agreement also explicitly grants retention of copyright to authors, and publishes their work under a Creative Commons license, a form of license where the terms are publicly available. Both author agreements and Creative Commons licenses benefit authors by helping them to understand their ownership of their intellectual property and the way in which their content can be reused and distributed. As an editor, you should familiarize yourself with Columbia University Libraries Journal Author Agreement so that you can explain these terms to authors and answer questions from third parties regarding the use of material your journal has published.


Author-Editor Relationships

What editing is:

Editing is a skill; something that can be practiced and improved with time. Beyond the manipulation and improvement of academic literature, editing is also about working in collaboration with  the author, and building a relationship with that fellow scholar.

With that goal of relationship building in mind, it’s often useful to remind ourselves that authors are busy students and scholars like us. This perspective is helpful when authors frustrate us by not responding to emails or failing to return contracts promptly. We should also remember that publishing with the journal is an exciting opportunity for authors. Every publication acceptance is important: the quality of an article and its reception can have an immediate impact on their academic community life and an influential publication can even shift a scholar’s career. Even if you are only working with an author for a short period, during that time you are their collaborator and their ally. You are the voice that interprets the commentary they receive from peer reviewers, filtering out harsh or denigrating notes (should they exist) and boiling down essential commentary with insights into the needs of your unique publication. With a constructive approach, you help authors to understand the changes that you hope to see in their next draft and steer them with stylistic and structural advice toward their best possible writing.

Learn More: So you want to be a better editor…

What editing isn’t:

Clearing rights and permissions

As students and scholars working on editorial boards, you should not be responsible for gathering permissions on behalf of authors who want to reproduce copyrighted works in their articles. Just as authors own the intellectual property rights to their written work, visual artists, singers and songwriters, and other creators own the rights to their art, and might charge fees or require authors make a case for and obtain written permission for reuse in publications. If an author wants to include an artwork, photograph, or some other form of media, or if they want to reproduce a significant portion of another work (eg. to quote a first person narrative or to reproduce research findings), you should make it clear that assessing whether or not reuse is permitted and seeking appropriate permissions is their responsibility. CUL Publishing’s Journals Author Permissions Instructions can guide authors through this process. 

Why shouldn’t editors engage in helping authors gather permissions? It can be enormously time consuming to figure out who the rights owner is and to get them to respond to a request. It can also be tricky to determine what is available for reuse or is eligible for fair use, and we should let the author go through the process of seeking advice and making those determinations. Lastly, it can be very expensive to acquire rights, and by having authors manage rights and permissions your journal will make it clear that your publication will not be contributing to those costs.

Rewriting the article yourself

We all want to ensure that quality writing is featured in our publications. But if you find yourself heavily rewriting an author’s work after peer review or when you receive that second draft, step back and consider:

  • It is the author’s responsibility to take the notes and commentary provided from reviewers and from you, the editor, to edit and strengthen their own writing. As students and scholars doing the work done by a development editor in a publishing house, you need to be protective of your time and effort. Putting responsibility for editing and improving text on the author in order to approve publication is appropriate.
  • Development or structural editing can be an art form. Helping the author re-organize their writing to strengthen an argument or conform to style of your journal without erasing their voice is a real challenge. When you suggest changes, consider if what you are commenting on is actually poorly written or ungrammatical. If you don’t like the author’s sentence construction or word choice remember your role as collaborator and editor is to help improve their writing.


Copyediting – line-by-line editing to identify grammatical errors, clean up citations and footnotes, fix spelling mistakes, etc. – is a part of the production process that takes places  after the manuscript draft has been finalized and accepted for publication. Remember that editing in the stage where you are working with the author to construct a strong argument and a logical structure to the article. Don’t get bogged down in fixing every mistake and inconsistency.  The time and place for copyediting is after these larger considerations have been addressed. The 


Submission/Author Guidelines

Check out examples of Contributor Guidelines in our Editorial Workbook.

Creating clear submission and author guidelines will make your authors more confident in crafting their submissions, and will also make your editing process easier by providing more consistency in the materials you receive and need to evaluate the quality of the work. Submission guidelines should be targeted toward helping authors understand the process of submitting their article, giving instructions on using the submissions portal and being transparent about the materials that are required and if there are any restrictions or fees that are associated with submissions.

Submission Guidelines

Tell authors the rules and indicate what materials you need them to provide:

  • Do you require a cover letter, CV, abstract, or any other personal information?
  • What file formats do you accept?
  • What kind of supplemental materials (data sets, images, videos, etc) do you accept and and what file formats should those be in?
  • This is also an opportunity to remind authors the terms under which they are submitting.
    • You do/don’t accept previously published work
    • Remind authors to declare conflicts of interest
    • Point to ethical guidelines that should be adhered to

Author Guidelines

Author guidelines provide more information about the format of articles and other kinds of writing that you publish (book reviews, case studies, any other article types). This is also where you can include information on policies that impact authors such as when contracts or author agreements will be signed, or who is responsible for the clearance of media reproduction rights. You can give a brief overview of your editing process so they’re prepared, telling them that you practice peer review, that you will expect them to review copyedited or typeset manuscripts. Without being overwhelming in detail, good author guidelines can set up the author-editor relationship for success with authors know what you expect both in their writing and in the interactions that you’ll have throughout the process.  

Style Guides

Style guides should be detailed and exhaustive since they ensure that your content and styling is always consistent. While many aspects of design will be controlled by typesetting – fonts, margins, etc. – you want to make sure that consistency is also achieved in your use of abbreviations, the format of captions, the resolution of photographs, the use of footnotes or endnotes, and so many other small details. Having a style guide that is easily accessible to your authors will help them to conform to and copy edit their own work as close to your style as possible. It’s not necessary to write your entire style guide from scratch. If your publication doesn’t already have a style guide you can start out by identifying or choosing a manual of style. However, some choices will be left up to you – such as whether you will write out numbers or using numeral, or formatting citations, how you want figures to be titled and referenced in the text. Don’t be afraid to view the guide as a living document and to add useful disambiguations as you receive author and copyeditor queries and your publication matures.

In your style guide you can also add information specific to your publication’s use of language, ethos, and digital format:

  • Format Neutral: Use language that describes content independent of its appearance or relative location (Instead of, “see figure above” use “see Figure 1″). In digital publications which are often produced in multiple formats, language that relies on fixed identifiers (like a figure, paragraph, or table number) rather than location will lessen confusion.  Format neutral language also aids in accessibility by providing directions that are not dependent on visual navigation. 
  • Translations and transliterations: If your journal publishes texts in translation or uses transliterations of words in other languages, identifying a singular convention will help writers and editors achieve consistency. One source for widely accepted romanizations is the American Library Association-Library of Congress Romanization Tables. Working with editors in translation can require additional sensitivity and often benefits from a familiarity with both languages, even if you are editing an English text and not actively providing the translation.
  • Conscious Style: Although authoritative bodies, such as style manuals, are an excellent starting point, they can be slow to keep up with the evolution of language. You can incorporate aspects of conscious style – an increased attention to neutrality and inclusivity in language surrounding gender, race, age, appearance, disability, etc. – into your style guides and editorial practices to foster a publication with a critical and thoughtful use of words. The Conscious Style Guide may be a good resource for editors looking to think critically about their use of language or seeking guidance on vocabulary and usage around race, gender, age, appearance, religion and a host of other topics and identities that can and should be written about with intention.


Practicing Author Relationships: What would you do?

In our workshop we discussed a few potential issues that might come up during the editing process. How would you react or what steps would you have taken to prevent these issues? Below are the summaries of our discussions on these topics, but you may disagree on our conclusions. There may not be a right and a wrong answer here – working with authors is about managing personal professional relationships and tackling copyright and licensing questions with 


  • After peer reviews have been completed, you discover that the text you’re editing has been plagiarized.

You are within your rights to refuse to publish work that does not meet the warranties made by the author within their contract, in this case that the work was not an original text. We can also plan to screen for plagiarism by using softwares like iThenticate and Turnitin before we pass submissions into peer review. However, if we plan to use softwares like these, we should tell authors up front (in our contributor guidelines) that you’ll be passing their work through third party software.


  • You are an editor for an undergraduate research journal. After peer reviews have been completed, you discover that the text you’re editing has been plagiarized. The author, an international student from Japan, writes to you confused by your rejection of his writing, which was based on materials that he found easily online and believes to be part of the collective of community knowledge.  

Although, again, you are within your rights to terminate the publication agreement, it is worth noting that we should always approach our authors with respect, even when we are disappointed. In many Asian countries, for instance, there is a markedly different approach to published scholarship belonging to the public domain for the enrichment of the community. Be kind and be cognizant that there may be cultural differences in how we understand copyright and intellectual property.


  • A few months after the publication of your most recent issue, an artist’s representative writes to your publication to claim copyright infringement and demand that you take down the article it appears in.  

This is a tricky one! First, issues like this may be avoided by checking with authors that they’ve obtained the proper signed permissions for copyrighted works they hope to reproduce. In this case though, where the artist did not give direct consent, all may not be lost. Copyrighted works may be incorporated into new works, such as scholarly articles under the terms of “Fair Use” laws – including for non-commercial, educational purposes. Speaking to a copyright advisor may be a good way to learn if you can make a case for the publication of the content.


  • An author receives a typeset proof for their review and approval and write, upset to see that a section containing case notes on an anonymized patient has been copyedited such that the subject’s proffered pronoun “ze” has been edited out.

Although copyediting results in fewer substantive changes than development editing, all any changes in word choice may change alter an author’s intent. We should be sending copyedited texts to authors for approval prior to typesetting and producing galleys. We should consider how we can encourage inclusive and empowering language through our style conventions and pass on guides and guidance to freelancers or members of our staff who are working with texts.


  • The author is thrilled that their article has been accepted pending revisions, but then stops corresponding. The author signed a contract but has not approved suggested editorial changes, or redrafted the text based on peer review commentary.  

Once a contract has been signed, the journal has the right to publish the author’s work, including additions and edits, generated by the review process. However, this can leave some of us feeling unsure about the ethics of publishing unapproved changes without the author’s knowledge and consent. It is up to an editor or editorial board to decide what their ethical position will be in this kind of situation. At a minimum it is considered good practice to send a final notice to the author with the edited version of the article attached, as a matter of due diligence.



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