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I design books on a 'for hire' basis i.e. I provide the client with the indd and image link files at the end of the project (once the book has been printed and there are no further revisions to be made).

They have a new editor, who wants to make changes directly in my (unfinished) indd file; obviously, I have refused and said I prefer the usual marked-up PDF which is industry-standard. Hopefully I was clear enough that they will pass that on to the editor.

Has anyone else come up against this sort of thing, and how do you explain to your client – politely and without giving away your workflow – that it's not a good thing for an editor to rummage through a source file willy-nilly, changing what they wish, without any regard for what the designer might have to do to either fix anything they broke, or even find what was changed in the first place?

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I would start by stressing how uncomfortable I would be with the proposition. It would jeopardize version control if the source document and related assets changed hands during the editing process. I would make sure they understand that it would create confusion and an unnecessarily large margin for error. I would also insist on upfront payment, as otherwise I would have no recourse in the event of a client absconding.

  • That's helpful, thanks! With this (long-term) client I get paid on submission of the first full draft of the book design. So no worries there. – Arati D May 30 at 4:44
  • Glad to hear your compensation is safe. Another thought: Is the editor the only person supplying you with notes/edits? If not, the indd will greatly hinder others' ability to contribute to the process. – 13ruce May 30 at 11:49
  • The corrections and notes are consolidated by the editor and sent to me, yes. – Arati D May 30 at 16:15
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Beyond possible legal issues related to fonts, you can't provide any font legally unless your client has purchased those fonts for you.....

I would explain that if I don't know where changes are made, I won't know if or how to address those changes in the design. I need to make changes to the designed file, no one else, so that I am aware of how any change alters the overall design. This means, any and all outside edits to the Indesign file means I must start over completely because I don't know what has changed - and this equates to higher pricing.


For what it's worth, providing native files to anyone isn't something I do free of charge though.

  • Thanks Scott. That's a good explanation! As I've mentioned I provide indd and image links as part of my contract and my fees cover this, fonts not included in that. I do have other licensing-style contracts where I retain ownership of the source files, particularly where illustration is involved. – Arati D May 30 at 4:40
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Give ‘em an InCopy file or an RTF export - if they’re sheerly an editor, that’s all the need access to.

  • That would involve my having to learn to use inCopy first though 🤦🏽‍♀️ would you recommend any tutorials? – Arati D May 30 at 4:45
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    The newer version in InDesign can incorporate pdf markups like MS Word - comments and deletions/insertions can be accepted or rejected with a dialogue box. Works quite nicely if the markups are performed correctly in Acrobat. – Mark Read May 30 at 6:49
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    Yes, that's the usual method I use. – Arati D May 30 at 16:16
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From a legal perspective, you'll need to check your contract to see what it says about access to source files and what it defines as the deliverable product. Is there a "work made for hire" clause, or are you the author for copyright purposes? If you own the copyright, then you have a big advantage if the relationship breaks down, and if you register the copyright, you can seek "statutory damages" if they steal your work. Statutory damages are amounts set by statute and don't require you to show how much money you lost. Current law allows for between $750 and $30,000, and up to $150,000 if a judge decides the infringement was willful.

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    I work with publishers and they own the copyright to both the design of the book (excluding any illustrations I do) and the final source files, it's covered in my contract and fee structure as well. It's more a case of this new editor (also a freelancer like me) asking for something very unusual, at least in my experience. The client and I are both UK-based so the copyright laws are very favourable towards me as the designer. – Arati D May 30 at 4:48

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