Sunday, April 02, 2023

The Value of Contract Negotiations


By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

If an editor sends you a contract for your book, you should celebrate. As someone who has been in publishing for years, I know it is a huge success to receive a contract. 

As an acquisitions editor, I have been involved in hundreds of contracts during my over ten years at Morgan James Publishing. Ive also worked at two other publishers in this area and Ive witnessed and been involved in my own contract negotiations through publishing over 60 books with traditional publishers. 

It may surprise you but many people dont do any negotiation. They sign the document and return it. It is important to negotiate with the right attitude. The basic principle is to tell the other party upfront, you are negotiating in good faith and do not want to do or say anything that will kill (or stop) the deal.

Recently an author told me a literary consultant was giving her contract advice. I received over three pages of wording suggestions and this author believed she was negotiating to send them to me. To be fair, some of the suggestions could possibly go through and be accepted. Several of the suggestions were deal killers. When there is a deal killer, the publisher will stop the negotiation and walk away from it. As I read through the suggested changes, I knew this author needed some of my assistance. If she was willing to remove the deal killers then I suspected a number of the suggested changes could be accepted and incorporated into her contract. 

The publisher and the author have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy into the decision making process to even issue a contract. If the deal is killed at this point, the author returns to searching for a publisher and the publisher simply moves on to the next book. While it is more work for me as an acquisitons editor, I hope we can resolve the differences and still negotiate this contract. The balancing act in this process is tricky. As of this writing, Im unsure how it will work out for this author.

Recently editor and author Jane Friedman wrote about The Business Skill I Wish I Could Grant To All Writers. The skill is negotiation. One of the surprising details in this article: Not even the majority of agents negotiated the contract as well as they should have, because they were so advance focused. I wish I could say that your agent will definitely negotiate all the finer deal points, but that’s not the case in my experience. So even if you do have an agent, you should be asking them questions, too. Most writers feel if they have an agent, then they will be well-represented in the area of negotiation. Like Jane, I have worked with a number of agents who dont do much negotiation on the contracts for their authors. 

My point is even if you have someone else negotiating for you on a book contract, you should still take the time and energy to understand the proposed changed and what is going on. Why? Because when the contract is signed, it is not the agent or literary attorney whose name is at the bottom of the contract and ultimately responsible for the contract. That responsible person is you, the author.

I have a couple of contract resources on my Right-Writing site to help you with understanding your contract and the negotiations. First Publishing Contract Checklist by attorney Timothy Perrin (scroll down to read this excellent article--I have an unresolved formatting issue). Also I encourage you to read Five Magic Phrases: Tips for Negotiating Like a Pro by Jenna Glatzer. Each of these resources will give you additional information and help you become a better negotiator.

Do you negotiate your contracts or do you give that responsibility to someone else like an agent? Let me know in the comments below. 

My Articles in Other Places

In these entries, I encourage you to publish in other places. Here's where several of my articles have appeared:

Why Writers Need To Become Time Aware If you want to increase your productivity as a writer, one of the first steps is to become more conscious of how you are using your time.

Authors Who Succeed in the Book Business Success leaves traces and this article details some of those principles from successful authors.

Why You Must Understand Your Target Audience Every effective author knows their target audience and give the details in this article. 

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