Chip MacGregor

March 13, 2012

More on how an author negotiates a book contract…


We're continuing our thoughts on what to have in mind when facing a book contract negotiation.

4. Be Clear when Talking. One thing that will hurt you in a negotiation is to wander around your point. For example, if you know you don't want to grant dramatic rights to your novel, be clear about it. Problems often arise in a negotiation because of the things that aren't said — an author wants a certain advance but won't admit it, or the writer wants to retain foreign rights and doesn't say so clearly. If you know what you want, be ready to say so clearly in a polite, organized, and clear manner. This is why it's important for you to have a plan and write it down before you begin talking, so when faced with a question, you can refer to your notes and remind yourself of what is important.

5. Learn to Listen. Kenneth Tynan once referred to the activities at the United Nations as "a dialogue for the deaf." One speaker gets up and harangues people with some information, then the next guy gets up, starts talking, and acts as though he heard nothing that was just said. You'll be amazed at how much better negotiations will go when you learn to be quiet and hear the other side occasionally. You'll discover you learn things about the publishing house when you listen. It will make you a better negotiator. And a bit of silence can help you focus in the midst of a discussion.

6. You Have Options. Keep in mind that you don't have to agree to a bad deal. You always have options — even if the only option is to say no thanks, get up, and walk away (whether permanently or temporarily). This is a basic truth that people in negotiations sometimes forget. The fact is, you may not be able to come to an agreement, so it could all fall apart. If you have a plan for what you really need in a deal, you'll know what that threshold is. But remember that there's a give-and-take in negotiations — the publisher will ask you to give them world rights, and perhaps you counter with granting foreign rights so long as you retain dramatic rights. Or the publisher is offering a small advance, and you counter with something a bit bigger, but offer them a reason why they should be able to pay a bit more. Keep track of what you get and what you give away — it'll show both sides that this is a good-faith negotiation.

7. Everything is Negotiable. Everything. Not just the advance and royalties, but the grant of rights. Your book title. The page count. The due date. Author copies and buy-back rates. Revisions, acceptance policies, cover approvals, reversion rights, publication date, termination, and non-compete language. Everything is negotiable. You're not going to win every point. You're probably not going to get everything you want. But that's what a negotiation is — a series of compromises, so that both sides feel they like the deal that's put into place.

Know what's important to you ahead of time, do some research so you know what's fair and workable, then negotiate in a spirit of cooperation. This will keep your negotiations from being those painful, knock-down/drag-out affairs that leave you with a bad relationship and too much brain damage.

I hope this helps you. Best of luck with your negotiation!


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