Thursday, June 21, 2007

Negotiating Contracts

Let's talk about negotiating contracts.

As authors, we're so damn needy we usually accept whatever we're offered. We're afraid that if we don't take the offer, we won't get published.

Publishers know this. And they use this to their advantage. It is in their best interest to offer low advances and try to acquire as many sub rights as possible.

One one hand, if your book does well, the advance doesn't matter much---royalties will kick in, and you'll get quarterly checks.

On the other hand, a healthy advance lets you spend more time and money self-promoting, which can only help your sells. A healthy advance also shows that your publisher is confident in your books, and will spend a sizable amount on marketing them.

A wonderful book was recommended to me, called The Secrets of Power Negotiating by Roger Dawson. It demystifies a lot about negotiation, and tells you how to respond when your publisher lowballs you, pulls offers off the table, and basically tries to show you that they don't need you.

Truth told, your publisher doesn't need you. But you don't really need them either.

When you're negotiating a contract, your agent should be doing most of the work. But there are some things you should know before you enter negotiations.

1. How much you want per book.
2. What rights you're offering.
3. What your previous sales figures are.
4. What your sell-through is, and how many printings you've had.
5. What will make you walk away from the negotiating table.
6. How you will react to every point and counterpoint your publisher brings up.

The last one is especially important. You should always have an answer for anything your publisher throws at you. This means brainstorming, practicing, and role-playing.

By role-playing, I mean talking out things with a trusted friend playing the part of your publisher, so you're prepared if these things come up in negotiations.

What are you going to say when your publisher tells you:

"Your first book(s) didn't do as well as expected."

"That's as high as we can go."

"If you don't accept now we're pulling this offer from the table."

"The market for your genre is collapsing."

"We're the best publisher for your book, and we love you here."

"We can't offer more money in the advance, but we can offer X in bonuses for copies shipped, hitting the NYT list, copies sold, etc."

Be prepared to counter these statements using a combination of facts and logic. Passion is fine when negotiating. Anger is not.

If you want to be in a position of power while negotiating, you need to:

1. Be in control of your emotions.
2. Be knowledgeable about your numbers.
3. Be confident, but not cocky.
4. Be polite, but firm.
5. Be prepared for every possible thing that may come up.
6. Be willing to walk away.

Your agent should already know all of this. But you should discuss this with her anyway.

It may seem obvious, but it's easier to sell a finished book than a proposal. Just because your contract is finished doesn't mean you need another one immediately. It is almost always better for you to finish your next book and shop it around rather than accept your current publisher's low offer on a proposal.

Negotiation is a dance. Try to lead, rather than follow. And if you don't like your dance partner, find another one.