On Negotiation for Writers

Close the Deal

Anyone who has dealt with an agent, a publisher, or a producer knows that negotiation is part of what makes the writing life possible.  As organizing principles go, this is pretty straightforward. While we have plenty to think about in negotiating representation, publication, and (hopefully) production, one goal should remain clearly in focus: close the deal.

Remember a Few Key Points

Robin Davis Miller, General Counsel of The Authors Guild, offered some advice on contracts and the negotiation process at a seminar in Los Angeles. I have benefitted from her counsel. I hope you benefit, too. Here are a few notes:

  • Publishing is a moving target. Change is constant.
  • NEVER accept assurances for marketing of your book on the website or anywhere else.  Get it in the contract.
  • Avoid the OPTION Clause.  Agents tend to leave it in because it ensures their commission even if you leave your agent and place the book yourself.
  • As the author, you deserve to know the publisher's printing and circulation figures.  Publishers don't release this information easily.  They fight it.  Remember - by the time they make an offer, they know precisely how many copies of your book they will print.
  • Research your agent's and publisher's reputation for using sub-rights.  Has the publisher executed for others?  Has your agent executed for other clients?
  • Time is your ally.  The more time that an agent or editor or publisher invests in you and your work, the more reluctant they are to let you go.
  • Books are a business.  Think and speak from a business point of view.
  • Insert an out of print clause anywhere the publisher attempts to punish the author for underperforming sales.
  • Always insist on receiving a statement. Have them e-mail it if they are reluctant to invest in postage. How else are you to know they are doing their job?

More Advice

Ernest Bevin (1881-1951), British politician and statesmen, offered:

The first thing to decide before you walk into any negotiation is what to do if the other fellow says no.