It’s All in the Contract

Originally sent to the Listener Insider Mailing List on July 28, 2016.
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I’ve interviewed over 70 authors for the WROTE podcast. I’ve self-published. AND… I’m a production editor for a small, non-fiction press… plus I’m connected to a larger publisher. This places me in a unique position to answer any questions you may have about the business of being an author. I reached out to a group of professional writers, asking what areas confused them at the start of their careers, and received some GREAT starting questions. Here’s the next:

Answers for Authors

Vance, why is my advance/royalty/release/marketing happening the way it’s happening?

Okay, I merged several questions into one because they all come back to, essentially, the same answer:

Answer from an Acquisitions Editor:
“Whenever an author has a question about some aspect of their relationship with us, the answer is almost always in the contract. We put the details in there to protect both sides, and since it’s a legal document we spell things out pretty clearly.”

Answer from Vance Bastian:
I’m going to dovetail that to clarify a little and offer some ideas to help you get into the mindset of your contract.

Mindset #1:  The negotiators you’re going to keep returning to are the ones who seek solutions for both sides. If you bring that mindset to the table, you’ll go a lot farther.

Mindset #2:  The contract stage is really the best place for you to seek the most desirable outcome of your relationship with your publisher. After it’s signed, it’s insanely tough to change the details.

Mindset #3:  The details that go into the contract are legally negotiable.

Mindset #4:  Every publisher has details they include on their template, and some details they will not negotiate for any reason.

Ideas #3 and #4 go hand-in-hand.  In theory, every detail of the contract is a part of the negotiation.  If you want a truckload of chickens as your advance payment, and your publisher is willing to deliver a truckload of chickens, that agreement _is_ legal if you both sign it. (I should point out this kind of barter could make the IRS twitchy… but your egg farm will be off to a nice start.  Ahem.)

That said, there are some changes to a contract that no publisher will agree to.  For example, a publisher is extremely unlikely to guarantee sales numbers. They’ll guarantee a print run number – maybe – but not sales. They just can’t afford to make promises on behalf of the fickle buying public.

Some of the more common areas where you can, and will be expected to ask for more are:

  • The number of advance copies you receive
  • The option to pay the unit cost for author copies
  • The number of release events you’d like to jointly coordinate with the marketing department
  • The number of blog posts you’re willing to write for the publisher (they’re hurting for content too, and you can use the opportunity to position yourself as an expert to the publisher’s audience)
  • Which of the non-print rights you’re able to retain (act quickly, more and more publishers are including template language that talks about digital and audio)
  • The retention of international sales rights

Keep in mind… Publishers have negotiated a great many contracts – not just with authors, but with service vendors, suppliers, and retail outlets. They have pretty solid ideas about what works for them.  But, if you’ve done your homework you’ll have a good feel for what to expect before you reach the negotiation. After all, that’s why you researched different publishers.

If you make a request, and they say “no,” be able to talk about why that requests is important to you. The publisher may be willing to find an alternative you hadn’t considered if they’re unable to meet the demand directly. That’s the art of a good negotiation. However, If the publisher says “no” a second time, you’re going to have to be a pretty well-established and much-followed author to keep pressing the demand.

Finally, if you have representation then you’ll probably have had a much friendlier talk with your agent about what you’re seeking. Be clear with them about the details you’re firm on, but also give your agent some places where you’re willing to bend.  Giving your rep the power to say “maybe” on some things really makes them look good when they’re presenting your absolutes.

Wishing you all the best in bringing your words to the world!


If YOU have a question you want answered from inside the biz, send it my way and I’ll pose it to the professionals!