Thursday, October 1, 2009

Things You Can Negotiate

If you manage to get through the wall and your manuscript gets chosen by a publisher you will now be presented with a contract. The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that EVERYTHING on the contract is negotiable. Do not hand over your power. You are an equal partner with the publisher.

Publishers like to pretend as if contracts are written in stone handed down from on high. This is not the case. At any point if they don't want to budge and you are sure that point is important to you as a writer, remember you can walk away. Until the contract is signed by all parties either one can walk away.

Here are some points to remember when going through your contract:

1. Read and understand everything. You don't need a lawyer unless you feel insecure. Read and get clarification from the publisher, preferably in writing, about things that you don't understand. Sign nothing until you understand everything.

2. Always push for a higher royalty rate. Perhaps on a first book you might be cautious in this regard, but after that always ask for a higher royalty rate. You might not get it and then it will be up to you if you give the deal a pass. But always ask. Occasionally they will up it and that is always a good thing.

3. Check what rights they are taking. Be very clear on this. I have made mistakes in the past. I have books published in Botswana by publishers without capacity to take them beyond the borders and yet they hold world rights. Big mistake on my part. I should have insisted that they have rights only in Botswana no further. In this way I can sell the book to another publisher with a wider net. Now the only way other publishers can get the right to publish my books outside Botswana is to negotiate with the Botswana publishers. I'm not a fan of not having control so this doesn't work well for me. It may for you, I don't know, but whatever the case, be very clear what rights you are selling.

With short story collections, I am always careful to sell rights of that particular collection but NOT rights to the individual stories. Some publishers bulk at that. I have walked away from a deal because the publisher was not willing to accept that. If they want rights to each story then I would say some very big ( I mean big- like P10,000 per story) advance should come your way that is not deducted from royalties.

4. Be careful of all electronic rights. Try to get as much as you can cancelled from the contract. We as writers don't know what the future holds. Let the electronic rights have their own contract. Ebooks are sold for much less because print costs have disappeared. If the publisher is still paying you the standard 10% you will be making peanuts and yet the profit margin for the publisher has sky rocketed.

Despite what people may tell you, writers can read contracts. They can also negotiate better contracts for themselves. The most important thing is to understand everything and fight for the best deal for yourself. Though you might be thankful that the publisher is giving your book a chance, keep in mind that this is a business and the publisher is entering the negotiations with his or her interests in mind, if you don't keep your interests at the forefront of everything that you do- who will?


Enid Wilson said...

Thanks Lauri for the tips. But what is the difference of selling the collection and an individual story?

Steamy Darcy

Lauri said...

I have a lot of short stories- more than 50 now. I might put 20 of them together in a collection under a certain theme and sell to a publisher. I can't now sell that exact collection to anyone else but the copyright for the individual stories I keep. Then I might sell a story to a lit mag or use in a different collection.

Anonymous said...

Invaluable advice, Lauri. I really appreciate you writing about this!

Lauri said...

Thanks Selma.

Elspeth Futcher said...

Wise words, Lauri. Thank you.