Contract Negotiation 101: Negotiating the Initial Offer

As we discussed last week, publishing contract negotiations normally begin with an offer — most commonly in email format, but sometimes sent in letter form.

The initial offer usually contains the “big ticket” contract items, such as the advance amount and anticipated publishing format (for example, hardback, trade paperback, or ebook only). The offer may also contain other information, like estimated release dates (usually by year and quarter) and imprint (where an editor works for more than one). Publishers (and even editors) differ when it comes to offer format; some give more information, and others less. Generally, though, that initial offer will contain, at a minimum, advance amount and format, as well as the major rights the publisher is requesting.

Some publishers will negotiate on the original offer terms. For others the offer is baseline: take it or leave it. Normally, the publisher wants to negotiate the basic offer terms before proceeding to full contract preparation and negotiation. The reason is simple: there’s no point in paying to draft a contract if the parties can’t reach agreement on the big-ticket items.

When negotiating the initial offer, proceed with professional courtesy. This is not the place to demonstrate a negative attitude.*

Here are some tips for negotiating the offer:

1. Make reasonable requests. If the publisher offers a $5,000 advance, you’re not going to get an increase to $50,000. Debut authors, or those with fewer books in print (or lower sales) typically get lower advances than bestselling or established authors. Take your publishing history into consideration when negotiating your advance.

2. Consider the offer as a whole. For example: sometimes publishers won’t negotiate on advances, but will negotiate royalty percentages. Sometimes altering one term will change your opinion about another.

3. Don’t attempt to negotiate every clause in the contract in the initial offer. Focus on what the offer actually contains. The time for negotiating secondary issues (like tying out of print status to sales) is after you’ve reached agreement on major points. Negotiate the points in the offer until you’ve reached agreement there. The other items will come up for discussion in contract review.

4. Don’t Be an Entitled Jerk. Let’s repeat that, because it’s important. Do Not Be An Entitled Jerk. Every author is a special snowflake and a delicate flower. Don’t bring personal issues to the negotiating table. Writing a book is a creative endeavor, but publishing it is a business–regardless of the publishing path you choose. If you don’t have a head for business…develop one before you publish. Period. Writers are business people too.

Thanks for joining me for today’s post on offer negotiations. I hope you’ll join me next week, as we continue our look at the negotiation process. 

*Note: There’s actually no place in contract negotiations for negative attitudes. Professional courtesy is a must at any phase of the deal.