Five Tips for Successful Contract Negotiation

A truth of the publishing industry is that most authors negotiate from a position of relative weakness–the bottom of the proverbial totem pole.

Many authors become discouraged or disillusioned with the relatively weak bargaining position they take into contract negotiations. However, the proper attitude and preparation can help the author’s position in contract negotiations. My Friday post at Writers in the Storm takes a look at preparation for contract negotiations, so today we’ll take a look at how the author’s attitude going in can help create a successful negotiation.

Negotiating Tip #1: You are not obligated to accept any offer, ever. Especially not a bad one. 

For many authors, obtaining a publishing contract is the fulfillment of a dream. But dreams come in two varieties: good ones and bad ones. The same is true of contracts. And, also like dreams, a bad publishing contract quickly becomes a nightmare.

Negotiating Tip #2: Authors should enter every contract negotiation prepared to walk away if the publisher refuses to offer fair, industry-standard terms.

It’s difficult to balance the excitement of a possible contract with the fortitude to insist on reasonable terms. However, authors who fail to develop a head for the business have far less (if any) success than authors who treat the contract like a business decision.

Negotiating Tip #3: Polite professionalism goes a lot farther than bitternes and suspicion. 

Nobody likes negotiating with an angry, hostile person. Taking a professional, polite, and unemotional stance will help your chances of success. Publishers and editors are people, just like authors, and they respond to professionalism and reasonable suggestions.

Negotiating Tip #4: Do not let your emotions control the negotiation. There is no crying in baseball…or publishing contracts.

Good negotiators divorce their emotional reactions from the negotiating process. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel–but you can’t let it show. Learn to talk in a calm, professional voice and to express yourself politely, both in writing and in person. It’s difficult to stay calm and professional even when you’re not getting your way or when your dreams are on the line. However, negotiations derail quickly if one party gets overly emotional or fails to maintain a professional demeanor. I’ve spoken with editors whose negotiating tactics (and willingness to compromise) are directly influenced by the author’s attitude.

Negotiating Tip #5: Hire a professional to negotiate on your behalf, or to help you prepare for the negotiation.

It’s always easier to maintain a calm, professional demeanor when it’s not your dreams on the line, and/or when negotiating is your business. Authors who can’t, or would prefer not to, learn professional negotiating strategies should hire someone else to negotiate on their behalf. Professional review of contract offers can help authors avoid mistakes–like signing a deal they will later regret. While professional assistance can’t always guarantee a good deal (or avoidance of a bad situation), it often increases the odds of success.

Have you negotiated a contract on your own behalf (or on someone else’s)? What strategies were helpful for you?