Negotiate Like a Pro (Part 2) – Preparing to Negotiate

Welcome back to the negotiation mini-series, here on the blog and on the Twitter #PubLaw feed. Last week’s post examined the difference between Zero-Sum and Mutual Benefit negotiation, and explained why it’s better to approach publishing contract negotiations (any negotiations, really) from a mutual-benefit point of view.

Today we move on to preparation for a successful negotiation.


Preparing to negotiate a publishing contract requires more than making a list of the terms you want (or hope to change). Approaching negotiations with a solid plan increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. Here are the steps to creating that solid plan:

STEP 1: Read the contract. Make a list the terms you want to negotiate or change.

This might sound obvious, but you have to read the contract before you can possibly negotiate its terms.

Even if an agent or lawyer is handling the negotiation, authors should read the contract and make a list of questions (or questionable terms) to discuss with their representatives before the negotiation.

It’s not enough to read a summary of terms or skim the document for royalty rates and advances. Authors need to read—and understand—the document as a whole in order to decide which parts you can be lived with and which require negotiation.

STEP 2: Prioritize your list of terms to negotiate.

All contract terms are not created equal. Some are more important than others—for authors as well as publishers. Rank your desired changes in one of three categories: “Deal Breaker,” “Important (but not  mandatory),” and “Things to Ask For.”

Here’s what those terms mean:

“Deal breakers” are terms that an author must have to make a deal. If the publisher refuses to negotiate appropriate contract terms on these issues, the author will walk away from the contract.

An example: copyright ownership. If the contract transfers copyright ownership to the publisher, the author should require the publisher remove the assignment–or the author should walk away.

“Important” terms are things the author truly wants changed, but which (at least individually) won’t cause the author to refuse the contract.

Examples : retention of Film and TV rights, escalating royalties (increases in royalty percentages when sales hit stated thresholds), and the number of royalty-bearing sales required to trigger “out of print” termination rights.

“Things to Ask for” are wish-list items, worth a request but also worth letting go.

For example: the right for the author to audition to narrate the audiobook. Nice if you can get it but not worth blowing the deal.

STEP 3: Consider how the publisher will view each item on your list (and why).

Some contract terms are more important to publishers than others. Ranking your list of changes from the publisher’s point of view (in addition to yours) will help you decide  which items have the best (and worst) chances of success.

Note: Requests that require a change to the publisher’s business practices—for example, changes to royalty dates and sales statements—have a low (read: often nonexistent) chance of succeeding. 

STEP 4: Adjust your list and strategy to accommodate the publisher’s likely concerns.

Smart authors tailor negotiation lists in a way that creates the largest possible chance of success. This means preparing mutually beneficial proposals and solutions to likely problems in advance.

As an example, let’s look at narration of audiobooks.

Sometimes, authors want to narrate the audio version of their books. However, publishers want high-quality, professional narration. Instead of demanding narration rights, the author should ask for the right to audition to narrate the audiobook. Many times, publishers will agree to this, because it simply gives the author the chance to prove (s)he is the best narrator for the job.

It’s worth the time to look for mutually beneficial solutions to the requests you intend to make.

Once you finish these four steps, it’s time to negotiate – and I hope you’ll join me next Wednesday, as we look at how to conduct a successful negotiation.