Contract Negotiation, Part 1: Mutual Benefit

Welcome to a new year of the Wednesday blog feature where we explore publishing law issues of interest to writers!

This year’s first series: The How-To’s of Contract Negotiation.

Two primary philosophies dominate negotiation theory. The first, called Zero-Sum (Or Zero-Sum Game)” holds that in any negotiation, one person’s gains create equal losses for the other side. In simpler words: every time I “win” a negotiating point, my opponent loses something.

I’ve never liked Zero-Sum theory because it places a negative, often hostile (and always aggressive) spin on negotiations. Publishing, in particular, is a place where contract negotiations aim to create a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship – and that can prove difficult where the initial negotiations look and feel like a bloody war.

The alternative to Zero-Sum is Mutual Benefit Negotiation – the idea that, for any given contract, there is a place where both sides can maximize the benefits of and returns on a contractual relationship.

I’ve always preferred to negotiate from a mutual benefit perspective, and found it far more successful than the Zero-Sum approach. This is particularly true in publishing, where the parties are often negotiating contracts that last many years (and sometimes outlive the author).

Step 1 in the PubLaw approach is viewing negotiation as a process by which a publishing contract reaches a point of maximum mutual benefit.

You, the author, seek to maximize your returns on your work. The publisher also wants to maximize its returns.

Sometimes authors forget that those goals are not mutually exclusive. Without surrendering rights, or agreeing to terms that are less than fair, it’s important for authors to remember that the publisher’s goal is actually the same as the author’s – to sell as many copies of the author’s work as possible. Finding the right, mutually beneficial, set of contract terms is the first step in that all-important process.

What do you think of Mutual Benefit Negotiation as an alternative to Zero-Sum thinking? Do you use it in other parts of your life as well? If you have questions about this or other aspects of publishing law and negotiations, please ask in the comments – I love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “Contract Negotiation, Part 1: Mutual Benefit

  • January 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    I’m definitely in the Mutual Benefit Negotiation camp and consider my publishers partners, not enemies. We want the same thing–to make a profit from selling books (mine, in my case). However, have had one or two experiences w/publishers who were into Zero-Sum and thus negotiation was not possible. Not working with them again.

    Elsewhere in life…yes, but understanding that if dealing with an all-or-nothing person/organization, it may not be possible to find that sweet spot…because they don’t acknowledge one. Think it’s best to start with Mutual Benefit Negotiation, but realize that it takes two parties willing to negotiate…and you may not always have a willing partner.

    • January 2, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      This is very true – it’s very difficult to negotiate in mutual-benefit manner if your opponent is dedicated to zero-sum methods. Not always impossible, but infinitely harder for sure. You make a second really good point here, too – if a publisher negotiates on a Zero-Sum basis with an author, it may be a really good indicator of the way the future relationship will function, and as difficult as it is to walk away from a deal, sometimes that’s better than locking yourself into a hostile long-term partnership. It sounds to me like you’ve got a great perspective on this.

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