Learning to Find the Middle Ground

I mentioned last week that part of effective negotiation is finding and proposing a middle position both parties can accept. Today we look more closely at how that’s done.

Pretend that a publisher offers you 10% royalties on hardback sales (gross royalties on domestic sales) of your book.

You, the author, would prefer a higher percentage, but you know that this number is close to industry standard.

How do you meet in the middle?

You might ask if the publisher would consider escalating royalties at different sales levels. For example, 10% on the first 5,000 copies, 12% on sales 5,001-10,000, and 15% on sales 10,001 and above.

This represents a compromise.

The publisher might refuse, but you might have started a conversation that leads to a change in the contract. Instead of insisting on “more money now,” you offer an option that benefits both parties.

The same philosophy holds for other contract terms as well.

“Meeting in the middle” means looking beyond the numbers and finding a way to meet both parties’ needs. A three-step process for finding middle positions:

1. Figure out why the other side wants the term originally offered. What is the benefit gained?

In the case above, the publisher wants to make money. By offering you 10%, the publisher is able to pay off the expenses associated with publishing your book more quickly. The publisher’s goal is to make money, but it needs to make that money for two different reasons: first, to recoup its investment in your work, and second, to generate profits. A lower profit percentage is more acceptable after the first goal is met, so your solution should address that reality.

2. Figure out what you gain from your position, and how your gain relates to the other side’s goal.

Your desire to make more money isn’t too hard to dissect. When you look at this in light of the publisher’s need to recoup the investment, it seems pretty clear that you stand a better chance of obtaining what you desire (more money) when the publisher’s needs (to recoup its investment) are met.

3. Find a solution that helps each party advance its goals simultaneously.

Note  this requires  compromise, and compromise isn’t always on the table. (For example, most publishers will insist that lawsuits be brought in the state where the publisher is incorporated and does business. That term, and some others, will almost always be “take it or leave it.”) Where the point is negotiable, however, a mutually beneficial solution will often result in modification of the deal.

Here, your request to increase the royalty percentage after a certain benchmark represents a suggestion that once the publisher receives a return on investment, you would like to share a bigger slice of the pie. In many cases, publishers are willing to consider this kind of request (though the percentages and sales thresholds may vary).

Obviously, it’s hard to do this kind of analysis and negotiation if you don’t know industry standard contract terms – so learn them!

I’m always encouraging authors to learn about contracts, as well as the publishing business. When we finish this series, I’m starting one on publishing contract language – be sure to stay tuned!

Have questions about publishing contracts or negotiation? Feel free to ask in the comments  – I really do love to hear from you.