The Power – and Importance – of “No.”

Many authors spend years (in some cases, decades) developing craft and pursuing the dream of publication. Authors who wish to pursue traditional publication spend time and energy seeking an agent or publishing deal, and rejoice when the offer finally comes.

However, all publishing offers (and offers of agency representation) are not equal – and a bad or predatory offer is worse than having no agent or publishing deal at all.

As a publishing attorney, I often have to advise excited authors that the deals they’re offered are inappropriate (non-standard or predatory). This makes me sad. To be clear: I’m not advising authors to walk away because the advance wasn’t high enough or because they didn’t get limousine terms. Fair deals often require compromise. Sadly, I see an enormous number of contracts offering terms that are clearly predatory and contrary to accepted industry standards.

And when that happens, authors must have the courage to walk away.

Walking away from a bad contract is one of the most difficult things an author may to do – but it’s also one of the most important.

If you don’t protect yourself, and your rights as an author, no one else can do it for you. Allowing someone to take advantage of you is inappropriate – in publishing, as anywhere else in life. 

Authors need to learn the industry standards for contracts and must be willing to stand up for fair and equitable terms. When necessary, that also means being willing to walk away from a contract that is unfair or predatory. You will have other opportunities. Don’t let frustration or impatience cause you to sign a contract you will regret in years to come.

It is difficult – sometimes, almost impossibly so – to walk away from an offer after years of work and dreaming about publishing success. But authors must have the courage to walk away from a predatory deal, and to understand that doing so is not “giving up” on the dream. Predatory publishers depend on the fact that authors’ dreams are stronger than their business sense – don’t fall into that trap. Embrace the power of saying “no” to unfair offers – and its importance in your writing career.

Insist on fair, industry standard contract terms, and have the courage to walk away from any deal that tries to force you to accept something less.