The Art of Contract Negotiation: An Essential Skill for Writers
By Tina Gabrielle
As Appeared In The Heartline Herald, September 2009 &
Liberty States Fiction Writer's Newsletter, November 2009
We’ve heard it before: Women earn less money and benefits than their male
counterparts. But the question is why? I believe the answer lies in the fact that women
tend to shy away from negotiation. Women who do ask for more money or benefits
are often viewed by society as overly aggressive or pushy. Overwhelmingly, romance
writers are women who will find these essential skills valuable and advantageous.
As an attorney, I have had the benefit of hours of negotiation training and have
negotiated scores of civil settlements. Negotiation is a craft that is learned that can
help with every facet of a writer’s career, especially with agent and publishing
contracts. Here are some tips:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask. I know as well as the next writer how hard it is to get “The
Call.” I received many rejections before I sold my first book. We are all hesitant to ask
for anything after waiting so long, and we feel we should be eternally grateful. But
asking does not mean we aren’t grateful. To the contrary, asking means we are taking
our writing careers seriously and that we are intelligent businesswomen who intend to
be successful in this profession.
2. Be Prepared. Research is key. As members of RWA and our local chapters, we
have excellent resources. The RWA website as well as the monthly Romance Writer’s
Report magazine have excellent articles regarding contract clauses and both are a
wealth of information. Both the RWA national conference and chapter conferences
have offered workshops on contracts. Search the internet to determine what is
standard in the industry. Ask fellow authors what is in their contracts and what clauses
in particular they negotiated. Gathering as much information as possible is the best
3. Create a script in advance. Before you call or meet with the editor or agent, you
should have a mental outline of what you want. Items in that outline should include:
your wish list; your reality list; and a deal breaker item, if there is one.
4. Develop options. Understand in advance that you will not get everything you ask
for. I’m not just talking about money here—there’s so much more to a contract. There
are publishers that do not negotiate royalties or advances. This does not mean,
however, that you cannot negotiate other sections of the contract to your benefit.
What about the author’s grant of rights, for example, foreign rights? Publisher option
clauses? Basket accounting? Author’s rights of reversion in case of publisher
bankruptcy? Or even more basic, what about more free and discounted author
copies? And as for agent contracts, what about the interminable agency clause? There
are many more, but that fertile topic is fodder for another article.
5. Know your negotiation power. This is critical. If you are unpublished and you get an
offer from an agent or editor, you have significantly much less negotiation power than
a NY Times Bestseller. This does not mean you have no power, but you must keep
what you do have in perspective. An unpublished author cannot insist on a six figure
deal and a cross-country book tour. That is demanding and unprofessional.
6. Stay Unemotional. I know. This is your baby. You have spent countless hours
polishing the first page, let alone the first chapter. But remember that publishing is a
business. The agent or editor is interested in selling your book and making money,
not handing out tissue boxes. The most effective negotiators are the unemotional
7. Take a time out. Don’t agree to anything immediately. Wait at least a day, preferably
more, to think things through and clear your mind. Talk to other writers. Your spouse.
Your critique partner. Your attorney, if necessary. That means if you get “The Call”
and are jumping up and down with joy, do not agree to the representation or sign on
the dotted line without waiting the requisite time period. After you calm down, you will
be able to look at the fine print with different eyes.
8. Be professional. Ask, don’t demand. Start out by saying, “I have a few concerns
with the language of the contract…”
You’d be surprised what you can accomplish. Even if you do not get everything you
hope for, you let industry professionals know that you are serious about your career
and your books, and that you are an author who is a worthwhile investment.