→ Do your best to understand it. Be ready ahead of time by reading (and maybe even printing out and keeping in a notebook) all the blog posts you can find about publisher contracts. Get a book or two if you want. You’re most likely not in a position to pay hundreds of dollars for a professional to look at it, since you may be getting a small advance or more likely, no advance. Watch carefully for language that ties up your rights forever—and ask the publisher to put limits on it. (Watch for my blog post coming soon on reversion of rights—this should help you understand how to do this.)
T. Anne asked: Are all of the publishers marketing strategies addressed in the contract?
→ No, the typical boilerplate contract doesn’t contain a single word of commitment on the publisher’s part for any marketing or promotional strategy. However, when we have authors for whom publishers are competing, we might ask publishers to submit a marketing plan along with their offer, as a way of helping us determine the best publisher for that particular project.
Beth asked: Is it easier to retain subsidiary rights for authors who are first time authors? Is it better to do this?
→ For the typical first-time author who’s project isn’t super hot (doesn’t go to auction), we don’t have a great deal of negotiating leverage, nor do we have compelling reason to retain many of the rights. I normally try to retain performance rights for my authors, but there are a few publishers who don’t want to release them for first timers.
Mary asked: I have read that publishers may eliminate advances as the new world of publishing unfolds. Do you have a perspective on this matter?
→ Well of course, many smaller publishers are already eliminating advances or offering small ones. I doubt the major publishers will do this, but things are changing fast so stay tuned. Personally, I think if the big publishers try to float an advance-free business model, more authors will decide self publishing is the way to go. The choice will be between having control and possibly making more money, or having the cache of a traditional publisher.
Erin MacPherson: I’m wondering how often your negotiations are successful? Like are you often able to negotiate better contracts for your authors or are publishers pretty set in stone and you’re lucky to get one or two of these things changed?
→ First, each contract negotiation isn’t like “starting from scratch.” We’re familiar with most of the publishers’ contracts, we know what to expect, and in many cases, we’ve already worked out the language the publisher will use for the initial contract template for our clients. Beyond that, we are reasonable negotiators—paying very close attention to detail and wanting to do everything possible to protect our clients and get them the best possible deal, yet also knowing what would make sense for the publisher. We want the final contract to be a win-win for the publisher and author. We also know how much leverage we have with each author, and we’re clear on what’s worth walking away over, and what’s not. I’m always pretty happy with the contracts we end up with, although occasionally we end up not being able to get something we requested.
In the next couple of weeks I’ll be addressing contracts further, doing separate posts on Reversion of Rights, Performance Rights, and Royalty Rates.
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