Lesson 7: Wow, you’ve actually been offered a contract
As a beginning writer, if a respectable publisher offers you a book contract, sign it. The chance may not come again. As a novice, you’re not worth much to a publisher, so you have little power to negotiate. If you demand a lot of changes to a contract, or cause interminable delays, the publisher may withdraw the offer and go to the next writer on their list. A writer who causes trouble before the contract is signed is bound to be an even bigger pain afterwards.
By all means ask your agent about the contract before you sign, then take her advice. Be wary about taking the contract to your lawyer. Some superstar authors use a lawyer because it’s cheaper than paying an agent 15% of millions, but it doesn’t work for novices. Few lawyers know anything about book contracts or the realities of publishing. If they get involved, they could lose you the contract then bill you for more than the advance you didn’t get.
If you haven’t got an agent, get one now; it’s easy once you have an offer from a publisher. Though publishers are hard-headed businessmen, they tend to think of new authors as amateurs who should be grateful to be published at all. It’s good to be assertive, though if you’re equally hard-headed they may see you as aggressive and difficult to deal with, which is counterproductive to a good working relationship. Let your agent do the hard-headed stuff while you be the nice, creative one who is giving them the product they require to stay in business, and everyone’s happy.
Agents normally take 15% but she’ll earn back her commission in contract concessions, a higher advance and, for established authors, deals you would never have gained by yourself. Therefore she costs you nothing. Once she’s done a deal for you, she’s entitled to her percentage of all income earned from that deal for as long as it lasts, even if you subsequently change agents. For foreign rights or special deals (eg movie rights – as if!), she’ll work through other agents who also get a percentage.
Once you’ve got an agent, never talk directly to your publishers or editors about contractual matters. You could disastrously undermine negotiations your agent is having with them, eg your agent is negotiating hard for a $20,000 advance and you’ve just told your editor you’d be happy with $10,000. Bad move!
Tomorrow – understanding your advance.
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