“Because most writers have totally unrealistic concepts of how publishing works.” Jim Harrison
This does not mean the terms they’re offering are author-friendly, or typical of the publishing industry, or even the same as their other authors have accepted – depending on whether and how the contract was negotiated, they may be quite different – it’s more like the terms are their template. I call a ‘standard’ contract the place from which to begin negotiations.
Far too many unrepresented authors just sign what they’re given, or ask for a few small changes, because they don’t know what changes they could and should have asked for, or how those changes could have significantly benefited them and the publication and life of their books. In some cases, not negotiating the contract has left authors with no realistic way to get their rights back except at the end of the term.
As an experienced book contract negotiator, I can take over the analysis and negotiation of my clients’ contracts as their representative, and get the improved terms they need. This is the main book contract service I offer.
The publishing industry is unusual, and so even if you have experience in negotiating contracts for another industry, you should still seek advice and help from a specialist negotiator to be sure you’re getting the right terms – it’s all too easy to miss something idiosyncratic to publishing because you’re not looking out for it.
If you are represented by a literary agent, particularly a sole agent or a small agency, it’s worth asking about the negotiation of your contract – will the agent handle it themselves, is there a contracts manager, or do they outsource their contracts work? Make sure the person negotiating your contract has experience and knowledge of the terms the publishing industry regards as standard.
No, that’s not necessary. Most commissioning editors and literary agents have no legal training, and neither do many of the staff members working in the contracts departments of publishers, and this does not affect their ability to negotiate and complete valid contracts.
What really counts is knowledge of the terms commonly used in the publishing industry, and that comes with experience of dealing with contracts at a publishing house or literary agency.
You might think a lawyer is a lawyer and should be able to handle anything lawyer-esque, but specific knowledge counts here. Remember that lawyers specialise, just like doctors – and you wouldn’t go to a gynaecologist for a heart condition.
The lawyers I have dealt with who did not have experience with publishing contracts but nevertheless sought to help their author friend almost always made no appreciable difference, and sometimes made things worse. They asked for changes that revealed how little they understood the industry, and which could not be granted, while failing to ask for changes they could have had and which would have genuinely benefited the author.
I recall one lawyer who represented his author friend had become so confused and paranoid about the concept of ebooks that he ended up accusing the very well-known trade publisher I worked for of being a vanity press, and when I queried his information shouted, ‘Me lawyer, you not!’ and shortly ended the call. His help prevented the publication of a new edition of the book and so cost his friend those sales and their royalties.
Those lawyers were quite wrong to insert themselves into negotiations in areas they were unfamiliar with, and they let their clients down. So, my advice is to beware of lawyers with this level of hubris. (Meanwhile, a couple of my clients are ex-judges – they understand that I have a specialty they do not, so #notalllawyers.)
I am not a lawyer. I have a law degree, but as I didn’t want to qualify as a lawyer, I didn’t continue to the postgraduate course.
Experience. During my time working at one of the UK’s largest and most famous publishing houses, I amended thousands of contracts and negotiated with literary agents and authors all around the world.
I now negotiate with publishers on behalf of authors, and I also advise small publishing houses on their contract terms and negotiations.
Very difficult to say. Some are really quick – the publisher agrees to everything we ask for and the amended contract is signed a couple of days later – and some take rather longer and require discussion over a few weeks.
I have a flat fee for negotiating a ‘standard’ contract of £150.
If the contract is more complicated or is likely to require a lengthy and involved negotiation, I will base my fee on an hourly accounting of my time.
Yes. Although they may take a long time to clear, getting permission for quoted material is often fairly straightforward these days, and the publisher may even have instructions and a form on their website. But, if finding the correct copyright holder is proving difficult, or you have a lot of permissions to clear, or you just can’t fit in the work, I can take over the project for you.
You’re welcome to email me with any further questions.