Sunday, 4 August 2013

How to negotiate your publishing contract - David Thorpe

You've got an agreement from your publisher to publish your book. Hurray! Congratulations!

At some point afterwards they will be sending you a contract to sign. You might be overjoyed to receive it but you must still remember to check especially the terms of the advance and royalties before signing.

If the terms are not as pleasing as you would like, and you don't have an agent to negotiate on your behalf, you mustn't be afraid to be assertive, stand up for yourself and say what you would like it to contain.

(Often, nowadays, terms are so keen that what you might gain an advantage and financial return by having an agent to negotiate for you, you might lose because they will take their 15%.)

The publisher can only say no to your requests. At this point, having said yes, they are not going to refuse to publish the book, nor should you worry about getting a reputation for being difficult.

In these negotiations the publisher obviously wants to get the best deal for themselves, and so do you.

Therefore they will almost always start by offering terms that are more favourable to them than they are to you. They actually expect you to come back and disagree about something.

The point of the negotiations is to reach a position that agrees is reasonable.

These days, a frequent point of contention is often the level of royalties considered to be reasonable for electronic versions of your book.

Without mentioning any names, I'm going to let you in on what happened in negotiations with a contract I signed this week.

This is my fifth book for the same publisher, and I know they were particularly pleased with this proposal.

However, I also recognise that times are hard for publishers and over the years my advances have more than halved, accounting for inflation.

In return I have managed to secure from them a rising scale of royalties depending on sales numbers.

But this time around they began by offering an even lower advance. When I pointed out (as I always do) that I make all of my money from writing, and without a higher lump sum upfront I could not write the book without starving, they agreed to give me the same amount of advance as before, this time all of it upfront, with a further amount upon publication.

In return, I waived royalties on the first two years' sales, representing, in their eyes, two print runs.

I also secured some other concessions from them. So far so good.

Then I noticed that in the contract was a zero percentage for royalties on all electronic versions, forever.

I sent a note saying that I found this disturbing, particularly since on average these days half of sales are for electronic versions, and this proportion is rising.

In the end they suggested a percentage I was happy with and I signed the contract.

Perhaps I could have got up a higher percentage. Some people, like the Society of Authors, argue that royalties on e-books should be 50%, since costs for publishers are lower.

I'm not so sure, since in my experience correspondingly more needs to be spent on marketing of e-books in order for them to secure attention in an increasingly competitive market.

The moral of this story is: don't be afraid to ask for what you think is rightfully yours.

If you need support, and you're a member of the Society of Authors, you can obtain legal advice from them for free, without the need for an agent.


Sue Bursztynski said...

If you're comfortable with your publishers, there is no reason you can't come to a reasonable agreement that satisfies everyone. Sounds like you and your publishers did this.

Elen C said...

I'd disagree about an agent not being able to negotiate up to cover their 15%. It's probably true if you're selling one right to one territory, but an agent tries to do much more than that - audio rights, translation, film, and, with fresh manuscripts, they can organise an auction much more easily than a writer alone.
Great news on a new contract, David, congratulations!

Stroppy Author said...

"The publisher can only say no to your requests. At this point, having said yes, they are not going to refuse to publish the book, nor should you worry about getting a reputation for being difficult."

Absolutely. In fact,they might even think you're a wimp or ignorant if you don't find something to argue about.

As far as I can tell, the highest e-royalty you're likely to get is 25%. SocA is overly optimistic.

Although the royalty and advance are important points, there are lots of other clauses you should examine just as carefully. I've done a whole series of blog posts on How to Read a Publishing Contract, collected together on this page. Yes, use SocA to check contracts if you don't have an agent. I'd add to Elen C's point that not all books are likely to attract audio, translation, film rights, etc and so in those cases an agent might have a hard time earning back the 15%. I don't have an agent for non-fiction for that reason

Somerset Hedgerows said...

Well, I'm not a writer, I just mozy over here sometimes to see how things are going...

However, I do rather feel that these days, if a publisher is sending out a proposed contract with 0% on the royalties for e-versions, then it might be the moment to think about a different publisher.

David Thorpe said...

I'm v happy with my publisher, Somerset. As Stroppy says, they expect you to shout about something. Elen - maybe you're right but it depends on the type of book and its audience.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

What I managed to do with a publisher on E-Book Royalties was to ask for a check point after 5 years to renegotiate a Rising Royalty. (the publisher won't have further costs on an E-Book at this stage) and also to be able to terminate if satisfactory sales levels weren't reached (but precluding huge discounts so as to reach these levels)

All this was done with the help of the Soc of Authors.

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