When a writer is offered a contract—whether it’s for publication of a work or for representation by a literary agency—most writers are on their own. They feel flattered by being offered a contract. They’re eager and excited, or they’re humbled and grateful.
Because contract negotiations can be so emotionally charged, some writers find it difficult to negotiate well on their own behalf.
Here are the 5 most important things to keep in mind when you’re negotiating a writing contract.
5. Don’t assume you know everything or that the contract writer knows best. Some writers assume that the lawyer who wrote the contract they’re about to sign obviously knows best about the situation. But as a writer, you must be your own advocate.
Remember: Don’t let an If it were important, I would already know it attitude cloud your judgment. And don’t assume the contract writer is looking out for you. When in doubt, hire a literary lawyer who is an expert and will specifically look out for your best interests.
4. Don’t be overly trusting. It’s only natural that a writer who is flattered by being offered a contract of any sort might be inclined to trust the person offering the contract. After all, if said publisher or agency is smart enough to see that a given writer is worth a contract, doesn’t that make them implicitly better and more trustworthy than the companies that didn’t offer a contract?
Remember: It’s easy to say “I wouldn’t think that” if you aren’t in the thick of it. Just be aware that many writers make the mistake of being too trustworthy when going into an agreement. A healthy amount of care, even skepticism, is important to your writing career.
If you weren’t offered a written contract and were instead offered a handshake deal, remember that it’s okay to ask for something in writing.
3. Don’t rush and don’t allow yourself to be rushed. When you’re offered a contract, it’s tempting to fall in line quickly, agree to everything, and give in to the urge to hurry the process along. Add that with the pressure from a publisher or an agent to sign the contract now, now, now, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Remember: You can take your time. Did it take years to write your book? Months to write your short story? If so, what’s a few days more? Patience in all things related to writing helps.
2. Don’t let gratitude turn you into a doormat. Some writers are ignored for years. So when they finally are offered a crumb of attention from an agent or an editor, it can be easy to become overly agreeable. This can lead a writer to agree to terms that aren’t necessarily in his/her favor.
Remember: You can be grateful and glad without agreeing to everything. If you feel uncomfortable about an element of your contract, talk about it. You and your publisher or agent want the same thing: to come to an agreement that you BOTH can feel comfortable about for a long time. Give your agent or editor the benefit of the doubt, and don’t be embarrassed to bring up any terms that make you feel uncomfortable. If you receive an unprofessional or insensitive response, then you’ll know it’s time to head in a different direction.
1. You have the power in a negotiation.
If you’ve been offered a contract, it’s because you hold the rights to a commodity that’s desirable. That means the ball’s in your court—to an extent.
Agents, editors, and publishing professionals who have been in the business for years can be intimidating to a new writer. And intimidation, coupled with intense emotions, can lead a writer down a slippery path.
So take your time, step back, and remember: Nobody but you owns your writing. And nobody can replace you. You are in a unique position, and you deserve to negotiate a contract that works in your favor.
Photo by Michael Morgan.