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Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper.  All rights reserved.

TARA K. HARPER
WRITER'S WORKSHOP
Negotiating in General

With the Publisher and with Yourself

Negotiating in General
Do You Know What You Want?
What are You Willing to Give Up?
What Are You Willing to Risk?
Understanding the Other Party's Position
The Bottom Line

Also:
Contracts
Negotiating Contracts and Terms

Freelancing vs. Being an Author


Negotiating in General

Negotiating effectively means:

  1. Knowing exactly what you want.
  2. Understanding what you're willing to give up to get what you want.
  3. Understanding what you're willing to risk.
  4. Understanding the other party's position.

When you understand your position (what you want, etc.) and that of the other party (or parties) involved, you will be in a better position in any negotiatation process.

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Do You Know What You Want?

What do you want to get out of being published? Some people simply want to see their names on the covers of published books. Some want to hold a royalty check and feel the readers behind it.  Some simply want the money. Some writers want to be known as The Author of the famous XX book.  Some want to be adored by thousands (preferably millions) of fans.  Some want to be rich and famous.

There are also authors for whom writing is just another pasttime.  With many of these authors, most of their livelihood comes from retirement monies, a second income, a spouse's income, etc.. Because their livelihood does not depend on their books, many of these authors would rather give up significant rights than risk not being published. Many first-time authors will also give up almost any rights rather than lose that first chance at publication.

Is writing for you a pasttime, a serious hobby, a dream, a career, or a livelihood? Your answer will help you determine what you will be (and should be) willing to give up, to risk, and to insist on.

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What Are You Willing to Give Up?

The biggest question to me is, what are you willing to give up to be published?  For example, does the short-term goal of being published this year require that you sacrifice long-term goals for building a readership, a reputation, and a career?  How much do long-term goals matter if you lose the chance to be published in the first place?

If you start looking at what you're willing to give up to make the dream of being published real, you are starting to look at your dream as a business proposition. You're going to lose some of the romanticism of being An Author.  Setting objectives and goals means that your dream is no longer a distant potential--something to fantasize about; instead, it is an opportunity.  From that point forward, everything you do affects whether or not you move toward or away from the realization of that dream. Are you willing to take responsibility for--and the risk of--realizing or failing at that dream?

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What Are You Willing to Risk?

If you grab onto a publishing opportunity, you risk failing at a dream--losing what to many is one of the Cinderella parts of your life.  Especially with writer-hopefuls, the dream of being published sometimes seems more important than the reality of the work involved in getting published.  It can be a tough decision to make--to risk your dreams on reality.  If you work at a lifelong dream of getting published and fail, you could lose something that probably helped define who you are.  And what is left?  Someone you feel is ordinary or mundane?  Losing a dream can be a powerful blow to your psyche.

However, when people "fail" at their dreams, it is sometimes simply because they didn't believe enough in their dreams to develop the skills to make those dreams work.  Because they gave up on their dreams when the going got tough.  Or because their dreams were not as important as other things in their lives: family, education, war, financial security, etc.

If it was easy to make dreams come true, a lot more people would be walking on the moon, sailing around the world, curing plagues, negotiating peace treaties, producing movies, and modeling.  What is missing for most people is not hope, but rather drive, determination, and perseverance.  No astronaut ever walked in space who didn't persevere in the space program until it was finally, at long last, his turn.  No geneticist sequenced a gene without years, sometimes decades of hard, tedious work.  And no entrepeneur made it big without taking sizeable business risks every now and then.

If you really want to make your dreams become reality, you have to take risks, accept setbacks, and keep your focus on today in order to keep youself moving toward the future you want.  Knowing what you're willing to risk means that you know something about how you can move toward your goals.

Negotiating a contract with a publisher is not the most important part of writing.  It is more important to negotiate first with yourself, so that you know whether what you really want is the dream or the reality it can become.

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Understanding the Other Party's Position

It's easy for you to understand your side of the issue in a negotiation in one of those areas.  Sometimes, however, it's not as simple to understand the publisher's point of view.  In the publishing industry, most conflicts between writers and publishers seem to be over three issues: contracts, content, and promotion.

  1. Contracts--your agent should be helping you with that.  (If he isn't, get another agent.)  Contract negotiation issues are discussed in the contract negotiations file (link at the top of this file).
  2. Content of your work--well, it's like this: the publisher who is putting up the money to produce and distribute the resulting book has a right to insist on certain content (editing fixes, changes, etc.).  After all, they're the ones taking the financial risk, they're the ones who are targeting a specific market, and their name goes on the cover too.
  3. Promotion depends, not so much on your contract, as on how successful an author you've been in the past, how much your editor/publisher believes in your work, and a host of other factors.  For example, how many megalead titles are hitting the stands that month, who is the lead title, the secondary lead, etc.

Content and promotion issues are usually discussed and resolved during the process of producing the book.  In other words, the publisher can't make decisions about content and promotion before seeing what you've created.  The publisher has expectations, some kind of anticipation of the market into which your book is going, a ceiling of resources which can be committed to your project, etc..  What you get out of any negotiation with the publisher is going to depend on all of those things.

Is Negotiation a Process or a Done-Deal?

Before you can resolve any kind of conflict or issue with your publisher, you have to find out whether negotiation is a process or a "done deal."

For example, you might think you're negotiating some issue with your publisher--it might be a contract term, it might be whether your book gets a special place in the publisher's sales booth, etc..  You're talking along, but you don't seem to be getting what you want.  What's the matter?  Well, you might not be negotiating at all.  What you might really be doing is coming to understand the other point of view so that you will give in to it. In this case, the other party is using the process to communicate, rather than change their position.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you should recognize it when it's happening.

If the publisher is communicating, rather than negotiating, you should start asking your agent questions.  Is it because you don't really have a strong position from which to negotiate the publicity you want?  Are the publisher's constraints or resources tighter than what you are comfortable with?  Has a management change at the publishing house affected the backing for your project?  Is an issue with another author affecting the publisher's stance toward you?

When you understand the other party's position, you'll be better able to understand just what you can and can't negotiate, whether it is during or after contract discussions.  Either way, knowing what the other party wants can give you a better understanding of what you, yourself, are willing to risk, what you are willing to work with, and what you will walk away from.

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The Bottom Line

Negotiating with a publisher is no more important than negotiating with oneself.  If you want to be a published author, I'd say you had better know the value you've put on your dream.  You'd also better know how much you're willing to invest in that dream to make it work.  Some of that work will include learning to communicate to prevent or solve problems, rather than use excuses to create problems or vindicate a martyr complex.  It means leaving pride and arrogance and insecurities at the door, because those things have no place in negotiations.  And it means respecting one's business partners.

Courtesy and respect in business can only help in negotiations.  It doesn't mean writers won't disagree with their partners (agents, editors, and publishers), or that they won't sometimes have to walk away from a partnership.  If they do have to walk away, that in itself doesn't mean that the dreams are dead.  The reason "Try, try again" is a maxim is that persistence is as much a factor in being published as is talent or skill.  Northwest author Jean Auel went through 42 rejections and 3 agents before Clan of the Cave Bear was published.  When that novel did finally hit the stands, it ended up a massive best-seller.

What do you want?  What are you willing to give up?  What are you willing to risk to get published?

My advice:   Weigh the risks and jump in!


Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper

All rights reserved.  It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from Tara K. Harper.  Permission to download this file for personal use only is hereby granted by Tara K. Harper.


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