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There Are No Standard Book Contracts!

Twitter is sometimes just great. I use TweetDeck to give me an overview of a variety of topics and in my #Writers column appeard this entry:

 Some survey data on average advances from different publishers. brendahiatt.com/id2.html

by Livia Blackburne, a neuroscientist who also writes about writing at her blog http://blog.liviablackburne.com/.

That automatically shortened link in twitter leads to an article called Show Me The Money by Brenda Hiatt who has written a slew of, judging the books by their covers, steamy romance novels.

Huge variety in advances and other terms

In the article, Brenda has put together a list of romance publishers, the advances they pay, the royalties they pay for both print and electronic forms, average earn out after the advance has been covered, and other information. In addition to thinking I really ought to try romance writing again, the thing that is striking is the variation from publisher to publisher.

For example, the average advances range from zero to $80,000. Roylaty rates are also all over the map with, if I looked carefully enough, the highest being 50% for electronic rights.

A survey of publishers of non-fiction books would reveal the same sort of variance.

Everything’s negotiable

In short, when a publisher or an agent tells you they are offering you a standard contract what they really mean is they are offering the contract they hope you will sign.

Of course, every publisher has their limits. A publisher who typically pays no advance is unlikely to budge from that position, but they might pay more in royalties than first offered.  A publisher who typically offers $10,000 might got to $12,000 or even $15,000 for a book they really want.

You’ll never know unless you ask!

Don’t say ‘yes’ automatically

It’s so tempting to just accept what’s offered, particularly if it’s your first sale or so. Here’s what I suggest you do:

  • Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself.
  • If the offer is made by phone simply state you’re very interested but you need to see it in writing.
  • When you get the written offer read it carefully, making notes about anything you don’t understand. And it’s very likely you’ll be confused by at least one or two sections.
  • Put it aside over night.
  • Read it again and see if it’s any clearer.
  • Get every single question you have answered to your satisfaction – it’s only business-like to do so.
  • Talk with another writer friend or business friend. You don’t necessarily need an attorney.
  • If the offer is direct from a publisher consider asking them to recommend an agent to help you with the contract. Yes, this will cost you 15% but it’s one of the best ways to get an agent and the agent will want you to make as much money as possible on the project because the more you make the more they make.

Ask if you can get more money up front or a higher royalty or both. You won’t offend them, you’ll sound business like. sk for other changes you want.The worst that will happen is they say ‘no,’ and you can decide to accept or reject their offer.

Publishers need writers. Sure, there’s lots of competition, but it’s not impossible to sell your book, fiction or non-fiction. And if that doesn’t work there’s always self-publishing. They are different business models, that’s all.

How have you negotiated a contract?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by fdecomite

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Clayton Trapp

    I’m being hired by a private individual to write her story. What would be the appropriate and standard split of royalties between the two of us? Thanks for any suggestions

    • That’s impossible to answer. There’s no one way to do it. You have to figure out how you’re being paid, if you’re being paid in addition to royalties… I certainly hope so because there is no guarantee the author will get royalties.

  • Hi, Anne. Do similar negotiation guidelines apply to payment offers for personal essays one might receive from a monthly magazine? Pay for my first accepted essay was embarrassingly low. Is negotiation on first, or additional submissions, accepted? expected?
    Thanks.

    • Anne

      Susan, it never hurts to ask and with a low paying gig if they say no and it ends the relationship that may be for the best… I’ll do a post on this, thanks.

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