Why this is a mistake: This is such a hard and crazy business that writers tend to take any deal a publisher offers. This is akin to taking the first marriage proposal you receive from the first stranger you meet. You wouldn’t do it in your personal life, and you shouldn’t do it in your professional life. And you know the “til death do you part” thing? That’s what it feels like sometimes. Novice writers don’t understand that a bad deal is much worse than no deal. When you sign a contract, you are locked in. I know best-selling authors who have the yoke of a bad contract signed decades earlier still haunting them.
The solution: This is where it’s helpful to have an agent. But if you’re going it solo, remember to think long-term before you sign any deal. Don’t get greedy. Consider more than just the money. Consider a contract in terms of your career as a writer, even if you have no career to speak of at the time. Imagine that you do, and imagine what this contract will look like in ten years.
You do have a negotiating position. Many writers feel they don’t. They think that if they don’t sign the contract, the publisher will simply offer the contract to someone else. Perhaps the publisher will. Then just figure that some other author will be stuck with the bad contract. It’s a hard mindset to develop as a writer, but sooner or later, preferably sooner, you’ve got to start treating yourself with some respect, because if you don’t, no one else will. I’ve found this particularly true when dealing with Hollywood.