No Agent? No Problem

Author:
Publish date:

Q: I would like to know what an author is to do if a publisher were to offer up a contract to him or her when there is no agent involved?— C. L. Freire

A: Negotiating a book contract is a lot like buying a car—there's some give and take, not everyone will get the same deal and sometimes you have to pass on the sunroof to get the deal done. It's helpful to have an agent, of course, but not everyone has that luxury. So how can you, a first-time author, make sure that you're getting a fair deal?

When a publisher wants your book, she'll make an offer. Most companies have a standard contract, or boilerplate that they use. Nearly all of these standard contracts have language that favors the publisher, so it's up to you to haggle out a better deal. Assume that everything is negotiable, though keep in mind that what's flexible in one publisher's contract may not be so flexible somewhere else. Topics most often open for negotiation are:

- royalty v. flat fee
- anticipated royalty %
- anticipated advance
- expenses to be built in
- second use rights (including electronic)
- free copies of book
- cost to author to buy copies

If there are certain areas that are nonnegotiable, the publisher will tell the author that. Accept it and move on. Also, if you have questions about anything, ask. Contracts are complicated and often need explaining.

Before navigating the minefield of book negotiation, it's essential that you read up on publishing contracts. The Author's Guild offers several tips on how to negotiate a fair contract (http://www.authorsguild.org/?p=101). If you're a member of the National Writers Union, you can hop onto their site (http://www.nwu.org) and get extra advice. Plus, there are several good books on the topic—read as many as you can.

Should you involve a lawyer? I asked Writer's Digest Books acquisitions editor Jane Friedman and she says it's OK to ask a lawyer for advice, but often they can be a real headache if they're not familiar with publishing law. "They may ask for terms or stipulations that are unreasonable," Friedman says.

As long as you've done some homework, you'll be in good shape when hammering out your book deal. The more times you go through the process, the better you'll get. And one day, if you're lucky, you'll be able to get that sunroof.

Brian A. Klems is the associate editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Friday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

Sara Nisha Adams: On the Celebration of Reading in Literary Fiction

Sara Nisha Adams: On the Celebration of Reading in Literary Fiction

Debut author Sara Nisha discusses the impact of growing up reading on her writing as an adult.

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2021

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2021

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 576

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a back to blank poem.

Where Are the Toxic Families in Children's Books?

Where Are the Toxic Families in Children's Books?

Christina Wyman discusses how for children who suffer difficult family dynamics, seeing their experiences reflected in books is few and far between.

the island

The Island

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, build yourself an island.

Nawaaz Ahmed: On Personal Identity in Literary Fiction

Nawaaz Ahmed: On Personal Identity in Literary Fiction

Nawaaz Ahmed discusses how his personal experiences acted as the impetus for his new book, Radiant Fugitives, and how it went from novella to novel.

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

There's nothing funny about learning when to use comedy and comity (OK, maybe a little humor) with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Debut author Shugri Said Salh discusses how wanting to know her mother lead her to writing her coming-of-age novel, The Last Nomad.

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

Does your manuscript need a little more definition, but you’re not sure where to begin? Try these 100 tips to give your words more power.