Negotiating: A Primer

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Negotiating is an everyday occurrence. It takes place at the dinner table when children don’t want to eat their vegetables or when your teen wants to borrow the family car. Little did you know these situations that go unnoticed most of the time have been preparing you for entrée into the world of publishing negotiation. Today, I’ll give you a little primer, and you can chime in with what you would do in various circumstances.

Many authors are going the self-pubbing route these days with valid reason. They have a fresh, well-written book that is worthy of publication. But it keeps getting rejected because traditional publishers currently are risk-averse and reluctant to buy. Either route involves risk for you, the author, as well because there are contracts to sign.

Even the best publishing contracts will naturally be slanted to benefit the publisher’s interests. One little phrase can drastically alter the meaning of a clause. You need an agent or at least an attorney who is familiar with publishing contract language to represent your interests in this kind of negotiation. Your intellectual property and your career are at stake.

Once your contract is signed and your manuscript has been delivered to the publisher, you’ll be negotiating with the editor on Negotiationchanges to your work. Your initial approach should be to acknowledge that he or she is the professional and also is working to bring your manuscript to the publisher’s standards. In other words, the editor is working hard to make your book a success.  

There are times, though, when you won’t see eye to eye. For instance you may feel strongly about retaining the portion that the editor wants to take out. Try to work through it to an acceptable solution for both of you. But if it isn’t going well, don’t risk damaging your relationship and earning “difficult author” status. It could ruin your chances of getting another contract—anywhere. Editors talk among themselves across publishing lines.

The same advice applies with regard to your cover. I always add a phrase in my clients’ contracts allowing them input on the cover design. Always show the proposed cover to your agent. He or she will be able to offer market savvy feedback and help you negotiate for a better cover or intercede, if necessary.

Negotiating skills will be needed when you interact with your marketing team too. Remember those items you listed in the marketing section of your proposal? Your publisher will expect you to follow through on them. It’s no secret that most of the marketing of your book will fall to you, the author. But there are some things you might be able to negotiate to have your publisher do for you. If asked nicely, they might be willing to provide bookmarks for you to send out. Or they might be willing to provide extra free copies of your book for a promotion you’re running.

Pay attention to all the times you negotiate each day. Analyze your successes and failures. What did you do or say that made it go well? It’s helpful practice, and the learning experience will prepare you for when your author stakes are high. I’m traveling today and won’t be able to participate in the conversation, but enjoy sharing what you have learned in negotiating situations and offer suggestions to each other.


Negotiating is a learned skill. Don’t risk going into it uneducated. Click to Tweet.

Have you noticed how many times you negotiate every day? Good practice for your writing career. Click to Tweet.

11 Responses

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  1. Kate says:

    This is a whole new world to me! In what order do you usually hire/build these supports: marketing team, agent, editor, publisher? Do you start when you have a book idea, a finished manuscript, contract or a published book? Thank you for opening my eyes to the business end of things. I am a complete novice.

    • Kate, personally I would like to be represented by a reputable agent before I reach out to an acquisitions editor. An acquisitions editor works for a publishing house.
      Some publishers consider or accept unsolicited manuscripts, some do not. It pays to do your homework and examine the guidelines of each publisher before approaching them. This information is found on their websites under submissions or guidelines.
      With NF titles, one can approach a publishing professional with an idea, but it helps if they already speak or work in the area that they write about.
      With fiction, especially for a pre published author, it’s important to have a completed and well edited manuscript before you reach out.
      This watering hole is a prime place to learn the ins and outs of the crazy, captivating world of writing.
      So glad you’re here. 🙂

  2. When I saw the title of this post my mind went directly to our twelve-year-old daughter who seeks to negotiate everything. I say two cookies for dessert, she tries for four.

    I can’t say I feel overly comfortable negotiating; though I am getting better at it over time.

  3. Jeanne T says:

    Wow, Mary, I hadn’t thought about how many times I negotiate in a day, especially with two pre-teen boys. 🙂 I also hadn’t considered all the ways an author negotiates in the publishing journey. These are good things for me to think on.

    I’m definitely going to be thinking on what works/doesn’t work in my current negotiating each day to make plans for the future. 🙂

  4. How about I don’t do any negotiating? What would you be willing to do in return? 😉

  5. Negotiating? Actually, I don’t do very much of that. The few contracts I’ve had were basically boiler-plate type contracts and there was little room for negotiating. However, your advice is sound, and I’ll keep it in mind for future book contracts.

  6. Mary,

    Thanks for taking a big scary word…”negotiating” ….and relating it to our everyday life, showing us we all use this skill on a daily basis!

  7. Jamie Ayres says:

    With teaching middle school and teens at home . . . I can testify that everything is an argument, I mean, negotiation. HA! Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING, but most things 😉

  8. Oh, wow, I truly needed this article today! I am currently negotiating a contract (agent-less!) with a publisher, and need every bit of advice and support I can get 🙂 Thanks for such an inspiring post!

  9. Mary, thank you for your advice on what a book contract should include and the roles authors, agents, editors and publishers should play in the negotiating process.

    Last evening I had the pleasure of meeting with an editor for a half hour one-on-one complimentary session at our local library. It was very special to get her feedback on my blog. She likes the way I describe it as the backbone for a future memoir.