Every day, freelancers and independent artists negotiate deals and make sure they’re treated fairly by clients and collaborators alike. I want to share those stories with you because I think they’re inspiring and important to hear.
This week I talk to author Jodi McIsaac about her experience negotiating her first publishing contract.
I met Jodi at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in October. She’d been a SiWC attendee in the past and this year was invited back as a guest to share her experience self-publishing, and then inking a publishing deal for, her novel Through the Door, the first in her contemporary fantasy series The Thin Veil.
When I asked her how she’d gotten her publishing deal, the story she told me set my negotiation nerd heart all aflutter.
Jodi told me she’d signed on with Amazon’s fantasy and sci-fi imprint 47North and that she’d negotiated the deal herself.
And not only did she negotiate the deal herself, she negotiated it well. She prepared, she did her research and she used a lawyer to help make sure she wasn’t missing anything big.
I was so impressed with how Jodi handled the situation I asked if I could interview her for the blog so others could learn from her experience. She graciously agreed.
Before you negotiated your publishing contract with 47North, what was your experience with negotiation and contracts?
I’d used contracts before for my freelance writing business, and had done a little bit of negotiating in a previous job where I had to hire people, but my experience was very minimal going into this.
What were you most concerned about going into the negotiation?
That I would get hosed! Well, that was a teeny bit of a worry, but I was more concerned I would make a mistake that would lose me earning potential down the road in some unforeseen circumstance.
And I did make some mistakes, but they weren’t huge (not that I know of!). For example, I didn’t retain the right to create other shorter works (like novellas) set in the same world as my Thin Veil series without written permission from my publisher until after the non-compete period ran out. Fortunately, they’ve granted that permission and my first self-published Thin Veil novella will be out in February.
So I’ve learned from this process, and there are definitely things I would do differently a second time around. But for the most part I think I avoided the major landmines.
How did you prepare for the negotiation?
I Googled extensively! I read blogs on contracts and negotiations, and talked to other authors with the imprint (though they were limited in what they could say about their contracts, and I didn’t know the right questions to ask at that time).
The most helpful resource I found was a series of blog posts by agent Kristin Nelson, who is ridiculously talented and very generous with her wisdom. She ran an “Agent 101” series for unagented authors who were negotiating their own contracts. Each post tackled one area of a standard publishing contract and broke it down so that we could understand it, know what to ask for, and know what we were likely to get. It was incredibly helpful, and there’s no way I’d have been able to negotiate this contract on my own without her advice.
Did you use an attorney or another negotiation resource for the negotiation? If you did, how did you use them?
I did the negotiations myself, but hired an entertainment lawyer to go over things once they were more or less complete. He assured me I hadn’t missed anything, but because he’s not a literary agent and not super-involved in the publishing industry (he kept getting 47North confused with Amazon’s self-publishing arm, Kindle Direct Publishing), he also didn’t know what questions I wasn’t asking. So in the future I would find a lawyer or agent with more experience in publishing.
What was the actual negotiation process like for you? Did you negotiate over email, on the phone, in person or a combination of approaches?
We started on the phone and then moved to email. We went back and forth a few times, but the whole process didn’t take longer than a couple of weeks. The boilerplate contract they presented to me was very simple, only about five pages long, and because I had studied Kristin’s blog posts, I knew quickly what I wanted to change. Each time I requested changes, they responded within a few days, which I understand is quite speedy for the publishing industry. So we were able to reach a very happy conclusion for both parties in a short amount of time.
Has your experience negotiating this contract changed how you approach other negotiations?
Yes, in that I’m more confident in what I have to offer. But I also know that I’m not going to catch everything, especially with the rapid-fire changes in the industry. So if I were to negotiate another contract on my own I would probably consult more experts and do even more research. And I’m definitely not against working with an agent in the future.
What would you recommend an author or freelancer do who is faced with negotiating a contract?
Take your time. Research, research, research.
If the other party offers you something, don’t let them wiggle out of it at a later date or during negotiations (I made that mistake, too).
Don’t be so desperate to be published that you’ll let a publisher walk all over you—keep your pride in what you do and what it’s worth.
Talk to other writers or freelancers about their contracts, because they may have addressed something you haven’t even considered (for example, I had no idea I could ask for a bonus based on sales numbers until I talked with another author who had done just that—and got it).
Be bold. You can always negotiate down; it’s hard to negotiate up.
And then congratulate yourself on acquiring a new business partner, avoiding the landmines, and taking a huge step forward in your career.
Jodi’s second book, Into the Fire, came out last month and is available through Amazon in all the many formats they offer. Her third book will be out through 47North in May 2014. You can learn more about Jodi at her website, JodiMcIsaac.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Categories: Fantastic Freelancers