The immediate response is DON’T. If you want to watch an editor mainline unleaded gas, tell her that you know nothing about the publishing industry BEFORE digging in to negotiate your own contract. Uh huh…been there, and my eyes bled.
I’m not talking to you multi-pubbed authors who have been knocking around the industry for years. I’m talking about the new authors who just completed their manuscripts and the ink on THE END is still wet. New authors don’t know what elements of a contract are negotiable and what’s inviolate, so your negotiating points may send the acquiring editor screaming for the hills. For example, publishers won’t agree to your keeping e-book rights, allowing you final approval on your cover art and manuscript edits, or allowing you to have thousands of free books that you’ll be allowed to sell.
These are deal killers because the publisher is buying the rights to your manuscript and assuming all the financial responsibilities and risk of production, marketing and promotion, and distribution, and they won’t agree to giving you all the artistic control. What it says is that you don’t trust the publisher. If that’s the case, then why sign with them? Ostensibly, you’re signing with a company who can do for your book that you can’t accomplish on your own. It’s counter-intuitive for a publisher to agree to anything that puts their investment at risk, or puts them in a position of competing against their own author.
If you’re offered a publishing contract, get thee to an agent asap, and let them do the heavy lifting. I know, you’re wondering if you can have your attorney look over the contract, and I say an emphatic NO. Literary contracts are a different beast than other contracts, and I’ve seen lawyers unfamiliar with the literary world agree to rotten contracts. Or they try to argue points that no publisher with a firing synapse would agree to.
Agents, on the other hand, do this for a living. No one understands publishing contracts better than a good literary agent. If you don’t have an agent at the time of a contract offer, you’ll probably find a willing agent if you tell them you have an offer on the table and need representation. I’ve experienced this many times, and I’m always grateful because I know my sobriety and sanity will be granted yet another reprieve.
The end run here is that you’ve taken time to write your story, and you don’t want to lose your book to a predatory contract, or because you insisted on things that are highly irregular to the industry. The contract is the most important bridge between you, your story, and the marketplace, so don’t take this step lightly. Get an agent. Pronto.