1) They take time. My first negotiation took a week. This second negotiation has been ongoing for two weeks and may likely go two more at least.
Now, this can be for several reasons. For me, it’s a mix of wanting specific paperwork which is time sensitive and my publisher having numerous events and being a small press. As they are a small press, several large events – personal or professional – can delay negotiations on future projects.
2) Timing is everything.
With a first contract, this might mean just whether you’re negotiating during a busy season or not. With subsequent ones, it is a question of what paperwork you have for the negotiations versus what the other party has. The timing depends on numerous factors with many being outside an author’s control; however, make sure when you submit that you have some documentation, and that you know their reading periods to estimate when you’ll get a response. Be as prepared as possible in the interim. A lot of work – but worth it.
3) Understanding numbers – or having someone who can understand them – is important.
Abstract numbers suck. Some people get intimidated by them and fold to what the other party wants. Some get frustrated and fight or dismiss the numbers. It’s best if you have a basic understanding of statistics or know someone who does and will help you. A quantity of sales associated with a particular price versus cost can seem shocking, but if you can compare the numbers using reasonable statistical methods – you’ll be able to reply in a way that is rational. It’s also helpful to give you an idea if you need to pull back or push forward.
4) If you go in to win, problems will arise.
Negotiations aren’t about winning. They’re about compromise and forming the foundation of a professional relationship. If someone leaves a negotiation feeling like they lost, there is little reason to believe they won’t just go through the motions no matter how airtight your legal wording was. That could mean lackluster marketing which can tank even a really great book.
5) Be prepared to walk away.
No contract is better than a shit contract. During your negotiation, look out for warning signs. If your publisher seems overly sensitive or reactive, consider whether you’re willing to spend the duration of the contract working around that personality. This is more important if you’re a small press author than a large press. Larger presses have several employees, and there’s less likelihood of you working one-on-one with any particular person unless that person runs a particular department. However, most large presses won’t have you negotiating anyways as they don’t generally take unrepresented authors, so your literary agent gets to handle that.
With small presses, there may be only a few employees, so one-on-one time will be pretty high. As a small press author, I deal with every individual in my publishing house at any time with any book. When my publisher’s rooster had a foot problem, I knew about it. That’s how close small presses can be. This can mean making friends and forming a family-like attitude towards your publisher, editors, and fellow authors (if there’s interest, I might discuss this more later).
Know yourself. Know if you’re dealing with someone who will be more nightmare for your sanity than positive for your career.