They want you! They really want you, an unrepresented indie author.
And that’s great. But the question is do you want them, too?
There is nothing more thrilling than finding out that a publisher wants to sign your book. You’ve waited on tenterhooks for countless days for that call back—the request for your full manuscript. And then it comes. Bring on the happy dance, seriously. And then comes the call. THE CALL. You know, the one where some sweet-voiced person tells you they want to sign your book. Really, even the most foul-mouthed curmudgeon sounds like a chorus of angels when they offer you a publishing contract.
You calmly, and professionally I might add, speak to this glorious individual who is offering you the long-forbidden nectar of the publishing world, and as soon as the phone is back in its cradle, you celebrate—loudly and joyously. And you should. You’ve worked hard for this and it’s all paying off. You call your mom and your best friend and your husband, in that order. They rejoice with you. You mention the offer on Facebook and type out a shaky Twitter message and then you pass out on your bed for a heart-pounding bit of comatose ceiling staring as your mind races with dreams of bestseller status.
Time passes in a blur now and before you know it, that much-anticipated contract is in your shaking hands.
Well, now you read this article for a bit of a reality check. Today, I’m talking about the phenomenon of contract blindness because now more than ever, you need to be smart.
(Keep in mind, I am not dispensing legal advice here, so please do not take it as such. Rather, this is a common sense wake up call. This article is in no way a replacement for competent legal advice.)
What is contract blindness, you ask? Well, it’s that moment when your common sense flees in the face of your excitement and overwhelming desire to be published. And it’s pushed a multitude of authors into unsatisfying contracts and tense relationships with their publisher.
First, let’s talk about stupid things that smart yet inexperienced authors think when handed a contract. If you are thinking these things, you have a severe case of contract blindness.
#1 The publisher has my best interests at heart. I don’t need an agent or a lawyer.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The offer of a contract may have left you feeling magnanimous toward your potential publisher, but that doesn’t mean you should check your common sense at the door. You are on the cusp of entering into a legally binding contract with a business. Now more than ever, you should seek expert advice. It doesn’t matter how much you can’t afford it, don’t sign that contract without representation from a lawyer or agent.
Tip: Try to leverage your contract offer into representation by an agent who will negotiate a fair contract on your behalf.
#2 I will always, always, always love this publisher who gave me a chance and never go anywhere else…ever!
While this may be true for now, there could come a day when you would be willing to sell one of your kidneys in order to get out of your contract. In such a scenario, a well-negotiated contract would be a godsend and a blindly-signed contract could be something that has you kicking yourself for years to come. Save yourself the angst of attending the school of hard knocks and take a long, hard look at that contract. Put yourself in the mindset of the worst case scenario and negotiate accordingly. Keep in mind that while the length of that first right of refusal may seem reasonable now, when you’ve come to hate your publisher with a fiery passion, it will be interminable.
#3 If I negotiate they will pull their contract offer.
Publishers routinely negotiate their contracts to suit the needs of a specific agent or author. If an offer is non-negotiable, look for another publisher.
#4 If I take my time thinking about the contract offer, they will rescind their offer.
It is not unreasonable to take time to consider the offer and the contract. Negotiations can take a protracted period of time—months even. If a publisher is rushing you, consider it a warning sign.
#5 They offered me a contract and are, therefore, wonderful and all things rainbows, kittens and cookies. I don’t need to ask questions about how the company operates.
Yes, the publisher showed fantastic judgment when they offered for your book, but that doesn’t mean the company is as wonderful as it seems on the surface. Do some investigating. It just may save you a boatload of grief.
#6 If I don’t sign this contract, I may never receive another offer.
This type of thinking didn’t work when Mr. Collins tried it on Elizabeth Bennet and it shouldn’t work on you either. If your story was good enough to pique the interest of one publisher, it is bound to interest another. Don’t sell yourself short; the publisher who is your Mr. Darcy is just around the corner. Don’t be afraid to turn an offer down and keep looking.
So, I hope you are thinking a bit clearer now. Since you know what you shouldn’t be thinking, I’ve included a list of questions you should ask and things you should do when you receive an offer.
–Research, research, research
- Talk to your fellow authors and find out what others are saying about this publisher. (If the publisher has a bad reputation, that could harm your sales or image as an author.)
- If you can, talk to authors who are or were with this publisher.
- Look at listing of disreputable publishers and see if the publisher is listed there. (This could indicate the publisher has a reputation for unfair practices with its authors.)
- Take a look at the publisher’s website and catalog. Do they publish books like yours? (If not, that may be a red flag that indicates the publisher lacks direction or will publish anything that is halfway decent.)
–Ask the publisher about their editing department
- Is the editing in-house or contracted?
- What type(s) of editing will your book receive?
- What rights do you have if there is a conflict between you and your editor?
- What rights do you have to refuse changes?
- Can the publisher make substantial changes to the story without your permission?
- How is the editing department run?
–Ask the publisher questions about their marketing department
- Speak to someone in marketing and ask them questions regarding the promotion of your book.
- Get any promises about the promotion of your book in writing.
- Find out how your book will be marketed and where.
- Find out how much of the marketing will fall to you and how much support you can expect from the publisher.
- Ask if the publisher will cover the expenses of promotion—such as signing tours, media appearances, and promotional speaking events.
–Ask questions about the publisher’s distribution channels
- Will you book be published in both print and e-book?
- What stores will carry your book?
I cannot stress this enough. No matter how well read you are. No matter how many articles such as this one you’ve perused. No matter how many books you’ve read or courses you’ve taken on writer’s legal matters, you are still not prepared to negotiate your own contract! Get the specialized representation that you need. If you do nothing else, do this! You need someone representing your interests.