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How to negotiate textbook contracts strategically

Many textbook authors, especially new authors, are intimidated by the idea of negotiating their contracts, but strategic and artful contract negotiation is essential to ensure that you get the best offer possible.

“It is very important to negotiate your contract, because the first offer will not be the best deal, so you’ll just be leaving money on the table if you don’t negotiate,” said Stephen Gillen, intellectual property attorney at Wood, Herron & Evans.

Michael Lennie, attorney and literary agent at Lennie Literary Agency, considers the clauses regarding royalties, competing works, and the rights to electronic versions of the work to be among the most important portions of a contract to negotiate. In addition, he suggests that authors try to negotiate the reversion clause, which is a clause that determines a date for when the rights to a book will be reverted to the author in the event that it is never published or goes out of print.

Gillen said that “everything is potentially negotiable,” and since one never knows what a particular publisher or editor will be willing to compromise on, his practice is to “ask for everything and then see what happens.”

Both Gillen and Lennie agree that what each author chooses to focus on most heavily during his or her contract negotiations will vary depending on the author’s priorities. For example, Gillen said that if an author is writing primarily for income, he or she may focus primarily on negotiating the royalty rate and getting escalators for increased sales, whereas an author who is publishing primarily to further a career in academia may be most concerned with the publishing schedule and the amount of control over content. In addition, an author who goes on the speaking circuit may have a very different approach, angling for the best discount rate for buying and reselling books on the road.

In preparing for contract negotiations, authors need to determine their objectives and do their homework to learn about the market because publishers will often present a mediocre offer as the standard deal when in fact that is not the case.

To become savvy about the market and recognize a good deal, Lennie suggests that textbook authors speak to other authors in their field to get an idea of the range of royalty rates and other contract stipulations so they will know what constitutes a fair deal. Gillen recommends asking the editor a series of questions very early in the negotiation process to determine what the publisher’s expectations are for the book and what competition it will have. This information can help the author determine how important the book will be to the publishing house which can in turn help determine which royalty rate an author should ask for.

Authors need to overcome psychological barriers before contract negotiations. For example, Lennie points out that contracts are written up prior to negotiations, which gives the false impression that the content can’t be changed. Lennie emphasized: “Authors need to remember that a written contract can be modified through negotiations and is not finalized until it is signed.”

Confidence is also imperative during the negotiation process. “I frequently encounter authors who don’t have confidence that they can negotiate contracts, but the truth is that they have a lot more leverage than they think,” said Gillen. He said that an editor who has made an offer to an author has already made a significant investment in that author and will have lost both time and face if the deal falls through; therefore, he or she will likely be willing to negotiate.

Guide to Textbook Publishing ContractsLearn more about textbook contract negotiations by purchasing Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts, by Stephen Gillen, a partner at Wood Herron & Evans. The book offers a step-by-step guide to the key provisions of a typical textbook contract and how to determine what’s important to you so that you can enter into the contract negotiation process better informed. Buy today. TAA members receive discount pricing.