On August 15th, in a post I wrote about Luther Henderson titled Why Him?, I wrote, “I am pleased to say that I have been offered a contract, am in negotiations right now, and hope to announce the signing very soon.” Actually, I knew back in June that the contract was coming, and it arrived in the mail in early July. Who knew negotiations would take so long?
Well I am now pleased to be able to announce that I have signed with Scarecrow Press to publish Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson. While this project is near and dear to my heart, the publishing industry powers that be did not foresee a commercial potential significant-enough to interest an agent, so I was left to my own devices. I had been shopping the proposal to various houses for ten months before Scarecrow exhibited interest. From then on it was back a forth negotiations between myself and the house editor regarding contract issues — a time-consuming process.
Of course, the original contract offered was to their advantage. Over the years I have gained a generally familiarity with book and record contracts, but not enough to know what is current industry standard for this genre. As for the process of negotiation, although I do seem to be good at it, I detest the basic construct. It’s like haggling over prices — why some people can fly first-class for the price of coach and others have to pay through the nose makes no sense to me from the consumer standpoint. Similarly, for two authors with roughly the same track record or similar projections for their books in similar genres to end up with far different royalty rates, for example, seems basically unfair. Still, that seems to be the way the game is played, so I needed to bone up on the rules and expectations.
Enter my knight on a white horse: The Authors Guild. I had written several technology trade books in that qualified me for Guild membership, but it was not until my post-cancer days when I began to think of myself as being a Writer with a capital W that I joined. The best benefit they offer (aside from medical insurance, which is no small thing) is their legal support. Any member can send them a publishing contract and receive back a lengthy written analysis indicating which clauses are in line with currently acceptable practices, and suggestions of what could be better. The Guild does not represent the author, but because they see contracts from all the houses, they are in a position to tell you with some authority what is happening in that world; that kind of knowledge is power in a negotiation. Of course, this is exactly what I don’t like — the idea that the company (be it publisher, record company….) tries to benefit from the artist’s or writer’s ignorance. But, as I said, that’s the way it is. So, thanks to The Guild, I was well-prepared.
The consultations are part of what made it so time consuming, plus we did it all in writing — nothing by phone. The publisher sent me a contract. I sent it to The Guild, they responded to me, and I in turn wrote a long letter to the publisher (my house editor) addressing each and every contract clause. I imagine that the editor had to discuss my requests (I never demanded) with “the publisher” and/or the legal department, then prepare a counter offer and send it to me. Then we started all over again, with me going back to The Guild, countering their counter and so on.
One of the clauses I felt strongly about changing was the one prohibiting me from directly selling any copies of the book. From my experience with my last book, Men, Women, and Girl Singers, I know that I can personally sell lots of copies at private parties, jazz concerts, and speaking engagements for schools and organizations. The people at these events are people who buy on impulse, and because I am there. I suggested that unlike the Monterey Jazz Festival where we had our wonderful experience selling the book through the Tower Records booth, my making these types of event-based sales was clearly not in competition with their retail channels. I wrote, “Why should you and I both lose out on such sales? It seems like a win-win situation to me. ” And they agreed.
To me, this is the epitome of a good working relationship, and while I am no expert, I suspect that pursuit of win-win situations may be the key to productive negotiations. I have to say, and did say to my editor, that while the process may have taken longer than I had anticipated, the editor’s pleasant and professional demeanor made it relatively painless. Did I get everything I wanted? Of course not, but I’m not an already-famous writer, and my subject is not Elvis. Still, I will make out alright in the long run if you all buy the book when it comes out and then recommend it to your friends. I’ll give you an advance peek now and then to whet your appetite, so all I ask is that you keep visiting me here at DevraDoWrite.com.