Monday, October 01, 2012


My, how trade publishing contracts have changed over the years!

My first one in 1993 was nine pages long; the latest in 2012 with the same publisher is twenty. The first negotiation was done by phone and was "gentlemanly" with both sides  open to suggestions; my last was by email and discussions not encouraged. Changes were almost impossible to achieve. I felt that the publisher was saying, "It's our way or nothing." They dug in their toes this time round and the negotiation was not a pleasant experience.

I've been pondering this evolution and here are some thoughts:

Creative Commons
  • Perhaps it's the acquisition editor who has taken over from the first one I negotiated with back in the 90s, and the chemistry is no longer as good as it was.
  • Certainly, the changes in the publishing industry over the last few years and the recession have contributed to publishers playing hard ball. Their margins are less and competition greater.
  • I don't feel so valuable anymore. Are authors not the partners in the process we once were? 
  • The royalties offered for the electronic versions are pathetic, which leads me to want to do it myself, but this is a major deal-breaker today. "No e-rights =  no contract," says my publisher. So I'm stuck with fifteen percent, rather than seventy percent. I did point out that my US commercial e-publisher gives fifty percent and was told they were stupid! 
  • I objected to the lack of a definition in the "Out of print" clause for ebooks. They added it: summarizing the legalese, it is "sales of less than 30 e-copies in a year, but only after five years." It was not negotiable.
  • Perhaps it's just my publisher and it's time to move on. 

I would be most interested in hearing from other authors about how trade publishing contracts have changed over twenty years and your experiences in negotiating them.