Thursday, November 29, 2007



For the past six weeks we’ve been talking about the step by step process of coming up with the idea for your book, outlining it, and getting it out there. That whole process probably took anywhere from nine months to several years. Now we’re going to jump ahead even further---the moment when you get that call from your agent or a publisher that they’re interested in your book. It’s a heady moment, one that you’ve been dreaming of and finally it’s happened. So what next? Ready to start celebrating, planning the book parties, the tours etc. etc. But wait, now you start the second part of the process, closing your book deal and the sometimes challenging editorial process.

This week we’re going to focus on the unglamorous but extremely important process of getting that deal closed. The first thing that you want to do is to make sure that you are represented in your negotiations with the publisher. If you have a skilled and experienced agent he or she can usually handle the negotiations. If not, I would highly recommend hiring a lawyer, but not just any lawyer, but one who focuses on the publishing industry and knows what to ask for and how to negotiate these types of contracts. Some people think that all lawyers are the same, but like doctors, most attorneys specialize in one specific area. Just as you wouldn’t want to hire an orthopedic surgeon for an eye problem, you don’t want to go to a lawyer specializing in commercial litigation to close a publishing deal. So when you’re interviewing lawyers ask them who their clients are and how many deals like this they’ve done. If you’re the first, I’d steer clear, because you may end up spending a lot of money on someone who has no expertise in this area. If you don’t know anyone, I’d suggest calling your local Bar Association to see if they can give you a referral to an attorney specializing in representing authors with publishers.

Even after you’ve engaged someone to represent you, (whether it’s your lawyer or an agent) you still need to manage the process and make sure that certain basic things are in your contract. First, you should of course try and get as high an advance as possible, but realistically for most first time fiction authors there will probably be little if any flexibility there. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you may be luckier and get a more substantial advance with the understanding that much of that will be used for research, travel or other items associated with writing the book. Second, you want as much as possible to get a clear idea of what type of marketing the publisher is willing to do for your book. One thing that you should insist on which doesn’t cost them anything is submitting your book to reviewers, preferably magazines and newspapers. I would specify as much as possible certain publications that you want your book submitted to, like Essence Magazine (if you’re an African American writer), Ebony magazine, your local newspaper, The New York Times (depending upon the genre of your book), USA Today and Publishers Weekly.

It’s very important to get your book reviewed and generally only the publisher can submit it for review. Similarly, you should ask that they submit your book to the various online reviewers and book clubs run by the major chains, ie Borders and Barnes & Noble. They are probably not going to submit to anything that will cost them money, but the larger chains don’t charge and only your publisher can submit to them. For many of the other on-line book reviewers you can submit your book yourself. Third, you want them to commit in the contract what the print run will be. So that when you sell out you’ll know how many books that is and what your royalties should be. A note on royalties: make sure that you understand the royalty structure and in particular make sure that there is a commitment in the contract of when royalty statements will be issued as well as the ability to audit the publisher in case you want to verify what your royalties should be. Your attorney should know which of the other so called boiler plate provisions can be negotiated and which can’t. But the items that I’ve mentioned above should be areas where you can get these types of commitments in writing.

Next week we’ll be discussing the editorial process, the next step in the shaping of your book for publication. If you would like more information on my book A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out my website or you can email me at



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