Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Be prepared

If becoming a published author is your goal, I have one piece of advice for you. Be prepared.

Recently, I shared a meal with a friend and told her about the first contract call I received in 2001. Although I knew certain things, I was unfamiliar with and not very good at contract negotiations. While the BET's representative mapped out their offer, I listened intently, taking notes, and then told the editor that I would call her back. I remembered hearing from many reliable sources that you should not commit to anything until you've had time to consider the offer thoroughly.

A week later I accepted BET's offer and received my contract. For days, I tried to make sense of the information BET sent me. It didn't happen. The words on the thirty-odd pages ran together each time I tried to read the legal jargon. Reserves, audio and movie rights were foreign words to me.

Frustrated, I went into my boss's office with the contract, waved the pages in his face, and demanded in a high-pitched whine, "Find me a lawyer!"

Being a priest and a nice man, Father Dave complied and found me a former student of his that was now practicing law. He went over the contract and explained to me what each section meant. He pointed out several areas where I had a little wiggle room for further negotiations. It was a learning experience that taught me to be prepared, learn as much as possible about the publishing business so that when I received the next call, I could discuss the contract and make intelligent decisions about my career.

So, tell me your story. E-mail me, I'd love to know how you handled your first contract negotiation. Please share your experiences. As usual, don't be a stranger.

Karen

3 comments:

Angel Bluestocking said...

Alas, I'm still dreaming. Will let you know as soon as I have a contract to negotiate!

warm wishes

Karen White-Owens said...

Hi Angel,

I believe we all have a story inside us that needs to be told. Your turn to get published will come. Keep working on your manuscript and don't give up.

Karen

Liane Spicer said...

Great advice, Karen. I was lucky to have an agent negotiate my first (and only) contract, but I still pored over my copy and asked her to explain anything I didn't understand.

Once I had a clear picture of what was being offered, I asked her to try and hold on to any rights the publisher didn't plan to actively pursue. She went back to the table and as a result I kept those rights.

The bottom line: writers must indeed be prepared and be informed.