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.