The Business Skill I Wish I Could Grant to All Writers

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From Jane Friedman:

Is it querying? No.

Networking? No.

Marketing? No.

Of course such skills are terrific assets, but if I could wave a magic wand, I’d grant all writers the skill of negotiation. By and large, writers don’t even consider trying to negotiate; they just accept the terms/contract/pay that is initially offered.

This is partly a quirk of an industry where writers regularly get stepped on and asked to work for free in exchange for exposure. Writers might see themselves as without power or agency, which is not unfounded, but it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can’t wait for permission or the “right time” to negotiate a better deal for yourself. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Here are common barriers when you’re negotiating for yourself.

Fear that you’ll lose the opportunity

You’ve spent years trying to secure an agent or publisher, then the contract arrives from the other party. You may be tempted to quickly accept and sign. Because if you make a “fuss,” you’ll look ungrateful, right? If you ask questions, you’ll be a nuisance, a problem person. Maybe the other party will be offended if you ask for a better arrangement, or even retract the offer.

If you’re dealing with someone who works in the business, such as an agent or publisher, they will not be offended by questions or an attempt to negotiate. Just about every arrangement is negotiable on some level (with exceptions for blanket terms of service agreements from tech companies, among others). But few writing contracts or agreements are “take it or leave it”; those that are deserve to be questioned. Many “take it or leave it” situations arise, in fact, from either inexperience or fear. “My lawyer told me not to change the contract” is a familiar line from small publishers operated by people who may not understand the contract they’re sending you.

So what happens if you do encounter someone angry or offended by your attempt to negotiate? First, examine your approach. Is it respectful and in good faith? If you negotiate by saying, “How dare you insult me with this offer! Are you a second-rate operation? Don’t you know who I am!” then you might find the other side less cooperative. But if your approach isn’t combative, and the other side is resistant to answering questions or having a conversation, you have to ask yourself if that’s a business partner you want to move forward with. Your difficulties are likely to compound after signing with a partner that’s non-communicative.

When I negotiated contracts at a mid-size traditional publisher, most authors did not attempt to change the boilerplate contract. Nor did they ask any questions about it. Usually, when they did push, it was for a bigger advance. But they could’ve asked for something much more valuable in the long run: better royalty rates and escalators (increased royalties when certain sales thresholds are met).

But more surprising? Not even the majority of agents negotiated the contract as well as they should have, because they were so advance focused. I wish I could say that your agent will definitely negotiate all the finer deal points, but that’s not the case in my experience. So even if you do have an agent, you should be asking them questions, too.

You don’t know what’s negotiable or what’s reasonable to ask for

One of the big problems in publishing is the lack of transparency around earnings and what other people are getting paid. While there have been community efforts to dismantle this cloak of secrecy, there’s an additional challenge: so many scenarios and terms are unique to each publisher, agent, author, and book. And this is why agents can be so invaluable: they have experience that helps them know where and when to push on behalf of their clients (despite what I mentioned above). So what can you do when working on your own?

Aside from educating yourself by reading model contracts from the Authors Guild, Writer Beware, and other advocacy groups (as well as asking around privately), research your potential business partners to the best of your ability and ask a lot of questions about the agreement or terms, like “Is this typically what you offer?” or “Where is there flexibility in this deal?” You’ll be surprised at how willingly people offer up this information.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

As PG mentioned in the ancient past, negotiation is an acquired skill. It comes more easily to some people than it does to others, but everyone can improve their ability to negotiate.

A great many business schools, at least in the United States, have classes devoted to helping students improve their negotiation skills. Some have departments of Negotiation Science or something similar.

PG’s first exposure to negotiation studies many years ago was from an individual who headed a Negotiation Studies Project at Harvard Business School. A Project was something less prestigious than a department and PG recalls that the Project staff consisted of this individual and a couple of graduate students.

The individual made a presentation at an American Bar Association meeting that PG attended. After the presentation, PG cornered the negotiation expert for an extended conversation and ended up writing a story about Negotiation Studies for The ABA Journal.

Things have changed a lot since then. If you conduct a Google search for “Negotiation Studies”, you will find a plethora of different results, including the following from Harvard, which PG has included with links should you desire to dig deeper:

What are the Types of Negotiation?

In business, there are different types of negotiation, each needing distinct approaches for success.

When preparing to negotiate, business professionals often wonder what types of negotiation are available to them. Some of the most common are distributive negotiation, integrative negotiation, team negotiation, and multiparty negotiation. 

In distributive negotiation, parties compete over the distribution of a fixed pool of value. Here, any gain by one party represents a loss to the other. You may also hear this referred to as a zero-sum negotiation or win-lose negotiation.

Integrative negotiation gives us one of the biggest chances of a win-win. In these types of negotiation situations, there is more than one issue to be negotiated, and negotiators have the potential to make tradeoffs across issues and create value. In many cases, distributive negotiations can become integrative if we take the time to search for additional issues to include. 

Team negotiations are those types of negotiation situations where the negotiating parties are made up of more than one person. These might include union contract negotiations or major business negotiations.

Lastly, mulitparty negotiations include, as you might imagine, multiple parties. These types of negotiation situations might include municipal projects or international negotiations. Multiparty negotiations do require more complex negotiating skills, but there is also more opportunity to find tradeoffs and create value. 

One of the final types of negotiation that you may encounter is the “one-shot” negotiation where parties have no intention of continuing to work together. One-shot negotiations often carry a risk of unethical behavior and hard bargaining if parties believe they have no need to build a trusting relationship.

Learn how to negotiate like a diplomat, think on your feet like an improv performer, and master job offer negotiation like a professional athlete when you download a copy of our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

The following items are tagged types of negotiation:

Why Negotiations Fail


When we think of failed business negotiations, most of us picture negotiators walking away from the table in disappointment. But that’s only one type of disappointing negotiation. Failed business negotiations also include those that parties come to regret over time and those that fall apart during implementation. The following three types of negotiation failures are … READ WHY NEGOTIATIONS FAIL 

Women and Negotiation: Narrowing the Gender Gap in Negotiation


Men tend to achieve better economic results in negotiation than women, negotiation research studies have found overall. Such gender differences are generally small, but evidence from the business world suggests that they can add up over time. … READ MORE 

How to Set Negotiation Goals as a Manager


To encourage the negotiators they supervise to do their best, managers routinely rely on performance benchmarks, the promise of bonuses, and other types of goals. … READ HOW TO SET NEGOTIATION GOALS AS A MANAGER 

When Negotiation Mistakes Compound over Time


When we think of our worst negotiation mistakes, they tend to be recent blunders. But what about negotiation mistakes whose repercussions accumulate over years, even decades? A failed negotiation case study from 1976 shows how carelessly negotiated deals can lead to long-term headaches and losses. A Short Season In 1974, brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna, Latvian immigrant … READ WHEN NEGOTIATION MISTAKES COMPOUND OVER TIME 

Right of First Refusal: A Tool to Negotiate with Care


Among many useful negotiation skills and strategies, a right of first refusal can often benefit negotiators. In a right of first refusal, the right holder is typically given the power to buy an asset on the same terms that the grantor would receive from any other legitimate, prospective bidder, according to Harvard Business School and … READ MORE