Author negotiations: the dos and don’ts

Lindsay Sutherland
Lindsay Sutherland is an Acquisitions Editor at Emond Publishing and has been in the industry for 13 years – primarily in the Educational Publishing sector. Lindsay lives and works in Toronto with her husband and son, and when she’s not reading she’s probably watching the Gilmore Girls. Here she discloses her dos and don’ts for successful author negotiations. 

During my time in publishing, I have been a part of many author negotiations. One thing I’ve learned is that, while educational authorship is often different to working with a trade author, there are rules that apply to any author negotiation.


1. See the road ahead

Remember that you are not just negotiating a contract, you are building a relationship. An author needs to trust you and your company and know that you support their needs.  You are laying the groundwork for not just one book, but hopefully for many positive years working together.

2. Set the tone by meeting in person

Since you are trying to build trust and open communication with your author, if possible, face-to-face meetings are best. Discussions about contracts – especially if you are working with them for the first time – are challenging. If an in-person meeting is impossible, a phone call (or through a tool like Skype) is preferable over email, where the tone can be misconstrued.

3. Be accommodating and collaborative

As Dale Carnegie suggests: People support what they help create.  If your author knows that you take their suggestions seriously and are willing to add some of their interests into your contract negotiations, they are far more likely to give on items that you have less flexibility over.


1. Try to sound like a lawyer if you aren’t one

Contracts are often filled with legal terminology which can be confusing and over-complex.  If you think there will be some confusion or apprehension, make sure you can explain the terms in simple language to your author so they don’t feel they are being tricked into something.

2. Surprise your author with email

If you feel there will be a sticking point in an author contract negotiation (i.e. royalty fee, due dates, contributors) take the time to set up a meeting or a phone call to broach the subject instead of hoping the terms laid out in black and white will break the news for you. This can lead to mistrust between you and your author as they might feel you’ll be trying to sneak things by them.

3. Give in to unreasonable requests

You need to protect you and your company’s interests. There are some items that you cannot budge on due to circumstances beyond your control, so do not allow an author to railroad you into making accommodations that will cause trouble down the line.

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