Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Writer's Contracts: How to Get What You Want and Not Lose your House.

Negotiation is an undervalued art. And, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't become easier with practice. It just gets less hard.

On average, I negotiate two to three contracts per week, for all sorts of things - uniforms, food, software. Hospitals, rest home beds - even christmas hampers! I've negotiated agreements from $5000 to $50 million. Each negotiation is different; each has its own challenges. 

But by far the hardest contract to negotiate was the one of least value. Value on paper, that is. To me, it represented an enormous amount of work. The reason it was the hardest contract was because this time I was not buying anything - instead, I was selling. I was selling my own work to a publisher. I felt as if I was selling my own soul.

AZ Quotes

Publishing Contracts

Publishing contracts have lots of fishhooks. These can (and have) included: 
  • No expiry
  • Payment delays or discounts
  • Unlimited liability (that is, in the event of a law suit you will fully reimburse your publisher all their costs)
  • Restriction on what you may and may not write next

Writer's contracts are discussed in detail on line - see this Savvy Writers  blog post, or this legal advice courtesy of the Authors Guild

Many Authors' Associations - such as the New Zealand Society of Authors or the Science Fiction Writers of America  - offer a contract review service to their members.

But NONE of these posts ever tell you how to negotiate a better agreement. And this is where I return to the first sentence of this post. Negotiation is an art and it's hard.

 - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Disclaimer: This isn't legal advice; it's guidelines only. If you need legal advice, please see a legal professional.

How I Negotiated my Own Book Contract (and Didn't Lose My House)

My publisher was HarperCollins New Zealand.  I have to say that all the horror stories I read about in Writer Beware certainly did not apply with HC. HC were friendly, approachable and although they seemed surprised that a writer might even want to discuss some of the terms in their offered contract (I got the feeling that writers don't often negotiate very often), they were happy to take my comments on board. 

HC had a two contract model - a summary of offer (I forget the actual name of this agreement). This summary set out key payment dates, amounts and deadlines. They followed this up a few months later with their more detailed full contract. 

I signed the summary and started working with my editor. Once I received the full contract I scanned it for the commonest fishhooks (discovered courtesy of the internet and including unlimited liability) and asked a solicitor colleague at work to review it. She also had some concerns, and suggested alternative wording.

I phoned the number attached to the agreement - HC NZ draw up their agreements in Australia - and talked through my questions and concerns with them. 'Well, what would you like?' they asked.

I suggested Mary's wording and emailed it to her. She sent that to her legal team, and they came back with something slightly different. I ran this past Mary, she thought it was okay, and I signed the agreement.

My first book didn't sell as well as expected, and so eventually I began another negotiation. Please, can I have my rights back? Again, this was a phone call to the editor (after a series of emails).  Again, HC were understanding, and after some to and froing we came to an agreement and my rights were returned.

I would definitely work with HC again.

In hindsight: although I avoided the worst risks, I didn't obtain as much as an advantage as I could have (and an agent would have done). That's because at the time I didn't really understand the industry. If there's ever a next time I'd be more aware of things like international and national markets, expiry dates, digital, print, movie, TV rights and so forth. 

My Four Tips for Negotiation

Tip One: Plan. 
- What does the other negotiating party want?
- What do I want?
- What must I have?
- What are my risks?
- Where is our common ground?
I've set out more details in a downloadable cheat sheet.

Tip Two: Talk. (Face to face is best. Phone is second. Online chat is third)
- AVOID negotiation via email.

Tip Three: Build a relationship first.
- Emails are fine, but a couple of phone calls generally work better.
- This helps to break the ice.

Tip Four: Negotiation is not a challenge. It's a dialogue. 
- If you don't understand something, ask. 
- Be polite.
- Don't talk about money first.

Want More Information? - Downloadable Cheat Sheet

You can check out this online resource - the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's checklist for negotiations. (This sheet is quite detailed and really is more suitable for large-scale business to business negotiations, although some of the pointers are helpful).

Or you can sign up here for a free cheat sheet.

In this cheat sheet I've set out some of the main points to consider in your planning. 

Like I say, I do this all the time...and I've pretty much made every mistake by now. You may as well learn from them!

Sunday, 13 December 2015


In November 2015 I decided to run a giveaway for my readers - a series of downloadable short stories, called Upon a Time.

All the stories in Upon a Time are based on fairy-tales: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. Except they have a fairy godfather, a mirror programmer (how do you define 'fairest'), and specially engineered glass shoes.

Fun, right? Easy, right? Well, yes and no.

This blog post documents the process, partly for my own reference, so I don't repeat my mistakes, and partly for others, because I really wished I'd had something like this to read before I started.

The Story of My Giveaway

I wanted to do two things with Upon a Time

One: I wanted to thank my readers.

A side note: When you're independent, like me, your readers are the most important thing in your world. (Apart from family and friends, of course!). Traditional publishers have multiple customers: distributors, booksellers, book clubs. I have one: my readers. This does change the focus significantly - astute self-published writers have a very active social media presence for this very reason, and explains perhaps why some of the large publishers have taken a while to discover the power of directly engaging with their readership. My readers are wonderful, intelligent and so kind - I really, really enjoy talking with them on facebook and twitter. I felt it was important that I thanked them for all their support over what has been a very full-on year.

Two: I wanted to find out more about who buys my books.

So I decided to set my giveaway up as a lead magnet.

What's a Lead Magnet?

A lead magnet is an article of value for a visitor to your website. It's also a way to encourage customers to sign-up for more information from you ("to receive a free xxx sign up for our newsletter"). Why on earth would I want people to sign up for anything - I'm not a store, I'm a writer? A lead magnet is designed to extract email addresses from customers. The holy grail of marketing; a targetted market. This is a bit conflicting for me, because I wrote Upon A Time as a present, not a carrot. But what the hey, if it could be both that would be super.

So I decided to ask readers to provide their email address before receiving the link to the short stories.

I wanted to set up this short story collection as an EXPANDING collection. I love serials, and I love the idea of special stories for a select group. I also love advent calenders, the idea of opening a little door and seeing something secret inside. So I wrote this set of stories kind of like an advent calendar. Nutty, I know.

The plan for my Giveaway was that, four times throughout the 2016, I will release another bunch of short stories, for readers to download. By signing up to this collection, they will end up with, by the end of the year, a substantial free book. And hopefully, by the end of the year, I'll have enough content that I can actually put it up for sale in 2017.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?


Martin Scorsese from AZ Quotes

There is no such thing as simple 

Here are the steps (and costs) to doing this Giveaway:

  1. Write the stories. Edit, repeat. Re write.
  2. Create digital files for your giveaway. I splashed out on Vellum to produce epub and mobi and I used a template I'd already created to do the pdf. Another side note. Oh wow, Vellum is so AMAZING. I did all this formatting in an afternoon - it would have taken me all day to do this earlier. I purchased a single use license, but you pay per title, and because this is an expanding book I won't have to pay again.
  3. Engage a cover artist, or do it yourself. I engaged Paper and Sage. Because I'm fussy with my covers, I didn't buy a premade, but if I had this would have made the process a little cheaper.
  4. Build a newsletter on mailchimp. This means figuring your way through the mailchimp software. Not hard, but takes time. (I went with mailchimp because my web wizard, Doug, said it was the best for me. That's how I select website plugins: Doug tells me what to do and I do it.)
  5. Build an email header on Canva. Again, not hard, but takes time to learn the software.
  6. Build a Facebook ad on Canva. Ditto. And, oh no, because I haven't got the pro option (because I'm trying to keep everything low cost), I can't resize the email header. Solution: download the email header as a jpg and upload it again into Canva's uploads files. This means I can't change the elements within the image, but it saves me starting again from scratch.
  7. Test the newsletter. Test the newsletter link. Test everything a hundred times. It won't work the first time (or it didn't for me), so repeat and repeat.
  8. Load the files onto your web page.

Wordpress Issues

This is where it all went pear-shaped. Turns out that Wordpress.org does not accept mobi or epub files. I spent a couple of hours googling 'troubleshoot' and finding bunches of code written by enthusiastic developers that might or might not work. But I'm not Doug: my idea of coding is to write a formula in excel. I didn't want to break my website by adding in something off the internet.

A couple of hours later I found cloud-up, a file sharing site, and recommended by wordpress so I figured probably compatible and not dodgy. I put my precious mobi, epub and pdf files on there. More testing of links, an error in the pdf, a few more fixes. Then - the files wouldn't download from cloudup onto my ipad. Aargh!

By then it was six on a Saturday and my kids and sick husband were hungry. I ordered takeaways.

Oh yes, and I'd sprained my ankle that week. It was huge and swollen and purple, but fortunately not broken. So a day sitting down was actually really good for it, but isn't it always the way, that life gets in the way of your plans?

Next Day:

  1. I embedded a pdf into my giveaway page, and that seemed to open fine. Fingers crossed.
  2. Double checked the links on the newsletter.
  3. I crafted a boosted post on Facebook, using my newly made Canva graphic, and set it off into the world. 
  4. Sent out the newsletter (with its Canva-generated graphic), into the world. 

Outcome so Far:

5 new sign-ups to my newsletter. 5! After all that work. I do wonder about this writing lark sometimes.

50 odd hits on my website. A few shares on Facebook.

I realised I might have made a mistake with the mailchimp software - I forgot to ask people to confirm their email address, so quite possibly they retrieved the file without signing up.

That's not a problem - it was a giveaway, anyway.

Motto: If you're going to give stuff away, don't expect payment

But if these people want to get the rest of the story - if this was you - you'd better get in touch, like my facebook page or something, because otherwise you'll be left hanging on, never knowing what happens to Aroha and the rose.After all, says David Mitchell, there's nothing worse than a story half-finished. It's like a half-finished love affair.

To those of you who did manage to download, Merry Christmas! I do hope you didn't have any technical glitches. And I hope you enjoy the stories.

Don't forget to check in for more. Next release is Valentine's Day.