Help! Someone Wants to Publish my Book
After months of sending query after query, refining my approach and then sending more queries, I finally got that one positive response I had been waiting for.
I think everyone who writes a book, and probably many who only think about writing one, dream of that moment when a publisher says YES. In my dreams, it was a moment of total joy and excitement. While there was a lot of that, there was also a lot of uncertainty and doubt – and a sense of feeling completely overwhelmed.
Let me tell you the story of how it happened.
Early one Saturday morning in March this year, I woke up to an email from one of the many publishers/agents I had queried. It was a short email. All it really said was that they loved my book and would like to publish it and that they would be in touch the following week with a contract.
Obviously, my initial response was total excitement. This is what I had been waiting for – for months. But pretty quickly, a sense of disbelief crept in, and I could help but wonder if this is for real. It kind of felt too easy. I had expected that an interested publisher would have some questions for me first or would want to see the full manuscript. I didn't expect to get an offer right away. And then I remembered all the stories I had heard from other writers about companies that pretend to be publishers but then make the author pay for services and essentially do nothing but printing the book (something you can do yourself these days). Or publishers who make writers hand over all the rights without really giving them anything in return.
I'm usually pretty good at positive thinking, but in this case, doubts and scepticism took over. It didn't help that is was Saturday morning, and with the publisher being in the UK, I would have to wait till at least Tuesday morning before I would hear anything else from them.
I looked the company up online and quickly established that they are a genuine publishing business and that the people I had been in touch with were real people who work at that company. I also couldn't find any negative comments or feedback from other writers about them (and usually writers are quick to share negative feedback when publishers rip them off). I felt a bit better after that.
But it was still one of the longest weekends of my life, desperately waiting for them to send the contract the following week.
When the contract finally arrived, I initially felt relieved. It was a 'real' contract from a 'real' company, and they were going to pay me an advance which made me feel a lot more confident that they are a genuine traditional publishing company. But that initial relief was quickly replaced with feeling completely overwhelmed with the legal language and detail in the contract.
In parts, it felt like I was reading a foreign language.
I spent the whole day after receiving the contract deciphering it. I went through it line by line and made sure I understand all of it. I googled words and expressions I didn't know, and I read countless articles about publishing law and contracts to make sure I knew what is standard and what isn’t.
There were a few things that I thought were worded in a way that could be interpreted in different ways, so I asked the publisher for clarification. They were awesome throughout this whole process, always answering all my questions in detail and helping me understand what I would be signing. Of course, that helped a lot in making me feel more comfortable to sign a deal with them.
One thing I realised when it comes to reviewing and negotiation publishing deals is that it helps a lot to know what matters most to you. I knew that keeping certain rights was a lot more important to me than how much money I would make. I could have tried to negotiate a slightly higher advance or royalty percentage, but other things mattered more to me, so I focused on those.
It was imperative to me that I would keep ownership of the content and framework that makes up my book. My book is non-fiction. A big part of it is a process to help readers find their personal path to a happier life based on their unique personality, values and strengths. I wanted to make sure that I had the right to use this process for things other than books – for example, workshops, speaking engagements, etc.
Another thing that was really important to me was the scope of the contract. The initial version of the agreement implied that this contract would also cover all future books I write in a related field. I understand that a publisher wants the rights to a possible sequel and I was happy to grant that, but for me to be comfortable with it, the wording needed to be more specific. My book is about finding happiness which is a very wide field, and I was worried that almost any other non-fiction book I write could be considered related.
While those were the two most important things to me, there were a couple of other things I negotiated:
I made sure there was a deadline in the contract until when the publisher had to get the book to market, otherwise the rights would revert back to me
I made sure the contract specified that the publisher would publish the book in print and ebook in key countries – the deal was for global rights, but of course, it's hard for a publisher to commit to publishing in every country in the world. But I wanted to make sure the key ones are covered
Understanding what was important to me was really important in two ways. First of all, it made me nervous to go back to the publisher with requests for changes to the contract. I was worried that they would be annoyed with me being 'complicated' and would withdraw the offer. Understanding what's most important to me helped me figure out what I was and wasn't willing to compromise. It helped me figure out that I would rather not get a publishing deal at all, then singing one that would mean I lose my rights or sign over the rights for all my future books. That made it easier to negotiate, as I knew if they can't give me what I want in those areas, I'm better off without a deal.
Secondly, once I had worked out what was most important to me, it was much easier to go through the contract and identify the parts that might need clarification or changes.
There ended up being a bit of back and forth between the publisher and me for about a week. It didn't help that they are in the UK while I'm in New Zealand, which means they work while we sleep. I had several nights where I woke up every couple of hours to check if there had been a new message. But I was really pleased with how responsive they were and how they always took the time to answer my questions in detail. They agreed to make changes to the contract to address my concerns and to give me what was most important to me, so that, in the end, I had a publishing contract that I was happy to sign.
I don’t think I will ever forget the moment I got to sign a publishing deal for my first book!
Looking back now, I realise that I was completely unprepared for getting a positive reply from a publisher. I had invested so much time and effort into writing my book and the querying process, but I had never once stopped to think about what I might need when that elusive offer does come.
I've since learned that some associations and groups offer contract review services you can use to help make sure you fully understand what you're signing. That might have been a valuable resource for me at the time.
However, I’m not sure I would have done anything any different if I had to do it again because I think I would be scared that preparing for the dream outcome would jinx it…
But I hope reading about my experience helps you if you find yourself in a position where you need to negotiate a contract. My number one tip is this: Make sure you know what's most important to you!
That's the story of how I got my publishing deal. In my next post, I will share what it has been like to work with the publisher to finish the book and prepare for market launch – which is now set for the 28th of October.
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