Negotiating With Book Publishers – Retaining Creative Control


I was watching the Charlie Rose show online, paying particular attention to interviews with Stanley Tucci and Steve Buscemi.

You’ve seen both onscreen in scores of roles. They’re fine character actors, as well as writers and people who are simply creative in all major areas of film-craft.

Rose asked Tucci how he likes to work with film financiers, especially those who ante-up for small, quirky productions, and his answer was incredibly succinct and insightful:

“You just have to find the person who is going to give you the money and leave you alone.”

This might mean high wealth individuals, bankers, or other sources.

Of course, the trick is the second part of his comment, negotiating with someone who will leave you alone, enabling you to retain creative control and to bring your vision to life.

I’ve found the same challenge in book publishing.

My first editor at Prentice-Hall came to me and asked if I was interested in writing a book based on my seminars.

“I’ve been waiting for your call!” I quipped. “Actually, I want to write two.”

As fortune would have it, we published six books in five years, at least half of which became best-sellers.

We had a very straightforward relationship. I pitched him on an idea and sent a brief proposal, and he approved it. Then, I delivered it before the deadline, and he put it into production. One after another, my efforts showed up in book stores and book clubs.

He “gave me the money,” i.e. the financial clout of a big publishing house, “and left me alone” to generate appealing products.

It’s the perfect formula in a creative undertaking. Talent plus money equals success.

I’ve gone on to publish six more books, and while I’ve enjoyed similar arrangements with some publishers, I’ve noticed they’ve become much more intrusive, trying to micro-manage title selection, cover art, and content.

Their input, while occasionally constructive, doesn’t substitute for my judgment, especially as it regards my audience, whom I’ve come to know through consulting, seminars, sales situations, and other means of contact.

It isn’t that they don’t trust me or my judgment.

They don’t trust their own, and this is the reason they meddle, being paranoid that the titles they print won’t find their way to the shelves of Borders, Barnes and Noble, and independent stores.

A few weeks ago I called off negotiations with a New York based book publisher because her vision of my book and my vision differed. She was interested in publishing her version.

I could see this was a lose/lose proposition nearly from the get-go.

I can’t read her mind, or put myself in a position of doing draft after draft to satisfy her shifting tastes. But I can write MY BOOK. In fact, that’s all any writer can capably do.

If you try to write for them, you’ll be no more than a “contractor,” a scribe for hire. These laborers exist, but typically, we don’t think of them as genuine authors.

The real deals have autonomy, creative freedom. Whatever you do, don’t negotiate this away.

I’ve found it’s better to walk away from an offer that wrests control from you, than to submit.

If they don’t want to do your book, or they simply won’t leave you alone, as Tucci requires, then tell them, “Sorry, we couldn’t do business.”


Source by Dr. Gary S. Goodman

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