The Art of Contract Negotiation for Women Writers

We’ve heard it before: Women earn less money and benefits than their male counterparts. But the question is why? I believe the answer lies in the fact that women tend to shy away from negotiation. Women who do ask for more money or benefits are often viewed by society as overly aggressive or pushy. Overwhelmingly, romance writers are women who will find these essential skills helpful when negotiating their own publishing contracts.


As an attorney, I’ve had the benefit of hours of negotiation training and have negotiated scores of civil settlements. Negotiation is a craft that can be studied and learned and will help with every facet of a writer’s career. I plan to blog about specific author contract clauses in the future, but I’m starting out with the very important art of negotiation.  Here are some tips:

 Don’t be afraid to ask.

I know as well as the next writer how hard it is to get “The Call.” I received many rejections before I sold my first book. We are all hesitant to ask for anything after waiting so long, and we feel we should be eternally grateful. But asking does not mean we aren’t grateful. Asking means we are taking our writing careers seriously and that we are intelligent businesswomen who intend to be successful in this profession.

Be Prepared.

Research is key.As members of RWA and our local chapters, we have excellent resources. The RWA website as well as the monthly Romance Writer’s Report magazine have a wealth of information on contract clauses. Conferences frequently offer workshops on author contracts and what’s standard in the industry. And don’t forget to ask fellow authors what is in their contracts and what clauses in particular they negotiated. Gathering as much information as possible is the best strategy.

Create a script in advance.

Before you call or meet with the editor or agent, you should have a mental outline of what you want. Items in that outline should include: your wish list; your reality list; and a deal breaker item, if there is one.

Develop options.

Understand in advance that you will not get everything you ask for. I’m not just talking about money here—there’s so much more to a contract. There are publishers that do not negotiate royalties or advances. This does not mean, however, that you cannot negotiate other sections of the contract to your benefit. What about the author’s grant of rights, for example, foreign rights? Publisher option clauses? Rights of reversion clauses? Basket accounting? Author’s rights in case of publisher bankruptcy? Or even more basic, what about more free and discounted author copies?

Know your negotiation power.

This is critical. If you are unpublished and you get an offer from an agent or editor, you have significantly much less negotiation power than a NY Times Bestseller. This doesn’t mean you have no power, but you must keep what you do have in perspective. An unpublished author cannot insist on a six figure deal and a cross-country book tour. That is demanding and unprofessional.

Stay Unemotional.

I know. This is your baby. You have spent countless hours polishing the first page, let alone the first chapter. But remember that publishing is a business, and the agent or editor is interested in selling your book and making money. The most effective negotiators are the unemotional ones.

Take a time out.

Don’t agree to anything immediately. Wait at least a day, preferably more, to think things through and clear your mind. Talk to other writers. Your spouse. Your critique partner. Your attorney, if necessary. That means if you get “The Call” and are jumping up and down with joy, do not agree to the representation or sign on the dotted line without waiting the requisite time period. After you calm down, you will be able to look at the fine print with different eyes.

Be professional.

Ask, don’t demand. Start out by saying, “I have a few concerns with the language of the contract…”

You’d be surprised what you can accomplish. Even if you do not get everything you hope for, you let industry professionals know that you are serious about your career and your books and that you are an author who is a worthwhile investment.

So have you ever negotiated any type of contract? What’s your best tip? I’d love hear your views, so please share!

And stay tuned  for my next blog on contract clauses.

Tina Gabrielle

In The Barrister's Bed    InTheBarristersChambers   Original Artwork A Perfect Scandal   LADYOFSCANDAL Cover

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  1. A good blog, Gabrielle, and you are right, as women writers we are probably doubly shackled because we are female and grateful. I was lucky to have an agent negotiate for me and I was able to talk things over in a ‘safe’ environment. I took a deep breath and refused the first offer, because after so many years of hard, hard work, I felt I was worth more. It worked, and the offer was doubled. But I was always tactful and reasonable because you end up having to work with your publishing company, daily. Good relations are essential and it is very much a joint effort. Everybody should get something out of it.

    Natalie Meg Evans
    The Dress Thief, a novel of Paris, fashion and deception, available from Quercus Books.

    • Thanks for your comment Natalie. I’m glad to hear you turned down a first contract to get a better one! It’s so hard to do for a writer, but I believe everything happens for a reason and you usually end up better off in the end.

  2. Jenna Blue

     /  June 23, 2014

    Tina, fantastic post! And so true, for many women. I hate any kind of confrontation, and though a contract negotiation shouldn’t be that, I imagine it’ll tie me in knots. Sounds like being prepared, the research, script, and list of options can make all the difference! Thank you!

    • Hi Jenna. I dislike confrontation too, but sometimes negotiation is well worth our anxiety. And yes, a list of options helps!

  3. Great blog, Tina! I was just discussion something along the same line as this with a coworker, the movement to stop labeling girls as “Bossy” and change it to showing “Leadership Skills”. I think society puts such a stigma on girls at an early age, and the result is this, they shy away from confrontation. I had to go back to my publisher about a font change on my cover and it was stressful. Contracts are an entirely different beast, so thank you for the advice. Best, Michele

    • Hi Mcihele. I wish they would encourage girls more in schools to speak up for themselves and to let them know it’s ok to express their concerns. Especially the shy ones.

  4. All very good points, Tina. It’s hard to wait sometimes and not jump right on board without thinking it through. And Michele is so right–some of these things are ingrained in how we speak to/teach little girls. I hope the next generation negotiates their asses off and gets equal pay for equal work.

    • Hi Joanna. I totally get how hard it is to stay unemotional when you work so hard to write the book. It’s something we can all work on!

  5. Diana Quincy

     /  June 23, 2014

    At my day job, many of the men automatically negotiate for a better salary the minute they get hired. Like many women, I do find it difficult to do the same. But I am trying to unlearn some of those behaviors….

    • Hi Diana. I know how hard it is. We tend to shy away from asking for more. We feel like we’re being ungrateful or unkind. But we have to believe we are worth more and our writing is too, and asking is professional and not unladylike!

  6. Hi Tina. ‘m generally not a pushy person but can be when I feel I have leverage. Do you think some publishers (especially small press) are more agreement to contract negotiation if you have an agent? I’m looking forward to your next blog post.

  7. Hi Maria! I think having an agent will help. Some agencies have negotiated previous contracts with publishers. But I also believe you can successfully negotiate parts of the contract as a writer. There’s also some wiggle room.

  8. This is great info and a reminder not to sell yourself short. I’m notoriously bad at asking for anything work-related. Why is that? I’m generally a confident woman. I encourage my husband to negotiate for more all the time. Your post is just the reminder I need that my efforts are valuable, too. Thanks!

  9. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  July 8, 2014

    Hi Tina, what a helpful post. I find it interesting that I’m able to negotiate, be more assertive for myself in my workplace, but when it comes to my writing, I tend to walk a bit more carefully. Perhaps that is the emotional component you mentioned. Great reminder to keep in mind that it’s all business!

  10. Wonderful comment RoseAnn! As writers, our work is “our baby” and we are very sensitive. That’s why it’s so important to take time to think before signing on the dotted line. It’s also helpful to ask family and friends for advice.


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