Congratulations! If you made it to this lesson, an agent has requested your full manuscript and sent you an proposed contract. If you haven’t reached the proposed contract (but have had full manuscript requests) give the agent up to three months to send a proposed contract or keep shopping it around.

Now, you have a legal document in your hands. Like all legal document, it’s written in a special kind of bullshit coined “legalese.” It is designed to confuse, obfuscate, and since it was written by the agent’s legal representative, it is designed to benefit the other party as much as possible.

First, know YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO NEGOTIATE. But you can’t barter what you don’t understand. You have four options: 
1. You are a lawyer or paralegal and can understand legalese
2. You know a lawyer or paralegal who can explain it (copyright lawyers are best)
3. You have the money to hire a lawyer to look it over
4. You know how to use Google to look up each and every term (and know to check if it differs in the agent’s state/district versus yours)

Make sure you know when the agent expects a response by. Ask for more time if you need it. Go over the proposed contract piece by piece until it makes sense.

General things to know:

1. Often the terms are a contract for a period extending past your natural life. Currently, in 2015, copyright lasts 70 years after your death. The agent will often propose that his or her agency or chosen representative will take over his/her responsibilities after your death and the agent’s. This could be a looooooong contract
2. There will be termination clauses- guidelines as to when/how you can terminate the contract and when/how they can
3. There will be a stated cut for the agent from your sales (referred to often as a percentage or fee it is usually 20% for foreign sales and 10-15% for domestic)
4. Any fees the agent has are disclosed – legal fees and editing fees are the only acceptable fees that may be asked for at time of signing
5. Responsibility of costs will be stated – it is acceptable for the agent to ask you to cover in the future postage fees, travel fees, and possibly long-distance phone fees, but in the 21st century when we all have cell phones it’s likely that last won’t appear

Take your time. First you must break down exactly what it states until you understand it all.

Second, you must know what is reasonable. I’ve hit the basics for you, but depending on when you’re doing this (this was written May 2015) and what country you’re in (this was written in the USA) there might be some slight differences. If the agent has asked for anything unreasonable make a note of what it is, and what the reasonable alternative is.

Third, you need to know what you want. There may be some wiggle room. Perhaps your agent demands you use their editing service but you have your own that you prefer to use. Perhaps they demand 15% off your royalties but you really want to stick to 10%.

Wait for any and all offers to come in and compare and contrast. It’s best to find the top three (though in reality you’ll probably just have one) if you have multiples, make your top choice the one closest to what you want.

If you have access to a lawyer who can help you, great! Otherwise, it’s best to brush up on negotiation. You already have the advantage, they made the first offer.

In negotiations you must do a few things:

1. Be prepared – know every possibility
2. Get the other party to make the first offer
3. Know the number/condition you’re willing to accept and what you really want
4. Know what the most ideal (even if unrealistic) numbers/conditions are
5. Start with asking for the most ideal
6. If the agent balks and flat-out refuses to negotiate, drop them and go to another
7. If they will play ball, they’ll come back with only a slight change from their initial offer
8. You respond by saying if you accept that, what other small change you demand
9. They reply in kind and it goes back and forth
10. When you both feel completely screwed but it’s close to the numbers/conditions you are willing to accept, call it a day!

You can only begin the process once you understand everything at stake. Always remember: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO WALK AWAY FROM A BAD DEAL and REMEMBER YOU ARE POTENTIALLY NEGOTIATING YOUR ENTIRE WRITING CAREER, PAST DEATH

Try to be reasonable. Don’t come in with an attitude that you’ll top the best seller list. Less than 2% of all authors do. You don’t get to act like a prima donna even when you are at the top.

Lastly at this step, remember this agent always has more experience as an agent than you have as an author. They deserve your respect. Be polite, listen carefully and hear them out. And if they give you a point-blank reality check with real, logical reasons for their demand, drop yours unless you have an equally reasoned out argument.

Once you are truly comfortable, sign the proper contract and send it to them. Congratulations!

What can you expect now? First off, they should have explained the next step with their contract. Typically it is editing. Often the agent will edit, or require you send it to an editor. Sometimes not…but only rarely.

YOU NEED TO STOW YOUR EGO. Your baby, your vision, is about to be torn apart. Chapters will be moved around, passages and characters will be deleted or you’ll be forced to add new ones, and rewrites of sections. Your agent/editor AND your publisher will do this. Accept it. They know what sells, and now that you’re signed your control is largely gone. Congratulations, you sold your soul, and you have to live it. Take comfort in knowing that this is the best possible path to success.

Once your manuscript is edited, it is your agent’s turn to shop it around to publishers. This can take time. Do not pester your agent. Find out ETAs on response times and wait for them to pass, such as two months, and if you reach that time with no news, then you may call or email. If you are a control freak, relax.

During the time when the agent is shopping your book around the best thing to do is keep working on your next book. Throw yourself into that. Keep busy, keep productive, stand back, and let your agent do his or her thing.

If your agent gets a publisher to make an offer, this time they will explain the legalese and they will negotiate on your behalf. Be confident knowing they will do what is best for you, because that is also what is best for them.

When you get a publisher, they will give you an advance. Know that your agent gets their cut, so it comes to them, and then goes to you, and this can take months. From this point on, your agent will guide you, but here is what you can expect:

1. The publisher will edit your book, often without your approval. This means they may make mistakes such as spelling errors, and readers will blame you. Live with it.
2. It can take up to two years to get it all together for sale
3. They will make a cover and you have 0 input. Live with it
4. They will cover some of your marketing, but it’s important you know how to market your own book

As you will have to do the bulk of your own marketing, in Writing 106 Indie and Legacy join together to learn the ins and outs. For timing, it’s best to start that marketing while the publisher is editing your book.

Congratulations. At this point you have signed with an agent, you’ll be with a publisher soon. You’ve gone further than most people will ever get. If you would like to see a general breakdown of the parts of a contract and what they mean, click here.

Just remain patient, educate yourself, know what you want, and never be afraid to ask for it. Once you have an agent, trust they will do the same when dealing with the publisher. Best of luck!