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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Approaching a Contract Professionally by Renee Rocco, Publisher, Lyrical Press

First, I’d like to thank the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of Romance Writers of America for allowing me the chance to blog here. Back when I was an author, I was a proud member of RWA (I’m actually going to renew my membership in 2010). Given my writing genre of choice was paranormal, I was actually also a member of FFnP!

My goal with Lyrical Press has always been to offer authors a reliable home for their work. And as a publisher, I’ve had the pleasure, along with my husband Frank, to give many new voices a chance to be heard. The downside of unheard voices is the fact that many authors might not understand the submission process, and if they do get past that stage, are equally unsure of what comes next, mainly in regards to the contract. Now, I’m not going to go on and on about the actual terms of a contract because frankly, although the foundation of a publishing contract is basically the same, the inner workings are unique to each house. So, today I’m going to discuss the best way to query a publisher and the professional way to approach a contract. Relax, neither are all that bad. Seriously.

Most publishers go into a submission wanting to like it. They want to find that shining star…that brilliant new voice. What they don’t want is to be told their opinion before they even have the chance to read the manuscript. As a publisher I don’t want to read in a query how I “will love” your manuscript “because…” or, “if you love Jane Doe’s books you’re going to love mine”. I’ll form my own opinion based on the strength of your story-telling, realism of the characters and your world building skills. Many publishers won’t give a manuscript a first glance if an authors tell us via query how amazing (brilliant, wonderful, etc…) the manuscript is. Or, that the manuscript is going to be the next best seller. Another major turn-off factor is the lack of a query. By that I mean: “Dear Publisher, Here’s my manuscript. Hope it meets your approval”. Queries like this, they often aren’t accompanied by a signature, so I don’t even know the author’s name. Not good at all.

This is what I like to refer to as getting in your own way, and it often prevents an author from proceeding to the next stage - acceptance of your manuscript for publication.

Let’s say you’ve sent a professional and clean (and by clean I mean a query devoid of typos and grammatical errors) query along with your manuscript (which, of course, you’ve polished to a beautiful shine). And let’s say the publisher loves it and offers you a contract. Congratulations! Now the work begins. What work? Be prepared to read. It’s your duty as an author to look out for your interests, just as it’s the publisher’s duty to look after theirs. This doesn’t mean you both needs be at odds during this stage. In fact, it’s just the opposite. You both need to work together to establish a solid foundation for a prosperous working relationship. To do this, the best way to proceed is to take the contract to a lawyer and/or advocate experienced in publishing contracts. Trust me when I tell you legitimate publishers want you to seek some sort of legal counsel. The last thing any publisher wants is an unhappy author later on down the road, who was ignorant of what they signed back when the contract was presented. Contracts are serious business and should never be taken for granted. Never – ever – sign something you are not willing to adhere to for the entire term of the contract. Both the publisher and author are responsible for upholding to what they agree to by signing that legally binding contract (really, I can’t stress this point enough – contracts are legally binding and cannot be broken on a whim).

If you or your lawyer- assuming you’ve taken the contract one - are not comfortable with certain terms, it is your responsibility to negotiate them out of the contract. That doesn’t mean you need to be combative about it. Being polite and professional will get you a lot further during this stage. Think of it this way, would you want to work with a publisher who was combative or rude during contract negations? Of course not. Well, a publisher is no different. It’s all about manners and again, putting your best foot forward for both parties involved.

If, however, certain terms cannot be negotiated out, then a middle ground must be reached between you and the publisher before you sign that legally binding contract (I know. I know. I’m beating this over yours heads). If you’ve gone to a lawyer, it is your lawyer’s job to negotiate with the publisher. If you haven’t gone to a lawyer, that’s fine too, so long as you understand what you’re signing and are able to professionally negotiate the terms of the contract should you choose to do so.

Let me stop here for a second and beg you to not inform a publisher that you are taking – or have taken - the contract to a lawyer if you haven’t. We can see right through that ruse and it makes us a bit uncomfortable. Why? Not only are you beginning the working relationship dishonestly (never a good thing), it tends to come across as extremely unprofessional; regardless of how professional you are trying to seem. Just be honest and let the publisher know you have read over the contract (not, “my lawyer has read the contract and would like these clauses removed or altered…”). I promise you, negotiations will go much smoother and be much more pleasant, rather than something absolutely dreadful if done in a straightforward and polite manner. And if a contract is still not to your liking after negations, don’t be afraid to walk away. Better you turn down a contract than be stuck in a miserable situation for years.

I think by now you get that the key to getting published is more than just a great manuscript. It’s also about professionalism. Publishers want the assurance their authors treat themselves as the business they are. And yes, being an author is a business. The moment you decide to work toward publication, you have made the decision to become a business. A manuscript is not your “baby”. In fact, once that manuscript is published it no longer even belongs to you. Rather, it belongs to readers and is the tool upon which you will build your career.

Good luck with your writing everyone!

Renee Rocco

Publisher, Lyrical Press, Inc.


Lyrical Press, Inc. is a New York based small press owned by the husband and wife team of Frank and Renee Rocco. Our goal is to provide authors with a reliable and pleasant home for their books and offer readers an eclectic mix of quality titles. LPI publishes in both electronic format and Print On Demand for select titles over 60,000 words.

From their Submission Guidelines:

We are a commercial fiction publisher, and as such, our goal is to entertain and satisfy our consumers. Please keep that guiding principle in mind while considering Lyrical Press as a potential home for your work.

Although Lyrical Press is actively seeking erotica and romance and paranormal sub-genres, we welcome all submissions except screenplays, young adult and poetry works.

Our main focus is Erotica and Romance. However, we are actively seeking submissions in these genres (in no particular order of importance):
# Action-Adventure
# Erotica
# Fantasy
# Historical
# Horror
# Humor
# Mystery
# Paranormal
# Romance (all categories)
# Science Fiction


Lisa Kessler said...

Lots of great information!

Thanks for taking the time to share...

Lisa :)

Renee Rocco said...

Hello Lisa. You are so welcome. It truly was my pleasure.

- Renee Rocco

Kathy said...

Renee thanks for you time and words of information. :-)

Tigris Eden said...

This was really great information thanks so much!

LynnRush said...

Great information. Thanks for the post.

Gail said...

Very helpful! Thanks for sharing.