That actually happened to me years ago. I was offered a contract (my third book contract) with a publisher I’d never worked with before. I went to the library and checked out a book called How to be Your Own Literary Agent and then I went through my contract point by point and made notes on what I wanted to change. That book assured me the publisher would never pull the contract just because I wanted a few changes.
That book was wrong.
I thought the publisher and I had had a nice conversation on the phone; I thought we’d reached an agreement. But three weeks later I got a letter from the publisher. They were withdrawing their offer to publish because they felt like I had asked for too much.
HAD I asked for too much??? Not according to How to be Your Own Literary Agent. But How to be Your Own Literary Agent was aimed at writers who were writing for the adult market. Maybe the children’s market was different?
I contacted my former agent (no, she didn’t dump me because I was “difficult,” she got out of the publishing industry). She looked over my contract and told me I was not out of line. She even tried to contact the publisher on my behalf; they wouldn’t deal with her either. The agent assured me I hadn’t done anything wrong. She said I would’ve really hurt myself in the long run if I’d signed that contract as it was.
But I kept replaying those words over and over in my head: you asked for too much…you asked for too much. WHAT WAS TOO MUCH??? I didn’t even know. People don’t talk about their contracts, so how do you know if the contract you’ve been offered is in line with what other people are being offered? How do you what’s negotiable and what’s not?
Enter Barbara Kanninen’s Picture Book Author Advance Survey!
If you tell Barb what you got, she’ll tell you what other people got. Don’t worry…she doesn’t keep track of names, just publishing houses. Go to her website, cut/paste her questions into her contact form and she’ll e-mail you her survey results. It’s interesting to see who’s paying what (she also separates out first-time authors from veteran authors and agented authors from non-agented authors); whether an author was able to negotiate a larger advance and if so, how much larger; whether the house offers an escalation clause and if so, when does it kick in; whether the publisher pays on retail or net etc.
Now THAT’S a great idea!
By the way, I met up with the publisher that withdrew my contract a few years ago. After my miserable experience, a friend of mine went on to have a very happy relationship with this publisher (translation: she’s sold three books to them) and she couldn’t figure out why things had not gone so well for me. She and I roomed together at ALA and just before we were ready to head back to our hotel, she grabbed my arm and literally dragged me over to that publisher’s booth so I could meet her editor. That editor and I had a very interesting conversation….and three months later, I sold her a book!