Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tactical Negotiations

As promised, this fall my guest posts here at Chiseled in Rock will take a look at negotiation tactics.

Many authors know little about negotiation. In fact, for most, that first contract offer is often the author’s first experience with contract negotiation.

When it comes to negotiation, a little preparation goes a long way toward easing tension, calming nerves, and preparing an author to think—and act—with clarity. That’s the purpose of this series ... so let’s get started.

Negotiation is a specialized form of business conversation. The best negotiators are amicable, and people who negotiate from a friendly position often find themselves happier (and getting more of their wishes met) than those who treat the other side with hostility. We’ll talk more about negotiation attitude in a later segment.

Two primary philosophies dominate negotiation theory. The first, called “Zero-Sum (Or Zero-Sum Game)” holds that in any negotiation, one person’s gains are the other side’s losses. In other words: every time I “win” a point, my opponent loses something he or she wanted to obtain.

I’ve never liked Zero-Sum theory. It places a negative, often hostile (and always aggressive) spin on negotiations.

In publishing, contract negotiations aim to create a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship – and that can prove difficult where the initial negotiations look and feel like a bloody war. Although the author and publisher are “opposing parties” for purposes of the negotiation, once a contract is signed, both parties need to be able to work together. If the author and the publisher can create a beneficial relationship and open channels of communication while negotiating the contract, they lay a foundation for a long-term relationship on positive terms.

The alternative to Zero-Sum is Mutual Benefit Negotiation – the idea that, for any given contract, there is a place where both sides can maximize the benefits of and returns on a contractual relationship.

I’ve always preferred to negotiate from a mutual benefit perspective, and found it far more successful than the Zero-Sum approach. This is particularly true in publishing, where the parties are often negotiating contracts that last many years (and sometimes outlive the author).

Step 1 in my approach to negotiations is “viewing negotiation as a process by which a publishing contract reaches a point of maximum mutual benefit.”

You, the author, seek to maximize your returns on your work. The publisher also wants to maximize its returns.

Sometimes authors forget that those goals are not mutually exclusive. Without surrendering rights, or agreeing to terms that are less than fair, it’s important for authors to remember that the publisher’s goal is actually the same as the author’s – to sell as many copies of the author’s work as possible. Finding the right, mutually beneficial, set of contract terms is the first step in that all-important process.

What do you think of Mutual Benefit Negotiation as an alternative to Zero-Sum thinking? Do you use it in other parts of your life as well?


Posted by Susan Spann

Susan Spann is a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing and business law. She is also author of the Shinobi Mystery series, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The first book, CLAWS OF THECAT, released in July 2013 from Minotaur Books. You can find more from Susan at her website, or on Twitter @SusanSpann, where she founded the #PubLaw hashtag to provide legal and business information to authors. 

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