Recently at a writer’s conference (not RWA) I got what I’m uncertain was a compliment. A young writer (and I say young because I’m over 40 and she’s not) who had a meteoric rise to the top of the publishing world asked me, “Well, Maggie, as an author with a mature publishing career what are your thoughts?” At first I thought, ‘hey, she wants my opinion, and must think I’ve gleaned some knowledge. Wow. Look at that.’ But then after further review, (and a margarita) I couldn’t help but wonder if by mature, she didn’t simply mean old, because as I become a woman of ‘a certain age‘ I start to recognize these code words utilized by younger people… But, hey, what I’ve decided to do is take this ‘mature career’ idea and run with it, because I do have thoughts about publishing, lots of them.
I’m an author, a producer, an attorney, and a former subsidiary rights and motion-picture literary agent in Hollywood. My thoughts about publishing and entertainment come from this unique perspective (you can call it odd). This perspective allows me to provide my clients, colleagues, and peers advice with regards to the marketplace in both publishing and entertainment. After twenty years as a practicing attorney, sixteen years working in Hollywood, and eight years as a published author I’ve seen, heard, and experienced enough to have opinions.
But you know what they say about opinions….and how everybody has one.
Keep the above in mind, while I tell you my top three.
- Never sign a contract without having someone smarter than you review it. Notice I didn’t say that the person reviewing the contract had to be an agent or had to be an attorney, what I did say is have someone who understands the area covered in the contract more than you do i.e.: film rights, TV rights, publishing, audio rights…any and all rights, read the contract. Of course, I recommend that an agent or attorney read and review the contract for you. Yes, I believe that agreements must be reviewed even if they’re from small presses—especially if they are from small presses. You need to know what you’re signing. Find someone who is willing to explain to you each and every clause and answer every question you have. Remember there are no dumb questions and if someone brushes you off or makes you feel dumb for asking then fire them and hire someone else.
- Everything is negotiable. Any contract or agreement you’re presented with is drafted in the best interest of the person giving it to you. While you may LOVE your editor and publishing house, you may vacation with your editor, maybe she even attended your daughter’s graduation, and she may in fact be your friend, she still works for the publishing house. The contract she sends to you was drafted by an entire business affairs team with terms most favorable to the corporation which employs them and your editor. You can and should negotiate or have someone else negotiate your contract, because what they’ve presented you with (99% of the time) isn’t as high as they’ll go nor are the terms as favorable as they can be FOR YOU. Do not make the mistake of thinking that your editor is looking out for your best interest, because while she may like you (even LOVE you) she isn’t your agent or your attorney and she isn’t legally bound by fiduciary duty as an agent or attorney is to do what is in YOUR best interest. While your editor loves you and your work, it is in her and her employer’s best interest to get the best deal possible for the corporation that signs her checks.
- If you don’t ask for what you want, the answer is always no. (This is a famous quote from someone much smarter than I.) By asking for what you want, you are not difficult, you are not piggish. You, are a business person with an asset that you have created that is bringing that asset to the marketplace. Ask for what you want. If you can’t ask for what you want, then find someone (or hire someone) who will ask on your behalf. The worst that anyone can say is ‘No.’ Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you ask for what you want you will be labeled ‘difficult’. Trust me, trying to get a better advance or making certain your publisher doesn’t have your book until the end of time doesn’t make you difficult, it simply makes you a smart and a savvy business person.
Okay, those are my top three. Of course after this many years as an attorney and being an author with a mature publishing career, I have loads more tips on publishing and entertainment. If you have questions that you need answered, you’re always welcome to email or call, I’ll do my best to answer and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone for you who does.
Maggie Marr is an author, producer, and attorney. She’s worked in entertainment for over fifteen years and got her start in Hollywood pushing the mail cart. Her boutique (code for small) legal practice is dedicated to the needs of entrepreneurs & creatives. She also writes romance and women’s fiction. When she isn’t negotiating deals or writing books, you can find her chasing her children or the family’s rescue pup. If you want to hear more about Maggie’s life or her books, you can find her at www.maggiemarr.net or on FB at Maggie Marr Books or on Twitter @maggiemarr Her latest book, A Forbidden Love, publishes August 30th and is available for pre-order at iBooks here. Maggie lives and works in Los Angeles.