Columns > Published on September 3rd, 2014

Path to Publication 3.1: Second Time's the Charm!

After the collapse of my first book deal, I'm back in business—Polis Books will release my debut novel, New Yorked, in June 2015, and has contracted me for a follow-up, City of Rose. This is a monthly column about taking a book over the finish line. 


June 9th. 

That, it seems, is the publication date for New Yorked. Sure, anything could change between now and then. That's many, many months away (can't say for sure exactly, I'm not good at math). But as of right now, that's the date. 

I got another date, too, and this one is even more important: February 1st. 

That's when my second book, City of Rose, is due to my publisher. What happens if I don't deliver? I read my contract in a sleep-addled state and I seem to recall something about finger screws and honey badgers, but that might not be accurate. 

So this will be a short column, as I'm 20,000 words into City of Rose, would like to hit somewhere around 65-70,000, and should probably dump some of my energy into that. (And less energy into Titanfall, a game which I have gotten so good at, it's both impressive and deeply depressing.)

But real quick, I have a column to write, and it's due soon, so here we go...

What happens if I don't deliver? I read my contract in a sleep-addled state and I seem to recall something about finger screws and honey badgers, but that might not be accurate.

How to negotiate a contract

So I'm writing this having just sent off my contracts to Polis Books. Three signed copies. My understanding is that my publisher, Jason Pinter, will countersign, then he'll keep one, I'll get another one back, and the third will be burned during a full moon as tribute to the elder gods.

Publishing, man. It's a strange industry. 

So how exactly does one go about negotiating a contract? 

Damned if I know. My agent, Bree Ogden, handled all of that. I didn't even see the contract until she was sure I'd be happy. I like to imagine the negotiation process is somewhat similar to American Gladiators, but again, this is just speculation. 

But Bree and I had a conversation beforehand, about what my priorities were. Which were: Getting the most out of our sub-rights, making sure I've got a say in the process, and broaching the subject of other published works and non-compete clauses. 

Here's what that means: 

Sub-rights: Publishers tend to want to keep all of your sub-rights, which are things like audio, foreign, merchandising, film and TV, etc. And some publishers have mechanisms in place to sell and capitalize on those rights. But sometimes it can be a little more lucrative to keep those rights, and for your agent to sell them direct. For example, you might get more money selling your audio rights to a publisher of audiobooks, rather than bundle them in with the book rights. 

Involvement: I'm a big fan of getting something in the contract saying you have say in choosing the cover. Maybe not approval rights, but at least consultation rights. This way your publisher can't just slap a dumb cover on it and you find out when it's too late and then you weep softly into your couch because your literary novel has a cheesy bodice-ripper cover. 

Non-compete: Some publishers will include a non-compete clause in their contracts, saying you can't publish anything within a certain timeframe, around the release of the book. The idea is that you don't want to take attention away for their release (though I believe that with search algorithms and the digital market, that isn't really true anymore). But, I didn't want to sign a contract that said I couldn't release something else. I've got a mess of short stories sitting around and am toying with the idea of self-publishing them in a collection. Play at the hybrid author thing. 

So how did I do in my contract with Polis? 

I'm not going to say. That wouldn't be fair. Jason and Bree worked very hard, in good faith, to nail this down. I will say every party came out happy. Here's something I learned during my years in City Hall, as I sat ringside for the land development deal in Coney Island: Nobody gets everything they want. Never. The key to a good negotiation is that both sides walk out happy with what they did get. 

I'm happy. So are Bree and Jason. Best-case scenario, for sure. 

The next steps

It's an incredible feeling of relief to have these contracts in the mail, on their way to Jason, and to be back in business after my last book deal was very unceremoniously canceled. 

Since I've been burned once now, I'm still feeling a little jittery, and will probably remain so until I have the book in my hand and can slap myself in the face with it, to verify that no, I did not accidently ingest a large amount of peyote. 

Coming soon: Cover and edits, two things I was incredibly excited to get from my first publisher, and never did, but Jason assures me are on the way shortly. Once I get those edits, I can start working on the blurbs. I've got some excited names lined up, and can't wait to get this thing out in the world. 

Though I do have one to start off with: Josh Bazell, author of the absurdly fantastic Beat the Reaper (seriously, read this fucking book), who years ago offered to read a draft and gave me some great notes. He recently gave me this gem: 

“Now that even farthest Brooklyn has yuppie bankers all up in its business, it’s nice to be reminded that this city still has places only the dead and Rob Hart know. The New York of New Yorked is a place of heartbreak and murder that I highly recommend you visit.”

—Josh Bazell, author of Beat the Reaper

That's a damn good place to start. 

More soon!

In the meantime, got questions about contracts and negotiations? Let me know—I will answer to the best of my ability. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at www.robwhart.com

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