Written by A Guest Author October 22nd, 2020

How to Negotiate Your Way Out of a Publishing Contract

By Dawn Carrington

As disappointing as it can be, sometimes the relationship between authors and publishers can sour. Maybe you’re not happy with the way the company is being run or the way you’re being treated. You’ve decided you want to leave, but it’s not that easy since you’ve signed an enforceable contract. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t make every effort to be released from that contract.

Before you approach the publisher, determine exactly why it is you want to leave. Put together an unemotional list, highlighting the three most viable ones, i.e., publisher is non-responsive, royalties are consistently paid late, and edits are always getting lost. It’s important to create this list when you’re not angry over an email you’ve received from an editor or upset because, once again, you royalty payment is late. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be upset, but you must remain professional.

Review your contract as you’re writing the list. If the publisher guarantees to pay royalties by the 15th of the following month and always pays the 25th or later, you have a stronger leg to stand on when asking for a termination of the contract.  

After your list is ready, put it aside for a few days then come back to see if you still feel like you want to attempt to be released from your contract. Give yourself plenty of time and space to make this decision.

Now that you’ve done that, it’s time to focus on how to approach your publisher.

  1. Always start the initial negotiation process in a professional, discreet manner. That means, don’t start a bonfire on the web about the publisher and don’t begin your discussion by attacking the publisher. There’s no need to use a battering ram when a simple knock on the door might do.
  2. Attempt to negotiate the release of rights using a sales clause in the contract. For instance, most contracts give the publisher the right to remove your book from publication due to lack of sales. If your book hasn’t been selling well, use that clause to approach your publisher. Send a polite request to the appropriate senior editor and ask them to forward the email to the appropriate party if they cannot fulfill your request.
  3. If the publisher won’t release the contract because of a sales clause or there isn’t one in your contract, then politely ask for a return of rights based on your list, basically the reasons you are unhappy. Again, remain polite. This is a negotiation; you don’t want to turn it into a hostage situation.
  4. Again, if you are turned down, tell the publisher you do not feel as though this is a mutually beneficial relationship. Let them know firmly you don’t want to continue with the contract. But, remember, you’re only turning up the heat slightly here.  
  5. Give the publisher a decent amount of time to respond  to each request (at least thirty days). Then follow up if you have heard nothing.
  6. If the publisher refuses, you have two options: get tough or wait out the expiration of the contract. Before you choose either one, take a few days and think about it. Don’t make a mistake which could very well damage your career.  Getting tough will only work if the publisher has breached the contract, not just because you’re unhappy.

Many publishers are amenable to early contract releases if it’s best for both parties and if they are approached in the right manner. Some may ask for you to buy out the contract. If your book isn’t selling, this won’t amount to much; however, if your book is a good seller, the amount will reflect that. You have to decide whether or not you’re willing to buy out your contract, if that’s offered to you.

Ultimately, unless you’re willing to risk a court process, you are connected to that publisher until the contract expires or you are released. So it is important to keep the lines of communication open and calm. Negotiating takes finesse, and if you approach the publisher in the right way, your chances of being released are higher.

Bio: Dawn has been the editor-in-chief of Vinspire Publishing (www.vinspirepublishing.com) since 2004, is a published author of fiction, and a freelance writer with over 500 articles published. She is also a writing instructor, a cover designer (www.etsy.com/shop/coffeeandcocoacovers), and video editor. Her personal website is www.rachelcarrington.com.


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