Maybe the publisher was shortsighted. Or broke. Or maybe the author hadn’t learned the art of negotiation.
What many authors—and some agents—miss when they want to negotiate clauses in contracts is what in olden days used to be called win-win. Both sides need to “win” something in a deal to make both parties feel good and eager to continue a relationship with each other.
Any time an author wants a change they should be clear why they need it. Not necessarily want it, but need it. Will it help him or her? Is it for the convenience of someone else…a co-author or agent but won’t help the author? Is that worth it to the author?
Some publishers simply refuse to negotiate anything in their contract. Authors may see that as draconian. But what authors need to realize is that contracts have cost publishers time, effort, thought and money already. Changes in an existing contract will cost them more. The publisher will first have to check the rest of the contract to make sure there are no other ramifications if they change a clause or two. Even a simple change means the publisher will have to consult the changes in the contract whenever there is an issue… which is additional time and effort. What’s in it for them?
But say it is a simple change. It might cost the publisher very little and the publisher thinks they will gain enough good will to make it worth the effort. That’s a win for both sides. However if the author wants or needs a bigger change later, the publisher may feel their initial gesture wasn’t worth the effort after all. So be careful that the changes you ask for are exactly what you want.
Maybe the author wants a larger change. What is the author willing to give in exchange? Their story, presumably. Is that enough? Is their story worth possibly hundreds or thousands of dollars more to the publisher than some other author’s? After all, some changes can cost that much for the publisher upfront. If the publisher does that, will other authors demand that change? Then it could cost the publisher far more. On the other hand, if the publisher doesn’t think the story alone is worth it but the author thinks publication with that publisher is, what else is the author willing to give up? A longer contractual time to the publisher? Offering all first rights of refusal to the publisher?
The publisher is running a business. The author is running a business. Negotiations between two businesses are done all the time but both sides need to know what they are stepping into and both will want to reach a win-win solution at the end. Remember also that negotiations start before the contract is signed and usually end once it has been. At least one party has little incentive to re-open negotiations after the contract is ratified. Read and be aware of what you are getting into before you start and don’t expect (although you can ask) for additional considerations after you agreed to certain conditions.