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Ask Daphne! About Negotiating

I’m a midlist author with 25 sales under my belt (all in the last four years). I’ve been pubbed and/or am currently contracted with four different major NY publishers and all sales are commercial fiction: single title paranormal romance & romantic suspense, chick lit, YA and middle grade books. My question is this: in 25 sales, my agent has never gotten even $1 more than the initial offer the publisher made, except for the one time that we had competing bids. Is this usual, or should I be concerned about her negotiating skills?

Dear Midlist –
First of all, congrats! 25 sales in the last four years alone is nothing to scoff at. I’m sure hordes of my readers are already jealous. But let’s get to the meat of your question — is your agent doing enough to drive your advances higher?
Bearing in mind that every negotiation is a little bit different, and there may be extenuating circumstances I’m not aware of, the first thing I wonder is if your advances themselves are going up. You say your agent hasn’t gotten the publisher to raise their offer — but is each individual offer getting bigger? With such a large number of books being bought and to be published in such a short time, your agent likely doesn’t have the ammunition necessary to ask for more money — that comes when you’ve proven yourself with increasing sales numbers, for instance. Of course we want each advance to get bigger as your career progresses, but bear in mind that career progression isn’t just about quantity of books written, it’s also about books being sold. You know, to readers.
There’s also the fact that you’re being published by four different houses, and I assume each house is aware of your other publishers. It’s possible, therefore, that none of them feel the need to throw more serious weight at your books, because any work they do is as likely to help another publisher as themselves. If this is the case, your agent may not be able to get any more money out of them — though it’s always worth asking.
It’s hard to walk away from any deal, but I would discuss talking with your agent in the future and thinking seriously about trying to consolidate your career at one house. Even if this means turning down money now, it may turn out to be more worthwhile in the future.
Actually if you walk away from this blog with one piece of advice, it’s this: Talk to your agent. Don’t get me wrong, I love the questions! Keep them coming! But don’t let anonymous advice on the internet substitute for a real conversation with your representative. If you have concerns about her negotiating skills, ask her to walk you through the latest negotiation. Find out what happened, and maybe you’ll see where her hands were tied, or where she did push for more for you, even if it wasn’t a bigger advance.
Daphne Unfeasible