Negotiation Skills: When It’s Better to Be in the Dark

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Adapted from “When It’s Better to Be in the Dark,” first published in the September 2011 issue of Negotiation.

When your agent negotiates on your behalf, it’s generally smart to have her keep you in the loop throughout the process with regular phone calls, e-mails, or meetings. But in a recent article in Poets & Writers magazine, literary agent Betsy Lerner identified conditions in which you might prefer to be uninformed.

When a writer signs with a literary agent, the agent typically sends the writer’s work to a handpicked group of editors at the major New York publishing houses—from as few as three editors to as many as 20, depending on the book’s prospects and the agent’s submission strategy.

After pitching the book’s virtues, the agent must sit tight and wait for the phone to ring.

For both the agent and his client, this is an intensely nerve-racking time.

As the hours and days tick by, the agent might get a call or two from editors who have fallen in love with the manuscript. Should the agent share such promising news with her client? Not necessarily. “I explain that they can either get on the ride with me or go off on a retreat,” one agent told Lerner.

This agent prefers to get in touch with her writers when she has news—“a rejection or an offer, but nothing in between.”

Why would an agent keep information from her client? Because in an era of slumping book sales, an editor’s enthusiasm for a manuscript stands a good chance of being dampened by her company’s editorial board or sales or marketing department. In such cases, the writer’s desire to stay on an even keel may outweigh the benefits of being up-to-date.

Related Negotiation Skills Article: Business Negotiations – Negotiating with Your Agent – When negotiation involves an agent, strategies and expectations are changed. Find out what aspiring author Toby learned when his agent Dara, though supportive and diligent in her job, asked Toby for the compensation due her as a result of Toby’s latest book deal for which Dara had no responsibility in securing.

Beware Your Counterpart’s Biases – Negotiators are encouraged to ‘debias’ their behavior prior to a negotiation by identifying the underlying assumptions that may be clouding their judgment. We have introduced many negotiation skills to help identify common judgment biases – common, systematic errors in thinking that are likely to affect your decisions and harm your outcomes in negotiation. Learn how to grapple with your own biases as well as those of your negotiating counterpart.

Negotiation Skills Tips: Dealmaking – 5 Tips for Closing the Deal – Here are five strategies negotiators can deploy in their next bargaining table session to secure their objectives and successfully close the deal.

Business Dealmaking and Negotiations – Here are some concrete guidelines for fostering a strong relationship between negotiating partners drawn from The Global Negotiator: Making, Managing, and Mending Deals Around the World in the 21st Century.

We Have a Deal, Now What Do We Do – Three Negotiation Tips on Implementing Your Agreement – Learn how to put into action what you’ve bargained for at the bargaining table.


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


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