Here's the rest of the story:
About a year ago, a small press was very interested in publishing my first novel. I asked you if I still needed an agent.
You said, "Yes" but that I wouldn't find one if I was going with this small press and that what I needed was a good lawyer.
Fast forward a bit and I received the official offer and a pointer to their contract. I was hot to go. I'm over a certain age and wanted to be young enough to savor the joy of my first book in print.
Remembering your advice, I found a literary contracts lawyer (at a very reasonable price through California Lawyers for the Arts).
We went through the contract a couple of times, I made notes, wrote a letter (all vetted by him) and sent it off. Within minutes I received an indignant letter saying the offer was withdrawn. How dare I tamper with the contract, blah, blah, blah. Yikes.
It took about five minutes to move from remorse and mortification to relief. I had dodged a huge bullet. Even if I had violated some rule of protocol, it was clear that we were wildly incompatible.
This providential dope slap was a blessing.
- I was jolted into being patient. I needed to take the time to make sure I had the right fit, agented or not.
- Someone else (not immediate family) loved my novel enough to publish it. That validation gave me confidence.
- Big aha - I needed an agent. This publishing thing is tricky stuff. Whether it's the Ts & Cs or following the right protocol, I didn't know and didn't particularly want to know how to navigate all that myself.
I reworked the query a bit, polished some pages, and made standardized packages of materials (query + nothing extra, query + first five pages, query + first chapter, query + synopsis + first chapter...) so that there was less emotional investment to sending out a query: identify a good agent prospect, tweak materials, send out, done.
And now I do have an agent. Of course, I have quickly learned that there is no slam dunk to landing a publisher just because I have an agent. That journey continues while I continue to write new material.
Even though consulting a lawyer cost me the contract, that was still excellent advice! There are worse things than ending up with the wrong publisher.
I am delighted to hear that you dodged this bullet and ended up with an agent I admire and respect (readers, I redacted the name for privacy)
Any publisher who takes umbrage at negotiating a contract is not a publisher you want to work with.
There are publishers that don't budge on boilerplates, and others that don't negotiate much at all--the problem here is that the publisher got mad when an author asked for changes...as though that was somehow an insult. This is after all a business, not the Roland Park Ladies Tea.