A convicted madman is on the loose. Police say he's carrying a pen, and where his right hand should be is . . . A CONTRACT!
I know, half of you have stopped reading already so that you can put your head between your knees, take deep breaths, and try to go to your happy place.
Many, many authors dislike contract negotiations. And I mean that they'd rather be in an exam room naked, hearing, "You need a shot, but we've run out of everything except horse needles."
But it's ok. That's not a lawyer scratching at your window, and there isn't an indecipherable clause hiding under your bed.
Envision, instead, that your editor (who is a nice person: just about everyone in children's books is) does not see a contract as a chance for either side to take advantage of the other. It is an agreement--and that means that just like later when you and your editor talk over suggested changes to your manuscript, she doesn't want to win. She wants to agree.
She'll talk to you about the things she thinks are important, and you'll talk to her about the things you think are important. She may ask you to clarify your concerns, and you should have no fear about asking her to explain what parts of the contract are about. Negotiation, to your editor, is natural and friendly (yes, really!). She wants the contract you sign to be one that everyone thinks is fair.
Now, in the wake of the furor around S&S's new boilerplate, it should be pointed out that editors cannot openly disagree with their company's contracts policy, so you should absolutely have read something like Negotiating a Book Contract by Mark Levine. Your editor, who, again, wants you to feel satisfied and fairly treated, will be very happy to discuss changing the company's boilerplate if you suggest it.
Sometimes the changes that authors suggest are not ones that publishers feel are fair to the publishing house, and in those cases we will explain why and hope that you'll understand. If you don't agree, keep talking to us--tell us just what worries you--and we'll really do our best to accommodate your concerns.
There are always several places where compromise is possible. And in order to achieve that compromise, there is no need for combativeness, paranoia, or hyperventilation. We aren't car salesmen or hucksters. Quite the contrary--in a community as small and talkative as children's books, it is in fact bad, bad business sense for publishers to have staff who are going to treat authors as marks rather than as valued colleagues.
This is the first step in navigating contract negotiations: realizing that your editor wants to talk this through with you, and while she'll side with her publisher whenever she has to, she'll side with you whenever she can. Let's face it, she likes you better.