Friday, September 18, 2009

You owe me

There's an interesting post over at Rachelle Gardner's blog about an author who parted company with an agent only to get a bill for the hours she'd spent working on the proposal.

In her usual nice way Rachelle did not just leap up and say "you gotta be kidding me."

She left that for me.

You gotta be kidding!

Agents (legit agents anyway) work on spec. We take on projects with the idea we can sell them. I've put YEARS into working on proposals with clients. I'm not naming specifics; that's not really fair to single out specific books or clients like that but there are books on my sold list that took a lot of work. Books I'm damn proud of.

On the other hand, once a book goes out on submission, it's not quite spec anymore. I've had clients fire me while a book was on submission (other agents have too, I discovered when I called around flummoxed when it happened to me.)

I later learned this client was calling editors directly about the book I'd submitted. There's a clause in the author/agency agreement that says a client will owe a commission to the agent if the book sells to an editor OR a PUBLISHER within six months if the agent did the initial sales pitch.

Would I have held my former client to that agreement? Damn right I would have.

The only reason the client even knew which editors to call was because I'd told him where the book was being sent and to whom. For him to sell it direct, bypassing me, simply wasn't ok with me.

A lot of how rigid I am about enforcing that clause has to do with how the author chose to part ways with me. I've given some authors a written release from the clause, after I've tried my hardest to sell a book, thinking if they can sell it on their own, they did something I couldn't and they should reap the reward.

On the other hand, if I'm in the middle of submitting a book and working hard on it, a client who pulls the plug just to save a commission, or in a fit of pique with me; no exception.

This is all spelled out in the author agency agreement I offer prospective clients. Funny thing is though: this agreement is silent on how much you owe me if you part company before a book goes out on submission. That's cause it never actually crossed my mind to put in a clause that says "you don't me anything unless the book is sold."

22 comments:

Elizabeth Lynd said...

I read that post, too, somewhat slack-jawed. Rachelle Gardner WAS nice about it! And it was so interesting to me because I'd blogged about writers' unrealistic expectations of agents earlier this week--in a blog post with the same title as yours today (so thanks for the chuckle there). By the way, I linked an earlier post of yours in that blog, so thanks again. And especially thanks for this and Query Shark--I really enjoy them both.

David Eric Tomlinson said...

I'd like to start charging agents for the time I spend reading their blogs. Invoice forthcoming ;)

Bobbie said...

It's like not paying a lawyer b/c she didn't win the case. Only "ambulance chasers" work like that: "And you don't pay a cent unless we win!" Is that what people want in an agent? The equivalent of an ambulance chaser?

Stephanie Faris said...

Here's my question, though... If you're an attorney, you bill your client for every hour of work you put into that client's case. If you're a mechanic and someone brings a car in for you to look at, then subsequently decides to take it elsewhere, the customer is still usually billed for the time the mechanic put in. (Depending on the shop, I guess.) To me, an agent's time is money and it seems logical that an agent should be compensated for that time after putting hours of work into someone's manuscript.

I don't get it, though. If someone is going to contact publishers directly, what's the point in having an agent? You're the one with the contacts in the business. Part of the value in having an agent is having someone who is respected in the industry out there working to get you published.

Furious D said...

If agents billed their clients like lawyers, the temptation to just bill clients and forget about sales would overcome the morally questionable members of the agent community. The current system, though imperfect, does make the agent want to make the best deals possible for their clients.

I fully understand the importance of agents. Right now I've had a book in limbo at a publisher for over 4 years, with 2 editors recommending it for publication, but their boss is letting it gather dust, because I don't have an agent to fight for it.

Laurel said...

Someone tried to end-around you? After you gave them the list of who had their book?

Aside from the sheer, cheating, audacity of such a maneuver did they not realize that you would (I hope...please say you did) call the editors and tell them what this person did.

Mean people suck. Cheap mean people suck harder.

Janet Reid said...

Laurel, I didn't have to call the editors. How do you think I know what he did? THEY called ME.

Editors aren't clueless. When a project comes in with my name, and then the client starts calling the editors, they know something is up.

I politely said the author had parted company from the agency. I didn't need to say anything more.

Keith Schroeder said...

Ms. Reid, sometimes you come across rough, but on this issue you are dead on. I doubt any editor will want to work with a writer so unprofessional. If an agent doesn't do her job, she will know before I fire her.

Anyone pulling a stunt like this should be blacklisted. Too bad he wrote a book good enough to represent, so the rest of us have been robbed as well. I think Scalzi would have a name to identify him. Hint: Starts with a D and is the nickname of a president that resigned in the 70's.

Emily C. said...

Wow, Janet. I hoped they dropped the writer. That's playing dirty.
But in this particular case (the one Jessica blogged about) I sided with the author. She said the agent wasn't working out. Nothing was in the contract. It hadn't been submitted yet. She dropped the agent because the writer felt the agent wasn't working for her.
But the idea that someone would drop an agent and submit it themselves just to keep from paying the agent? That's disgusting.

Kristi Faith said...

Perhaps the author should remember the wise adage; "There are three sides to every story, yours, theirs and the truth." The truth has a habit of becoming known.....

I believe writing is a practice in patience, and more patience and then some perseverance and a tad more patience.

For what it's worth-I believe agents go through a lot of hell to work with any self-absorbed and impatient authors, that alone is worth thousands. Thank you for the job you do. (Using 'you' collectively for all the great agents that kindly offer their advice and opinions which always find a way to help, not hinder, any aspiring writer).

TERI REES WANG said...

If my Make-up artist friends are signed with an agency, and they end up booking one, some, or even most of their own jobs...the agency still claims all the credit and commission. It is a partnership. Done.

Laurel said...

Janet: That makes me smile.

Dana King said...

I left an agent last spring. It wasn't as amicable as it could have been, but it wasn't like this. First, I made sure there were no open submissions. She didn't care to represent the book I had just finished, but said I was free to shop it myself, call her when I have an offer and she'll negotiate it for her 15%. It's the submission process that really gets to me; that's primarily why I wanted an agent in the first place. So we parted ways.

She was a little snotty about it, but certainly didn't charge for her time.

To be completely fair, I have no quarrel about how she handled the process for the book she represented. It just didn't sell; I'm willing to blame that on the book. She only wanted to shop it to big houses; I was willing to start low and build. We couldn't get together on that. Would i recommend her to someone else? Yes, with the caveat they should speak about the target publishers in advance.

Watery Tart said...

I agree with you on both counts, and with others who've suggested painfrul torture for the author who tried to get around you after you'd laid the groundwork.

My real point though, is supporting the commissioned set-up of the agent/writer relationship--working strictly on commission is the incentive for the agent to get the very best possible deal for the writer, which is in everybody's interest. It's also how a great many sales jobs work.

Jm Diaz said...

For an author to do such thing, its not just wrong. It is fucked up!

Its no different than when you go through a recruiter or headhunter for a job, and then go and apply for the job directly at the company. The recruiter got you the "in" and then you go try and slick? Employers frown upon that, and honestly, the agent (or recruiter in my example) should be glad not to deal with a person suffering from such a severe lack of principles.

Kyler said...

Had the opposite experience. My former agent said she subbed to an editor, but I never got my reject letter, so I called the office, trying to get a copy, and the editor happened to answer the phone, saying he NEVER saw the project. So my former agent lied to me and I got to submit it myself.

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

It's so hard when agent author relationships go bad. I'm kinda in a tough situation myself. I'm trying really hard to work things out.

It think that's key. When you're having doubts about your agent, approach them and hope they have the maturity to discuss things.

David Edgerley Gates said...

The author-agent relationship is professional and collaborative. I went back and forth for a couple of weeks, working on a proposal with a former agent: the book wasn't high-concept, and admittedly a hard sell. He eventually incorporated some of my ideas and discarded others, and I had no problem with it. This is a guy who's made six- and seven-figure deals for his writers, but we parted company (on good terms) in the end because I simply wasn't a good fit for his stable. No harm, no foul.

Loretta Ross said...

Just one question about the writer who tried to do an end-run around The Shark:

Did they ever find his body?

Travener said...

After all the hell we go through trying to get an agent, it takes a great deal of -- what, temerity? chutzpah? stupidity? -- to just dump an agent like that before your book is sold. Hopefully this is one case where it's true that what comes around goes around.

www.thebiglitowski.blogspot.com

laughingwolf said...

some have brass balls bigger than their egos! lol

Southern Writer said...

I'll bet he got exactly what was coming to him.