On the Absolute Write discussion board, I just read a post by a writer who wants to self-publish, but also wants to make sure the manuscript is as good as possible first. The writer said one way to do this was to "pursue a traditional publishing contract, but reject it & self-publish".
The writer added "If I do decide to do something like this, I will be offering the agent his/her stated commission irrespective of whether I trade publish or self-publish."
This sounded both inconsiderate and unethical, and I felt sure agency contracts took this sort of trick into consideration, but I wanted to check with someone who could clarify whether or not they do.
Actually, my author agency agreement doesn't cover this.
It never dawned on me that an author would behave this abominably.
It's one thing to reject a contract offer that is unsatisfactory. Sadly, I have experience doing that. It's never an easy choice, and when it happens, the clients and I spend quite some time discussing the matter before reaching a decision together.
To have a client reject a contract offer and say s/he is going to self-publish, but will "offer the stated commission" is quite a different matter.
For starters, contract offers that I bring to clients usually involve an advance, so that the author and I both get paid before the book is offered for sale.
Self-publishing is much more of a crapshoot on getting paid.
And let's all remember the dirty little secret that people forget to tell you when they tout the many benefits of self-publishing. Most traditionally published books don't earn out. If you self-publish and sell to EVERY SINGLE PERSON who would buy the book from a publisher, you're probably not going to make as much money as you would with an advance.
Yes you might earn more money. Most people find they don't.
But the deeper problem is that this writer thinks that an agent's time and expertise are available to him at no cost. If the book doesn't sell, he feels he has no obligation to pay the agent at all, even having turned down a contract that would have paid them both.
This is the kind of statement from people who tout self-publishing that makes everyone reach for their light sabers.
I will tell you that if this happened to me, I would fire the client, but only after I consulted my attorney about what civil recourse was available to me.
Even after answering this question, I don't think I'm going to change my author agency agreement. I prefer to approach potential clients with the belief they are people with honorable intentions, not nefarious scalawags out to fleece me.