If you're a first-time author, how would you know whether your agent is dispersing funds to you promptly? Does the publisher alert you when the check goes out?
A pal of mine who is also a publisher once told me about an agent that would call him up and say "where's my fucking money?" the exact day any kind of payment was due.
It became a joke between us such that *I* would call him and utter the phrase.
Of course, it cracked me up so much I barely got two words out before guffawing.
That said, if a publisher or agent is late paying you, it's no laughing matter.
When your money is due is spelled out in the publishing contract. If you are offered a contract to publish anything and it doesn't include a clause about when you will be paid, and when any royalty statements will be issued, get it added to the contract, or don't sign.
Payments made for on-signing, and on-publication are both date specific.
On signing is when both parties have signed the contract.
Unless specified it means the check for that amount should be remitted within about ten days. Often we get the check with the counter-signed contracts (counter-signed means the publisher and the writer have both signed.)
On publication payment is when the first edition of the book hardcover or paperback is published. Again ten days.
On delivery and acceptance is different. The manuscript can go through many edits. It might take months. A LOT of non-fiction takes years.
Royalty statements are made up (prepared) independently of the advance payments. They are calculated for a time period (generally six months in trade publishing) and issued to the writer some months later.
Royalty period January1-June 30 is sent to the author in October (all of the same year)
Royalty Period July 1-Dec 31 is sent to the author in April of the following year.
A competent agent knows when royalty statements are due.
I keep a spread sheet because I want to make sure that even if BigWheeze Publisher has sent royalty statements this week, I want to make sure we got them for all 12 clients published there, not just 10.
And thus, if you are a writer, and your contract says you should get statements in October, and you don't get them by 10/31, you email your agent and ask.
If the agent says "yup, just got 'em" or "yup, got 'em and they're being processed" you're good.
If the agent says "uh...I thought we got those" or "gee I guess I better call BigWheeze" you know you've got a problem.
You do NOT fuck around with a client's money or royalty statement. Never.
If your agent has received your money, the only reason it should not be on its way to you is that the check from the publisher has not cleared the bank.
If you have serious doubts about whether your agent is behaving ethically about money, you can get in touch with the AAR if the agent is a member, or the Authors Guild if you are a member. And of course, you can ask the publisher to pay you directly.
When I say serious doubts I do not mean that on 10/1/year you have not received a statement or a remittance.
I mean you haven't gotten one AFTER it's due, and AFTER you've asked the agent about the status.
And just a word of advice: never plan to use that money when it's due. Planning to pay your tax bill on 4/15 from money you expect to receive on 4/10 is asking for a snafu.
We've had publishers send checks to wrong addresses.
We've gotten paid for books that aren't ours.
Publishers have paid the wrong amount.
Publishers checks have bounced.
In other words, we all operate in the real world here, and leaving room for that will make you much much happier.