Thursday, January 04, 2018

How long does my previous agent have her claws into me?


If you get a deal on a book that your former agent submitted to a publisher and have to contact the former agent to negotiate a commission, how much should you offer to pay? What would be a fair amount?

I think it’s fair enough to pay the former agent in most cases (as they did earn a commission by submitting it or editing it), but what if the agent was incompetent and you later find out from an editor that they never submitted the original manuscript? Do you have to pay the commission then?

I recently just got word from two editors that they never received a manuscript my agent pitched to them and claimed she submitted to them a year ago! They asked me to resubmit. If they buy the book, it looks like I still have to pay my former agent. It doesn’t seem right.

First, your contract with Previous Agent should address how long she has claim to any commission. Generally six months is the outside limit. I've waived this window for some clients on their way out the door (generally those who parted on amicable terms) but I've also held that line on projects I invested time and energy in.

If your contract does NOT include a time period, state law governs. Contract law is state law and thus varies depending on where you live, and what state's laws the contract is considered to be under.  That's in your contract too.

You'll need a lawyer's advice on that point.

But, you can negotiate with her as well. Drop her a line; say you'd like to formalize the time period in which she's entitled to collect, and how much.  I know that sounds scary but it's really better to get things worked out ahead of time.

The other thing is here, if you just pay her and think "bite the bullet, it's done now" and you earn royalties you've established that she's entitled to collect a chunk of those too. And from translation, or film, or what ever other deals flow from this print deal.

In other words, don't just let this slide. Get it worked out NOW before the money is on the table.

I'd also print out those emails from editors and keep those in your back pocket. I wouldn't mention them to start off in any kind of negotiation, but you have that ammo if you need it, or if it comes down to lawsuits or arbitration.

For future reference, when you're reviewing an author/agency agreement, make sure a time period to collect commission on previous submissions is specified. Six months is the longest amount of time you should agree to, for both foreign and domestic.


19 comments:

Ardenwolfe said...

Um . . . yikes.

Colin Smith said...

Don't forget, Reiders, there are lots of tips on things you should think about and questions you should ask when considering prospective agents in the Treasure Chest. I'm sure Janet doesn't mind answering these questions, but you might want to check there first to make sure your question hasn't already been addressed. I'm pretty sure there's something there about contracts. Particularly when it comes to things you should asked agents before signing up.

Colin Smith said...

Of course I meant to say, "...you should ask agents..." Tense confusion--the consequence of being a Whovian... ;)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Just further proof that the struggle doesn't end! Finished a book? Great! It gets more complicated from here. Got an agent? Great! It gets more complicated from here. Got an editor, an offer, an advance, a deal? All together now...

Still, I would guess that if the editors reached out to the author, they must have been pretty interested in the book. That's awesome!

Lennon Faris said...

Colin, I was just about to suggest the Treasure Chest :)

Thanks for the post, Janet. ...Although I hope I and others here (besides poor OP) never need to use most of this advice!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do not like this business of having to change agents or agents leaving me. This seems complicated. I hope I land the exact perfect agent that I can bind until the end of time...

That does not result in either of us praying for the end of time.

Good luck, OP. I hope your deal goes forward unfettered by past relations.

Kathy Joyce said...

Good luck OP. Let us know when the book comes out. I'm making myself a new Goodreads shelf for Reiders Books. Gonna buy and read them all.

Janet Reid said...

I love the idea of a GoodReads shelf for blog readers!

Colin Smith said...

Kathy/Janet: Don't forget, there's the List of Reiders' Published Works in the Treasure Chest. That list includes books, short stories, and flash fiction. You can use that list to help build your Goodreads shelf. :)

Joseph Snoe said...

Very good advice today.

It's best to agree how to resolve tricky situations before they arise.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

JOSEPH, I'll take a tricky situation. At this point I'll take any situation. I know...I'm bad. Not desperate yet, just bad.

Craig F said...

Has there been an upsurge of such quandaries lately? I remember a very similar post here from not too long ago. I don't remember any others like it from further back in time.

I know that there have always been unsalable books out there. It has to be the same for an agent looking for an editor as it is for a writer looking for an agent. Some folks don't fall in love with the same crap as others, but has the percentage of such gone up?

I kind of in 2nns boat, let me get to know an agent first, we can work on the nuptials later.

Kathy Joyce said...

Thx Colin, that's my plan. It's a good list. I appreciate you keeping it up for us.

Steve Stubbs said...

Kathy Joyce:

Create a Goodreads shelf for Janet Reid clients.

Steve Stubbs said...

How about this advice: If you agree to pay people for their time, pay them for their time as per agreement.

Not everybody agrees with that. If you want some hilarious stories about that, read Robert Ringer's business book on how to win in business by intimidating everybody. Be careful about applying what the title's implying. A fellow in a company I worked for rang my office telephone at a moment in which I was away from my desk. He is too important to talk to voice mail. So he stopped by my office to win by intimidating me. He said he was going to bitch to the company president. (I have to answer on the first ring.) But the president was not there, so when my boss walked in, he decided to win by intimidating my boss.

He was intimidating people on the unemployment line after that.

I have heard all kinds of stories about business people trying to stiff employees, creditors, vendors, the tax man, and even the Mafia.

Chiseling the Mafia is not a great way to grow a busiess.

Just cut the crap and pay people what you agreed to pay.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

I'm with E.M. Goldsmith (Elise?). Find the perfect agent, and tie them up, only freeing them when the manuscript is perfected and a seven-figure contract signed. "Bind" till the end of time . . . or at least until I make a few mil.

Ann Bennett said...

Who is Reider or Treasure Chest?

Janet Reid said...

Steve Stubbs
Authors do not pay agents for their time.
Authors may pay lawyers by the hour, but that's not how it works with agents.

AJ Blythe said...

Ann Bennett, Reiders are those of us who are on this blog (Janet Reid/Reider). The Treasure Chest is a resource centre maintained by Reider Colin Smith. It has the list of flash fiction winners, important words of wisdom from this blog etc

There is a link to the blog glossary towards the top of the right-hand column on the blog - it will help with any other acronyms/pet terms we've come up with.

Hope this helps =)