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."