Monday, April 18, 2016

Author/Agency agreements

Yesterday's Week in Review prompted a commenter to ask:

I found the information about agent/client contracts interesting. You know, there is a lot out there about publishing contracts, but I don't think I've seen all that much about agent contracts. It would be interesting to hear what is covered in these contracts, and what should be negotiated.

A good author agency agreement covers:
1. What work is represented
2. How much commission the agent charges
3. If any other deductions can be made from payments due to authors
4. Time frame in which the agency must remit funds
5. How long the agreement lasts
6. How the agreement can be dissolved
7. What terms survive the dissolution of the agreement

1. Our author agency agreement spells out what work is represented in two ways. The first is that we undertake to represent you for all your publishing deals, and all subrights deals that flow from that (ie audio, translation, film, stage, theme parks, merchandising.)  In other words, we sell the book and we also help you exploit all the other rights associated with your book.

The second is we list which specific work or works will be covered.  I have excluded work on occasion but mostly I'm going to rep everything you write.  The exceptions are works a client wants to self-publish or forms like poetry or screenplays (not associated with a book deal) I don't handle.

2. We charge a 15% commission of what you earn on domestic deals. 10% on subrights. We spell out that another agent will be involved (most likely) in all subrights deals, and that agent also takes 10%.

3. We  can deduct things like postage for over seas shipments or other expenses incurred by us on your behalf.  This excludes operating costs of the agency.  We set a limit on how much we can incur on your behalf ($250) and over what time period (a year) before we need to have further authorization. Generally however, I'm going to tell you if I'm spending your dough.

4. The AAR Canon of Ethics has guidelines on this.  Generally we turn things around in less than a week. That is the check comes to us on Monday, a check has gone out to you by the following Monday.
If the representation agreement you're offered  does not specify a remittance time frame,  add it.
If the agent hesitates in any way to add this clause, RUN. 

5. Our agency agreement lasts until one of us revokes it. It's not renewed annually. Not all agencies work like this. Our agreement can be revoked by either party with 30 days notice. There is a provision that commission is due on anything we submitted on your behalf that is then sold to the company (not the editor, the PUBLISHER) within six months of the severance.

Generally when the parting is amicable, I waive that provision so as to give the soon to be former client a clear shot at a new deal.

6. You can dissolve the agreement by written notice. I've taken phone calls and emails in lieu of written notice. I generally write a confirming memo and put it in the file just so I can remember the date of severance.

7. Things that last beyond severance: commissions on projects we sell. Once I've sold something, the commission is mine. If you're no longer a client, it doesn't matter.

Now, here's the very tricky part: if you sever from an agent, you want to make sure s/he is not entitled to commission on unexploited rights from sold projects.  For example: if Barbara Poelle sells VodkaTonics Take Manhattans to BigAssPublisher, and then sells translation rights to Russia, Poland and Ukraine, she gets commission on those deals forever.  If you lose your mind and part ways from La  Slitherina, and sign up with Drinken Slinken and O'Gawd, and DSO sells translation rights to Italy, you need to make sure you don't owe LaSlitherina a 10% commission as well as a commission to your new agent.

Each agency contract is different. There is no standard boilerplate.
An agent should be able to explain every single clause to you in words you can understand.

In fact, there is no need for an author/agency agreement to be so full of legal terms and so badly written you can't understand it.

We don't negotiate our agreement at all.
The only thing that changes is what works are covered. I think other agencies operate differently.

You'll notice there is no audit clause in the  agreement.
Every check you receive from your agent should list:
1. Project title
2. Item being paid
3. Gross amount
4. Deductions
5. Net

You should be able to do the math with a calculator. If you don't understand anything on a check you should ask.


1. Title: VodkaTonics Take Manhattan
2. Payment for: On signing (or on delivery/acceptance, or on hardcover publication etc.)
3. Gross amount: $50,000
4. Commission 15% ($7500)
5. Net amount to you: $42,500

If at some point in the process you become concerned that your agent is not remitting funds promptly or accurately, you always have the option of having the publisher pay your portion directly to you.
If you need to do this, call the publisher and ask for the royalty department. They can help you.
Your editor can as well.

Now, any questions?


Lucie Witt said...

This is one of those blog posts that i'm favoriting AND printing off and sticking in a binder. I've been thinking about this last week ever since one of our OPs mentioned "renews for a year" part of their agency contract.

This all seems pretty straightforward, with the exception of the switching agents and unexploited rights part. I imagine that language could be tricky to understand/catch.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

After reading this post the left side of my brain aches.

And to think, it all started "once upon a time", "on a dark and gloomy night" by "call me Ishmael."

Anonymous said...


I have been looking for the right agent for a little while now. I don't want to query just anyone. I want an agent like you. Someone who is capable of seeing the lighter side of life, while still maintaining control over a life that has a high stress job attached to it. Someone who has the chops to be in the business, but not let the business change who they are.

Is this agent going to have a different take on Contractual agreements than you are? I mean I can't say, "Well Janet is just a run of the mill agent, so most agents are like Janet."

There is no way I can lump you and your work ethic into, "Most Agents", but I am worried i'll get the call and when I try to set my expectations to those I find in you the Agent's going to tell me to go get bent.

Can I expect all contracts to be created equal in this business? Should I find someone to show the contract to first, or is it pretty simple to figure out?

Last question, Janet won't you please be my agent? I know you don't rep Fantasy,but... your awesome and I want an agent like you.

Cindy C said...

Wow, thank you for this--you make it sound so simple and straightforward. I have a question similar to Jason's. An agent will examine publishing contracts, so it seems to make sense to have someone look at an agent contract before we sign anything. Who is the best person for that--any lawyer? A contract specialist? A publishing specialist? My neighbor who watches a lot of Judge Judy?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So it would be really silly to only query Fine Print from now on just to be sure I don't end up with Gawd Offel Inc? This is really great information which I pray I will be making use of before Jesus comes back.

I did have a question about works represented. A writer signs with agent based on full length novel. The same writer has a lot of short stories published all over the place and even more on his or her blog. After signing with agency, the author is approached for rights to turn one of these short stories into a movie. Would the agent be able to step in here and negotiate on the author's behalf even though the story was published prior to agent/author relationship? What if the writer is approached prior to signing with agent? Would this be something to tell agent in query? Phone call?

I think I know the answer but am not certain. I am most curious.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Jason !
"...Agent's going to tell me to go get bent."
Jenny Bent,so go get her. Don't know if she reps your stuff though.

Celia Reaves said...

This post is saved, in full, for future reference. I can't count the number of posts on this blog I've done this with - there is so much excellent information here! Thanks yet again, Janet.

DLM said...

This is one of those savers on the hope I will need it someday.

I'm thinking we need to change the name of Colin's Treasure Chest to the Hope Chest. All those lovely things we'll need for the trousseau for when the right agent finally comes along.

Man, there are days, though - I feel like being Miss Havisham might be more like it.

french sojourn said...

My favorite faux agency of all times was one from the 3 Stooges:

"Dewey, Gypem, and Howe."

But that was a great post, one of the most informative ever.

Cheers Hank.

DLM said...

Haha, Hank! Now I am reminded of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and their law firm of Dewey, Cheetham, and Howe. Aww. Click and Clack; they were the best.

Donnaeve said...

This is a great checklist, and honestly, it sort of goes with that list of "Things An Agent Does," i.e. agent to client contractual knowledge only begins to scrape at the top of the pile of the legal stuff an agent must know.

E.M. I first read your fake agency as Gawd Offal Inc. Ha.

Throwback comment to yesterday's WIR - Thanks Julie for getting it. (me?). And btw, your man "eeling through a window" was such a strong visual, I was waiting to hear the rest of the story. And I like Julie Land.

Panda - if I redeemed myself - all is good, cause that ain't ever easy.

OFF TOPIC - I wanted to share something that happened yesterday. The CEO of Kensington posted an ARC of DIXIE DUPREE on his FB Page. Apparently he's going to read it. As part of that post, he also said it was "getting wonderful reviews and a great buzz." (Yay!) A few mins later he tagged me in a comment, and mentioned a particular individual who'd just left a comment on the post. He said "XXXX is a huge fan." I didn't know who the person was, so I Googled him. He's an exec at Random House Penguin (Kensington's Distributor).

Needless to say it took me a while to float back down to earth.

That's all, back to the topic du jour!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna - that is so much better! Sighs at lost opportunity.

And congratulations on your special visitor. Like I said, I have an awfully good feeling about Dixie Dupree

Celia Reaves said...

Donna!! I can see why you're floating. That's an awesome set of positive responses from Really Important People! Yay for you, and we're all rooting for some very exciting follow-ups.

I'm going even farther off-topic for some totally unrelated good news: My daughter just got engaged. Better news: she wants me to help her plan the wedding. Best news of all: we really like the guy she's marrying and are very happy about the whole thing. Nothing writing-related here at all (except, of course, that all experience works its way into the writing somehow), but I just had to share it with you guyz.

Julie Weathers said...


I know it was a joke, and it was funny, but Jenny might rep the right fantasy book. Plus, she's awesome.

There are some really wonderful agents out there and very few I don't like. I guess that says something for the Christmas puppy who just got out of the box side of me.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Gen. Jackson captured a Union train that had among other things a load of horses. He kept a large stallion, Big Sorrel, for himself and a thin little sorrel for his wife, naming the little gelding, Fancy. God knows why, the horse was very plain. He bought both from the CSA, but soon discovered the stallion's temperament was unfit for battle while Fancy was ideal, had a silky smooth gait and could go 40 miles a day without tiring in the least. Jackson, got rid of Big Sorrel, renamed Fancy to Little Sorrel (he had a way with names) and rode the horse in every battle.

Lee's Traveller had to be held back by his men or the horse would have put Lee at the front of every charge. He had an uncomfortable trot, but never waned. No one else had the least desire to ride the gung ho horse who adored Lee.

Your agent partner doesn't need to be perfect. You don't need to hear choirs of angels every time they enter the room, though I might think twice if you hear choirs of demons. They just need to be perfect for you.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This is such a neat and accessible explanation - thanks, Janet! I'm bummed I missed the WIR yesterday (though I'm going back through to read the comments) but weekends can get a little crazy at my apartment. (I say that to make it sound like I was too busy to go online, of course. In reality I spent the day in an armchair watching NCIS.)

And congrats, Donna - I'd be floating too! :) That's really exciting!

DLM said...

Donna, GO YOU! Thou rockest mightily with thy bad self.

And that is my three - all of them trivial, literally and figuratively both. Ciao for now, all!

Julie Weathers said...


I read it as Gawd Offal, also.

Oh my gosh, what great news for you. I'm very excited!!

Celia, wow all kinds of good news today. How wonderful. I know you're not supposed to congratulate a woman for getting married, but perhaps I can congratulate happy mother.

SiSi, I think Dena Pawling has a post on contracts on her blog.

Donnaeve said...

Thanks, ya'll! It was (is) *super* exciting.

Congratulations Celia! Those are all very positive and good things!!!

Brigid said...

Celia and Donna, I'm raising my mug to you both. I needed that good news this morning, so I'll rejoice vicariously.

LynnRodz said...

If at some point in the process you become concerned that your agent is not remitting funds promptly or accurately, you always have the option of having the publisher pay your portion directly to you.

I would think if that were the case, it would become more of a question of whether I want to keep that agent or not. And if an author were to contact the publisher and have their royalties sent directly to them, wouldn't that put a kink in the author/agent relationship? It's the same as telling the agent, I don't trust you.

John Frain said...

Theme parks and merchandising and toilet paper, oh my! I read somewhere that Cottonelle was flirting with the idea of printing short stories on ... okay, if we were playing Truth, Truth, Lie, then you caught me.

But still! Theme parks and merchandising! I think my protagonist is gonna start carrying around a good luck charm in the form of a Disney character.

Donna, that's a terrific story. Celia, super news.

Sarah Meral said...

Donna, that is all fantastic!

I hope to start my ARC of your book today, after I finish studying :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

You know, it's funny, I never really thought much about how I've never seen an agency contract. So I'm really glad to see this list here. And I agree with Jason, I think we're all getting certain expectations here ;)

Donna: That's amazing! I can't wait to read it (and I'll put a bug in my boss' ear when I notice it in PW or Kirkus or whatever. I hope they're kind, if you're in Kirkus).

Julie: I love your stories, and I love horse stories, so that comment was nice and spot on.

Cindy C said...

Donna, how exciting! And Celia, too! Lots of great news to start off a Monday morning.

Craig F said...

Is there some ultimate voice on who gets the money from Italy or do you have to fight it out in court?

Over the past few weeks you gave several examples of agents behaving badly. Mostly by a refusal to communicate. It makes you want to turn your pretty head and walk away. But you can't.

Do you have to hire an attorney and send a registered return response letter? How do you make sure you get Italy and not your ex?

It would be nice if you could settle it like grownups but an agent who refuses you calls and does not call back can not be expected to act like a grownup when it comes to money.

Who is the final arbiter?

french sojourn said...

DLM; I absolutely loved the Tappet Brothers, my all time favorite was discerning a car not starting due to a recently, and dearly departed Squirrel in the exhaust, right up there with "Who's on first" (Abbot and Costello...not Elvis) and "Four Candles" (The Two Ronnies")

Donna...way to go, YOU!!!

Julie...I loved the story of little sorrel, my sister Sabrina had a retired sulky racer, same thing. (a widow maker in training) He'd pin his ears back, then take off like a bat outta hell on speed.

John Frain said...

My guess would be your new agent is gonna get Italy and share it with you, unless you have suddenly developed an overseas relationship with the offspring of a publishing magnate in Venice, in which case you might have brokered the deal yourself without an agent.

But I'm only guessing. I haven't even figured out how to revive my protagonist when I accidentally allowed the bad guy to kill her in chapter 16. Damn.

They said to make the antagonist stronger than my hero. That didn't work out so well.

Joseph S. said...

You got to believe
It’s a good y’ar
When Miss Donnaeve
Is a shining star.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julie W. Don't get me wrong I LOVE Jenny Bent. I think she's fantastic. She's one of my dream agents. I have queried her WAY too many times.
Sometimes my 'funny' falls flat.

Lucie Witt said...

Loving the happy news around here.

**checks Dixie Dupree's release date again** **scowls at October**

BJ Muntain said...

Wonderful! This is perfect - everything an author needs to know about author-agency agreements.

Thank you so much Janet!

Craig: I think what happens, when you have two agents getting commission on the same sale, is that the author pays both agents that commission. That's the author, paying two commissions to two agents.

2Ns: I thought of the same agent when I read Jason's comment!

And congrats are in order to Donna and Celia!

Julie Weathers said...


I got the joke and laughed. Unfortunately, Scott got the first laugh of the day award when I read late comments from yesterday.

I was referring to Jason querying her, which I think is what you were referring to. She isn't exactly a fantasy agent, but you never know.

Stacy said...

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? Thanks, Janet.

Janice Grinyer said...

"We set a limit on how much we can incur on your behalf ($250) and over what period (a year) before we need to have further authorization."

Is this limit a mutual decision between Author and Agent, or is this number based on the Agent's experience of what overhead costs might occur during the period?

What number would cause an author to raise an eyebrow?

Thank you for posting this information :) I agree; it is worthy of filing away for future reference.

And great news, Donna- an excited pre-review before a review catches any potential reader's eye!

Theresa said...

What great news, Donna. Sounds like your novel is off to a roaring start.

To match the new wallpaper here, Dreamsicles go well with spring/summer. As do vodka tonics, whether in Manhattan or Wisconsin.

It took me a very long time to stop staring at my first contract. I couldn't believe it was real.

Kate Larkindale said...

Awesome news for Donna and Celia! Just what I needed this chilly morning. Congrats, ladies!

Christina Seine said...

Wow, this is amazing information! Thank you Janet! Printing and filing for that Someday.

Donna, WOW! We are so proud of you. I can't wait to tell people I actually knew you BEFORE you were a famous bestselling author! Congratulations. I am grinning all over for you!

Slogging through the flu right now. Blech. It's going around like crazy up here. An Alaskademic. Why can't there be a virus that makes you feel rested and energized and makes you look 10 years younger. And 10 pounds lighter.

Michael Seese said...

I'd often wondered about the payment arrangement. In the days when check was king, I totally get sending the money to the agency. But now that we have EFT, I would have thought all parties would be better served if the publisher sent the agency their contracted amount and the balance to the author.

Taken to an extreme, if I'm getting a $1M advance (why dream small??) does the agency really want to mail me a check for $850,000?

I understand that there are the aforementioned occasional fees. But I put my career in your hands, so even the cheapest guy in the world (meaning, me) would not say, "You want me to send a check $50 for postage? That's outrageous!"

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Speaking of foreign arrangements of payments. I used to receive royalty checks from my small press UK publisher whenever it reached a certain amount. But since the recession, they no longer do dollars so now it all goes into a UK account. Which means, I go to Scotland to catch up with friends (yay!) somewhat regularly (though with gradual increased time in-between regularly).

Congrats, Donna on the great news. I am thrilled for you.

And congrats Celia, on the engagement party.

And glad that Panda and Dena's husband are better. (Was that/were those today's comments or yesterday's?)

Sorry to hear Christina, about coping with the Alaskademic. You asked about excess energy? Well, just overcaffeinate yourself as I have done today. I'm irritating my housemates with my excess of cleaning and not being able to sit. And not being able to type too correctly either. I think I've cleaned up my messes and my excess verbosity.

The Sleepy One said...

Jason, have you joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America? That could be a good place to start on your journey to find the right agent. You're going to want an agent passionate about fantasy and both well-connected with fantasy imprints/editors and aware of recent deals. You can also pick up some recently published fantasy novels and read the acknowledgements. Most writers thank their agents.

If I'm remembering HTML basics correctly, this should be a link to SFWA> .

The Sleepy One said...

Well, the link in my comment above works but it's not as pretty as it was supposed to be.

Julie Weathers said...

Back in the olden days, I was responsible for all costs of manuscript copies and some misc other costs with one agency. I've slept since then. Everything was sent hard copy via post.

With the children's agent, I wasn't responsible for any fees until there was a sale if I remember correctly. Then it was just the commission and allowances for unusual items, which we had none.

Panda in Chief said...

Okay, Donna, now I am REALLY going to want a signed bookplate for my book when it arrives (yes, pre-ordered! Huzzah!) Congrats on this news. Nothing like important people liking and being behind helping to promote your book.

congrats too, to Celia. Always nice when you like the future S-in-L.

***now slinks off to read agency contract against this list...***

Kae Ridwyn said...

What an enlightening post! Thank you, Janet :D
And congratulations, Donna, on such brilliant news!
Happy writing, everyone :)

Panda in Chief said...

Yep, we're good.
(I already knew that. :o))

Donnaeve said...

Just got back from getting TAXES finished - finally. Good GRIEF. You don't even want to know...

BUT. I knew coming here would cheer me up and make me laugh:

"You got to believe
It’s a good y’ar
When Miss Donnaeve
Is a shining star."

Joe Snoe! Yer a hoot! :)

Sarah, I hope you'll love it. (Ya'll Sarah won an ARC when I did my giveaway - she won it on Twitter, using #DIXIEDUPREE)

Christina S - Your Alaskademic WILL make you lose ten pounds if you have some of what's going around over (and down?) here.

LOVE all the good vibes from my online tribe! :) THANK YOU!

CynthiaMc said...

Woo hoo! Congrats!

Colin Smith said...

I'm late posting, and no-one noticed. Good! :D As it is, I only have two things to say:

1) OhMyGoodKoogliMoogliDagooglies Donna!!! Wooohoooo!!! That's so so exciting. I'm telling ya--stbnytba!!! Watch this space. :)

2) If Janet's okay with it, I'm copy-pasting this post to a pdf and putting it in the Treasure Chest. It's a gem, after all. And it'll make it easier to find when y'all need it. :)

Claire said...

Michael, I'm guessing the publishers would feel it's really not their job to be divvying up the royalties between the author and agent, according to a contract to which they are not a party. They pay the author according to his/her instructions, which in most cases would be "Send the cheque to my agent". Then agent and author can duke it out.

Colin Smith said...

Aaaand there it is. Or rather, HERE it is, in the Treasure Chest. I prettied it up a little. :)

Let me know if you have objections to this, Janet, and I'll remove it immediately.

Kae Bell said...

Math. Why did it have to be math?

Sara said...

Thanks for such an informative post! Will save this for future reference.

One question, not about the content of the agreement itself but the information the client provides to enter into the agreement. The standard agent-author contract used by my (former) agent's agency required the author's name and signature, plus the author's SSN, ostensibly so it could be readily entered on contracts when needed. Is this something that's typically requested up front? It makes sense, but knowing the author's SSN is also unnecessary at that point.... I wasn't sure what to think at the time (I ultimately provided it). 'm curious if this is standard practice.

Joseph S. said...

Just curious

Does the contract bind the Agent or agency to do anything (e.g., Agent agrees to submit manuscript to at least twenty of the top thirty publishers?) or is the Creator at the mercy of the Agent’s goodwill?

Does the Agent or agency in the contract warrant it will abide by all AAR Canon of Ethics?

Will any agent or agency warrant it will represent the Creator’s next two or three books even if the first one or two does not sell well?
Does the agent contract give the Creator or his representative the right to inspect the agency records related to his books?

Does the contract assure the Creator the specific agent will in fact be the submission agent or editor or negotiator (as opposed to an assistant)?

Janet Reid said...

Joe, do you mean the writer? The client? In publishing contracts the writer is called Author. In author agency contracts the author as called (wait, I have to look it up!)Author.

I mention this only because using one term consistently is how we avoid doubt. If I say Author in one contract, and Creator in another (or even answering your question) there's room for someoene to say "what's the difference?" And given the difficulty of clear communication under the best of circumstances, you want to be as consistent as possible on even what seems obvious.

PattiBuff said...

This couldn't have come at a better time! Just received an agency agreement and sent off a question about the contract that was immediately answered and a new contract will be drawn up to include those changes. Thank you so much Janet! May all the fish in the sea be yours!

Joseph S. said...

Yeah, I meant Creator as synonymous with Author.

And I meant Warrant as synonymous with Covenant where appropriate.

I just woke from a nap and was still groggy.

Unknown said...

If I may ask, is it just assumed that self-publishing isn't covered in the standard contract you mentioned in which the agent represents all works to a publisher? Or does it have to be specifically mentioned, and if it is, then how is it mentioned? Thanks!

jmc said...

Thanks Janet this is really great. A very famous writer in Taiwan (Giddens Ko) has asked me to translate his works into English, and I'm asking a professor here to be my agent and negotiate with Ko's business partners. I'll have to translate what you have here into Chinese but will keep it simple. Thanks again! Best, J

Chris Phillips said...

Thanks!!! I just got an offer recently, and it's not something I prepared for in any way. Glad to have the reference and that most of it is similar.