Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Agent's dead, what happens to my money!

What happens if you part ways with the agent, or they quit the field? Do you arrange payment directly from the publisher and then wrangle with them over errors? It seems as though the old agent would still have a stake in whether the statement is accurate, since their 15% depends on it, but can they still intercept the checks at that point?

If you secure a new agent, are they generally willing to help look over statements for your prior books, or do they only deal with the ones they've negotiated? (My head is swimming with complications, especially all the different potential sources for subrights money).

Related thought, though perhaps this is a different topic: what happens when an agent dies? Can somebody 'inherit' their income, the way authors' rights can go to their estates?
The way you describe this--"intercept checks"--makes me wonder if you suspect tomfoolery. I don't intercept checks from publishers. They're actually addressed to me, and there is a full time, highly competent bookkeeper here at New Leaf who makes sure you get your money in a timely fashion and correctly accounted. Every single agent in the world is REQUIRED to handle your money properly. If you suspect that is not happening, please email me for private guidance.

To your more general question:

The agent who sold the book is, in theory, responsible for explaining the royalty statement and handling any problems. More often than not, the default agent who fields question about statements from previous sales will be your current agent. My authors are used to asking me first. Sometimes they'll preface it with "I'm not sure I should ask you" but my stance is: my client, ask me first.

If your agent parts ways with you via death, the commission proceeds are part of her estate. The publisher can split the money and pay the estate directly, and pay you directly. You can request the split without the agent's consent if you need to. (It's your money.) Generally most agents have plans for what happens when they kick the bucket.  (Mine involve a large Viking funeral, professional mourners who wail and rend their garments, some sort of whisky bucket brigade led by Jeff Somers, and the lovely people at New Leaf seamlessly taking over my list.)


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG, you mean agents die?

Now I have something else to worry about like, where do I send the dandelions in a Dixie cup from my front yard.

This writing thing is just getting way too complicated.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

But...but...but...you're the Queen of the Known Universe. You can't die. Who will get Jeff Somers to put back on his pants? Who will the Duchesss of Yowl torment?

Now I am distraught. Is it wrong to ask your potential agent "are you immortal?" That could be terribly useful. This unexpected exit stage left chased by a bear seems like a lot of trouble.

Theresa said...

Isn't that one of the questions on the list when you get The Call: Are you immortal?

And now I have stuck in my head the dream sequence from The Big Lebowski. Not a Viking funeral, but a Viking bowling.

Colin Smith said...

I like the way Janet simplifies things. First, ask a prospective client if they have an "exit" plan. They should, since life (and death) happens. If the agent suddenly decides to quit agenting to become a folk singer, or a hermit, you should know what she has done to take care of your business. And if the agent is not part of an agency that will catch the fallout should the agent be suddenly taken off this world by death or alien abduction, she should have a plan in place for your future.

In fact, it all boils down to one simple piece of advice:

My client, ask me first.


Lennon Faris said...

Hopefully this isn't a common occurrence and most of us won't need to peek back at this.

Hope everyone has a good writing day!

Amy Johnson said...

Not to be morbid or anything, but... Am I the only one here who was prompted by this post to research shark lifespans? And, boy oh boy, do I have some good news to share! The Greenland shark is supposedly the longest-living vertebrate (sorry, tortoise). About 400 years!

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160811143218.htm, www.popularmechanics.com/science/animals/.../greenland-shark-live-for-400-years/www.sciencedaily.com

Of course, that's nothing compared to the Mighty Queen Shark, a.k.a. the Query Shark, a.k.a. the Especially Sharkly Shark. Whew, we're good for hundreds of years.

Julie Weathers said...

In a previous life when I had two agents, my agent who handled the children's books was a wonderful woman. She has since gone on to that great children's library in the sky and I assume had provisions since she was one of the top children's agents at the time. We should have discussed these things. I had no idea agents might actually be human.

So, if Janet is having a Viking funeral, her favorite thralls will be going with her. Colin, see you on the other side, Bud. Any other volunteers? I can't go until my house is in order. I may never die.

John Davis Frain said...

Those Greenland sharks must have a whale of a time funding their social security system. Puts a writer's minor problems in perspective.

mreditor said...

My plan in the event Janet takes on her Final Form and leaves us is to immediately break into her office and steal her liquor supplies, which are legendary.

Elissa M said...

This is the first time I've hoped to outlive someone I liked just so I could attend their funeral. I can wail and rend with the best of them--and I'll do it for free.

Donnaeve said...

Posts like this set me to worrying (needlessly) sometimes - where I start to think, "how did my agent sound last time I chatted with him...did he seem enthused, or did he seem like he might be losing interest in agenting?" Luckily, he always sounds highly enthused, and nowhere near Quitsville. But, nothing like knowing how to plan ahead. Just in case. Speaking of planning, Mom is offended b/c my brother and I don't want a tiny urn of her ashes.


"Where am I supposed to put...you?"
"Maybe on the mantle? I don't know. How about on that little side table right there."
"What if it gets knocked off?"
"Just sweep me up, put me back in my urn. I won't care."
"I don't need a little urn of your ashes."
"Why not?"
"It's morbid."
"Why is that morbid?"
"Uh, b/c you're...dead? And I now have parts of you cremated sitting around the house?"
"So? What's wrong with that?"
"And when people ask? Or worse, pick "you" up and open the stupid thingie with you in it?"
"I could make a great conversation piece."
"You already do, Mom, you already do."

Sam Mills said...

OP on deck! Thank you Janet for always boiling things down. Never fear, I meant nothing ominous by 'intercept.' I actively want somebody else to handle that bit! It was "can they (please)?"

We just have to hurry up and develop cryogenesis. That way we can freeze ailing agents and wake them up periodically as the checks come in...

Unknown said...

Donnaeve, I imagined that entire conversation happening with your mother already being dead. I don't know why but the line "Uh, b/c you're...dead? And I now have parts of you cremated sitting around the house?" made me think of a sitcom XD

Hopefully your mom is actually alive and well. Moms are quite important.

Steve Stubbs said...

It's not a problem. Old agents never die.

They just fade away.

The Sleepy One said...

I worked with a former literary agent once. He still received his 15% commission for books he'd sold that were still in print even though he left agenting in the late 80s. It reminded me of Andrea Brown's quote about how it's easier to divorce a spouse than break-up with an agent after s/he has sold a book on your behalf.

roadkills-r-us said...

Julie beat me to it. Mostly. But if the Great NY Shark has a secret spouse or lover willing to go along, the thralls might be safe.

And Donnaeve has me thinking I need to set aside 10% of whatever I leave behind to hire a ninja to sneak into my kids' homes and scatter ashes around randomly.

SIL: Honey, why are there ashes on the table? Did the kids set something on fire again?
Daughter: [inspects table] That's just Dad. [blows ashes away]
SIL: [coughs]
D: Oops. Sorry! [laughs]
Grandkids: Grandpa is inside Dad!

K. White said...

Janet, there will be no need to hire professional mourners. The sound of wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of hair will be heard around the world. Wearing sackcloth and ashes in your honor will probably become a fashion trend.

In other words, you would be greatly missed. Please stay healthy.

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding the 'intercepting': I believe Janet has said this before:

If you really want to, you can ask the publisher to pay you directly. Then you can do the bookkeeping yourself and pay the agent their 15% yourself.

Of course, if the agent does the bookkeeping, then your 15% is getting you more value, since the agent would be doing more work and you're doing less. Especially where subrights are concerned. My advice would simply be to let the agent do the bookkeeping unless you don't trust her. And if you don't trust her, why is she your agent?

Yes, there are unscrupulous agents out there. I've actually had a sort of contact with one of them (long story, and I'm *trying* to keep my comments shorter these days.) And when dealing with them, you use whatever legal means you've got. (Luckily, my 'contact' didn't affect me legally or financially... I hope.)

That all said... did anyone else get a flickering of an idea at OP's last line: "Can somebody 'inherit' their income, the way authors' rights can go to their estates?" If not - if that money didn't go to the agent's estate for some reason - can you imagine a murder mystery here? (Yes, I'm weird. Anytime I hear about someone benefitting from someone's death, I think, "Hmm. Murder mystery, maybe?" I do have a violent mind. Good thing I don't like hurting people. Just my characters. My poor, poor characters...)

BJ Muntain said...

Donna, I loved your conversation with your mother! I laughed out loud - pre-caffeinated, so that's a feat. :)

Then there are people who have jewelry made with tiny amounts of the ashes of someone they loved (human or pet), so they can always have that person - or critter - near them. Maybe you can tell your mom you'll do that, Donna, and then put the piece of jewelry at the bottom of a drawer or something. At least mom might be satisfied... while she's alive.

It sounds like she's afraid she'll be forgotten. Give her a hug from me. Tell her it's from a writing friend.

Steve Stubbs: I don't want my agent to fade away, either. That's almost as bad as them dying. Maybe worse, because if they only disappear, then you legally still have an agent, but that agent isn't doing anything for you anymore... I suppose you could query new agents, saying, "My agent and I seem to have parted ways. She's faded away completely, and I need someone to help me!"

Sleepy One: Yep. A former agent still makes money on the books that agent has sold. If you break up before the book sells, but an editor that agent has sent the book to picks up your book, they still get the 15%. If a new agent helps with the contract, etc., for that book, they also get 15%. You might be paying 30% to agents on a book, simply because you switched agents mid-stream. Which is why it's probably a good idea, if you and an agent are parting amicably - or if the agent drops you - to get that agent to sign away any rights to commission after that point. (That is not legal advice. That is my own, non-legal advice. It doesn't hurt to ask said agent, does it?)

Morgan Hazelwood said...

Wow! Things I hadn't even begun to contemplate.

Although, now I'm wondering if agents ever take clients with them when they switch agencies or if that's against some sort of non-compete? I suppose it's whatever their contract says.

And if so, are you randomly reassigned? Can you say 'no thank you' and then resubmit/query to your old agent at the new place?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Maybe Janet HAS been around for several hundred years. That's why she knows so much. I say we carbon date her...

My mother was a young housewife back when Nabisco saltines came in a tin canister. She loved her canister and, odd as it sounds, it was a prominent fixture in the kitchen of my childhood. Once the crackers started coming in a box, she would transfer the packages to the tin.

She passed in 1990. My five siblings and I gathered at our parent's home to grieve (mightily). The topic of what to do with Mama's ashes came up... what vessel shall we use? (I'm sure you see where this is going) All six of us were standing around in the kitchen, still reeling from the shock of being motherless. Our collective swollen, red-rimmed eyes fell on the Nabisco tin - and that's where we put her. The gesture made all of us laugh through our tears. We felt certain Mama would approve.

BJ Muntain said...

Morgan: Agents usually take their clients with them when they switch agencies, if their clients are willing. Though I can't see someone who is happy with their agent wanting to sever their relationship with that agent just because the agent has moved their office. Unless they REALLY don't like the agency their agent is moving to, for some reason.

More likely, if the agent shifts the focus of their list - say, they've decided to move to adult books instead of YA, or concentrate on romance books instead of fantasy (yes, I've heard of that happening) - they may try to amicably break up with you. Then either they can help you get another agent, or you're agentless (which I've also heard happen).

Which is why it's probably a good idea to talk about this sort of thing when you get The Call (TM). :)

Melanie: That's wonderful!

When my father died, my sisters spent the afternoon going through photographs, picking some out for a video display my sister's then-boyfriend was making, while my mum and I were choosing hymns for the full Catholic mass he'd said he wanted. There was a lot of laughter, there, as they came upon pictures of Dad doing something silly or something. Laughing at such a time is healing.

Colin Smith said...

Morgan: I think BJ's right--unless clients object, the agent takes her list with her wherever she goes. Except when she dies. Unless... Hmmm... Now, there's an interesting premise for a murder-mystery... ;)

Indeed, this post's title could be used in a story. The next writing contest perhaps? 150 words or fewer, and must contain the line: "Agent's dead, what happens to my money?" :)

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: Maybe Janet's clients are the 'thralls' she'll take with her in her Viking funeral... :)

Lennon Faris said...

Donna - your mom conversation made me laugh!

Melanie - love the story of your mom and her saltines, so much!

lamandarin said...

On the death note - can someone explain "heirs of heirs" or "interminable agency" clause?

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Mama Melanie,

Fantastic story. I will see Nabisco saltines in a different way from now on:)

julieweathers said...
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roadkills-r-us said...

Melanie, that sounds very much like what would have happened in my family!

I think my biggest takeaway from the post is to ask, ask, ask. Including a good lawyer before I sign anything.

Joseph S. said...

2nns and Steve

Old agents don’t die. They just turn the page.

By the way, who takes over this blog when Janet Reid turns the page?

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: I think, when Janet transcends the mortal to chomp the celestial chum, this blog will go to the eternal archive. Who could take it over? Some other seasoned agent may do similar work, but there is only one Query Shark. And there will only ever be one jetreidliterary. :)

Donnaeve said...

Ha Dani! I should've said, "Cause you'd be...dead?" Not "B/c you're dead..."

But. Y'all got the gist of it - and yes, Mom is alive, and a very worthy Scrabble player yet.

Glad my little conversation with her resulted in some chuckles.


Morgan Hazelwood said...

Thanks BJ and Colin

I mostly work in software and intellectual property rights are signed away! I know in most other businesses (law firms, dr offices, software, massage therapy), taking clients with you is a huge faux-pas -- so much so an ex-chiropractor of mine was replaced without me knowing he was leaving to prevent such a migration of clients.

I'm very relieved that my future-agent will get to keep me once I've made them fall in love with my manuscript(s)....

Janet Reid said...

Writers Beware on

Interminable Agency Clause

I"m not sure what context you're seeing heir of heirs but when I see it used it's talking about copyright law and extensions of copyright protection. Generally that is NOT part of the publishing contract.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Told my daughters to make my funeral as cheap as possible; they don't need to make a show of money to prove their grief. "Bury me in a cardboard box if you have to."

Turns out biodegradable cardboard coffins are more expensive than bog-standard pine boxes.

Then my daughter found a burial capsule that grows a tree fertilised by your remains. "How about this, Mom?"

Sure, as long as it's a fruit tree.

AJ Blythe said...

Isn't alcohol a preservative? So any agent with a well-stocked liquor cabinet should last forever =)

On a more serious note, the topic makes it a good time to flag the need for writers to protect their interests as well. I remember reading this article years ago on what writers need to include in their will. I know it's been discussed here before, but not for ages.

BJ Muntain said...

AJ: That's a great post by Neil Gaiman. I put it on my own blog, back when it Mr. Gaiman first posted it, and it was one of the most well-read blog posts I had. He has some great advice there.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Remember Stieg Larsson died without a will and his wife he wasn't married to (not rare in Sweden, his "sambo." which means "same living", lost everything. His father and brother ended up with the rights to the books. They let her keep the apartment though, I believe.

Julie Weathers said...


Roll the Oak Chariot Along testifies about the power of preservation in liquor. Lord Nelson's body was set in a barrel of brandy until they could make Gibraltar and find a lead coffin. The sailors felt a drop of Nelson's blood might not do them any harm, but since they'd also mixed camphor and myrrh with the brandy, I don't know how good it would have been let alone the drop of Nelson's blood.

AJ Blythe said...

Had no idea about Lord Nelson. That's fascinating. But Julie, thanks to that link I am now going to be singing about him for the rest of the afternoon. Gah!

(I have laringytis, so the singing will only be in my head, for which everyone around me will be forever grateful)

Gypmar said...


Your conversation with your mom sure hit home! My dad died two years ago, and his remains were cremated. My stepmother put some of the ashes in a little travel tin so he could go with her when she was out and about, but she hadn't told me that. One day about a year after his death, she mentioned that she had found a mess in her pockets when she was on a trip. "I spilled your father," she said. It took me a minute to figure out what the heck she meant.

The last time she visited me, she brought me my own little travel tin of ashes. One of those tins with the see-through covers. I buried it very deep in my sock drawer. We all have our ways of dealing with grief.

LynnRodz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LynnRodz said...

Can I be a professional mourner for you? I love to wail and rend my garments. Heck, I'll do it for free. (I hate when my comment publishes before I'm through commenting!)