Thursday, May 03, 2018

Author/agency termination clauses

I was recently given an offer of representation, and of course I'm thrilled. I did my research and the agent and agency seem to be reputable. I plan to speak to a few of the agent's current clients and ask a lot of questions before I sign, and I read the Author/Agency agreement and compared it to your blog post on this topic. Everything seems to be pretty much as you stated, except that I have some concerns about the timeframe that the agreement lasts, which is two years.

I want to sign with an agent who will be with me for the long haul, and who is interested in helping me build my career and not just sell one book. But there is a part of me that worries that two years is a much bigger risk for me than for her. If it doesn't work out (for whatever reason), she can turn her focus to her other clients until the time runs out. But I'll be contracted to an agent who isn't interested in selling my books, and I won't able to look for a new agent for potentially two years.

You mentioned that New Leaf's agreement is 30 days. I'd love to get your advice on whether I'm right to be concerned about a two-year agreement, and if so, in your experience, would something like this ever be negotiable? I don't want to give the impression that I'm planning to ditch the agent at the first sign of trouble, or a book that won't sell. I'm not! But I'm thinking of situations where maybe the agent is non-responsive, or perhaps can't sell my first book and isn't interested in trying with my second. Will I be stuck waiting to move on?

(This is the line in the contract:

The initial term of this agreement shall be two (2) years from the date of my signature below. Such term will be extended automatically on a two-year basis unless either party gives the other written notice of termination at least sixty (60) days prior to the end of such contractual period.)

Yes this troubles me too. Two years is a long time if you run into problems.  Given that author/agent relationships can resemble an arranged marriage in that you really don't know much about how the other party works, communicates, deals with frustrations etc until you're bound to each other.

And I've heard more than enough horror stories about agents not doing their jobs that two years seems particularly onerous for the writer.

I'd ask the prospective agent about this. Specifically, if she doesn't sell the book, or you are in any way no longer wanting to be repped, what happens?

If the agency won't modify this, ask them to strike it entirely and have the contract terminable by either party, at any time, with 60 days notice.

We also include a longer period for any sub rights, in that those deals take much longer to germinate and we don't want to pull the plug till we've had time to follow up and finalize any offers.

Be aware that if the agent sells any of your work, and you terminate the contract, her commissions are still payable to her.

There's probably a good bit of information on this through the Author's Guild. You might join and take advantage of their knowledge base. They tend to be a bit absolutist, but the information is valuable.

And, our contract at New Leaf is for a year, renewable by either party. That said, if you're unhappy with me, or the quality of representation I'm providing, I usually waive that clause. I only want to work with people who want to be here. I can't imagine an agent wanting anything else.


Colin Smith said...

This is probably really good information, but it seems sooo far down the road from where I'm at right now. Just having an agent contract to worry about seems a remote dream.

Congrats to Opie for snagging an agent! I hope everything works out for you. :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Congratulations, OP! This looks like one of those good problems to have--it means you're on the right track, at least. :)

And same here, Colin! Sometimes I feel so close to being ready to query again, sometimes I think it'll never happen.

Julie Weathers said...

So, I guess this clause for life, signed in blood, and they have to take my first born is out?

Joseph S. said...

Considering the slow pace in the book industry, it would not surprise me to learn it may take two years to find a publisher, much less to get a book published. \An agent easily could string me along for that time. So I guess the two year term wouldn't cause me not to sign with the agent.

I would ask if the agency will strictly enforce the term provision if things don't work out, say if if the agent retires or leaves the firm, or an author and agent no longer share the same vision, etc., mainly for information purposes than anything else.

Joseph S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph S. said...


Rain Crow is so good you can force an agent to take your first born (does he still eat like a horse?) if she truly wants to represent your book.

John Davis Frain said...


I was going to make a similar comment as yours about the glacial pace of publishing, but I had planned to post it Tuesday after next. You beat me to the punch.

I'd consider changing it to a year, but I wouldn't let this be the deciding point. More important, dear author, congratulations. <<--(I was gonna post that part today, for sure.)

Julie Weathers said...

I'm hitting and missing everywhere today. OP, congratulations on the offer of representation. You must be over the moon and should be. Whoo Hoo!


Your lips to God's ear about Rain Crow. Yes, he does like to eat and he requires occasional watering. On the plus side, he's very mechanical minded and can fix or build anything. It's just that, you know, he's a cowboy and what you going to do with a cowboy?

Julie Weathers said...

I just finished reading Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. It's a YA book kind of on the order of Harry Potter. Twelve-year-old Stephanie always loved reading about the magical worlds her author uncle wrote about. Now he's dead. A mysterious man shows up at the reading of the will and even more mysteriously, her uncle leaves most of his estate to Stephanie including his old mansion. He also left her a continuing friendship with Skullduggery Pleasant, a living skeleton detective who shows her all too soon her uncle's make-believe world of magic wasn't make-believe and bad men, very bad men want something she has. If she only knew what it was.

I said all that to say this: I bought the book because I was reading an article about funny dedications. Derek Landy had several in there. I thought, if he's that witty in a dedication, I should give him a try...for my grandson, of course. People say all the time no one reads dedications, acknowledgments, prologues, blurbs. You never know what people are going to read. Whatever you write, make it interesting.

I've already bought the second book in the series...for my grandson, of course.

Brenda said...

The things I learn on this blog. If I’d known that an agent has to/gets to feed your first born I would have started writing years ago.
Congratulations OP and best wishes.
Does the fretting ever end for writers? Even if we wriggle through all the hoops and win the debut-author-with-a-massive-advance lottery we would worry about whether the next book could be good enough. Even if we were best sellers we would worry about blowing it on social media. Maybe angst is part of the dance.

Joseph S. said...


I believe it was Jimmy Stewart who said he always worried his latest movie would be the last one he would be allowed to make. And he starred in many (great) movies.

Joseph S. said...

John Davis Frain,

I'll get back to you on that as soon as I can. If I don't respond within 12 weeks - make that 16 weeks - give me a nudge.

Claire Bobrow said...

Congrats, OP, and good luck moving forward. I hope the offer of rep works out! Some of these contract things make me think of the Marx Brothers' 'Sanity Clause' routine.

John Davis Frain said...


I can't wait to not hear back from ya!

On a brighter note, I had an epiphany for my painful chapter 41 while I was just walking my dog. He got excited right along with me even though I'm sure he had no idea what was going on as all the houses nearby were sleeping.

Sand timer's going over, Julie, but I don't think I need to turn my phone off.

AJ Blythe said...

Congrats, OP! How fabulous to receive an offer. I hope it works out for you because it would be heartbreaking to have to walk away.

Julie, Skullduggery Pleasant books are wonderful. And of course you bought them and have to check for suitability for the grandkids. Just shows what a wonderful, caring grandmother you are =)