Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Is it possible to exclude a language from an author-agent representation agreement?

This is putting the cart a mile ahead of an as yet unborn horse, but I have to ask anyway:

Is it possible to exclude a language from an author-agent representation agreement? To be clear, I don't mean translations of works, or other related or derivative material to a work represented by the agent--those would of course be included. I mean an author fluent in more than one language, and writing separate, original manuscripts and articles.

Long story short (not my strong suit): I could become such an author. I am a native speaker of English from the US, but I currently live and work abroad. I've clawed my way to fluency in the language where I live.

I write primarily in English and I hope to start querying US agents for my (English) nonfiction book sometime this year. However, I've toyed with the idea of trying to publish non-English works in the country that I live.

I cannot even imagine the headache of trying to route international-only, non-English publications through a US based agent--the language barrier, the different laws, the taxes...ugh, international taxes... I can't imagine it being worth the agent's time either. The likelihood of an agent being an expert in exactly those two languages and countries, repping the categories I write, and loving my work enough is slim to none. For anyone else, the learning curve would be practically vertical. (Plus, as far as I can tell, agents are less common over here in general.)

Any work that I would want to exclude from the US agent agreement would not in any way overlap or compete with my English language work.

So, given that I would like to find an agent for the long haul and that I don't want to shut the door on potentially writing a thing or two to be published abroad only, (1) can I exclude something like that from my representation agreement?

(2) If yes, how do I ask for that, and when?

If no, what other options are there for me? How does this sort of thing work otherwise?

And lastly, here a more general question:
You have mentioned reviewing contracts that your authors want to sign but that are outside of the scope of your representation. (3) What sorts of things are those for?

(1) Yes, you can exclude things from author agency agreements. Generally you'll want to discuss this with your agent very soon after the initial offer. I know it would not be a problem here for me.  We don't sell foreign language books in foreign countries. We sell rights to translate books published in English. Thus, excluding your second language books wouldn't cut into our revenue or scope of operation.

(2) You discuss it early on, and have language inserted in the author/agency agreement that excludes works written in Klingon and sold into Klingon Territory.  You'll need legal language for this; don't just make something up.

(3) Things outside the scope of my representation include: Short stories mostly, particularly ones to small readership markets with no or low pay. I don't take a commission on those, but I always ask to see them so I can keep Client out of trouble down the road, when we want to put that story in a collection, or license reprint rights.

My rule is I review everything my clients sign even if it's not for something I sold. Not everyone does this; not every client needs it.


Amy Johnson said...

OP: Best wishes heading your way for success in both languages! "... putting the cart a mile ahead of an as yet unborn horse ..." Ha! I would have read your entire question regardless of your wording, because that's what I do, but I'll tell ya, that line grabbed me. Nice!

Amy Johnson said...

Having a bit of that Twilight Zone feeling. Have I been transported to Carkoon?

Craig F said...

Amy: I think this question scares people. It is big as climate change talk in the middle of a blizzard.

I think most agents would be happy with this; much to the consternation of their foreign subsidiaries. Translation is scary, I know that.

I know it because the current trend in mystery/thriller has a lot of Swedish stuff. It started with the dragon tattoo.

I have a strong grounding in Germanic language(I might be the only German speaker with a southern accent, I have been told that I am). I also have some Norwegian hidden in some file in my brain. I also live in an area with a lot of Spanish speakers.

Something does get lost in translation. The logic that makes sentences work is different in different languages. Think of de la in Spanish. It is backwards of how English works.

Having a writer who can re-write a book, make it work, and not be threatening to sue because of the translation can only be a plus.

Stay warm and dry, y'all

Amy Johnson said...

Whew! Thanks, Craig!

AJ Blythe said...

I'd love to be able to speak a second language, but as I can't OPs problem will never be mine. Even so, I appreciate Janet's response because I had no idea "translation" and "foreign language" were two separate entities. Live and learn =)

LynnRodz said...

I've toyed with the idea of a book of poems in French (poetry is still very big in France) but what I find interesting in your questions, OP, is the part about taxes. You do know regardless if you write and sell your work in the country where you live, Uncle Sam still wants a piece of that all American apple pie of yours. If you're still a US citizen and you have dual citizenship, it doesn't matter, you still have to declare what you make outside of the US and in the country where you live.