Wednesday, February 12, 2020

I want to ditch my agent. Do I still have to pay them?

Asking for a friend... suppose he has an options clause with a publisher, and his agent has shown them the new manuscript. The publisher really likes it. No offer has been set yet, and no negotiations have been made at this point. Publisher says the agent and the author will hear back in a few months.
Since then, the friend has noticed some red flags about their agent, and would really rather this deal NOT be brokered by the agency. Unfortunately, since the agent was the one who subbed the MS, if the publisher accepts, that agent would get the 15% commission, plus whatever sub rights they keep, right? Is there a legal way to withdraw this and not have the agency be involved?

Also, is it better for him to just take this book deal, even with a bad agent "signing it off"? I.e., a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush type of thing?
Yes. The agent did the deal for the book and the option book. The commission stays with them.

That is, absent a new agreement that the agent forgo this commission and let the deal go.
That happens sometimes, particularly if the client is turning out to be more trouble than they are worth. Red flags happen on this end too.

And worse, those rights extend past this submission.
Friend needs to check his contract because MY contract says if you sever your relationship with me and sell the book anyplace I had it on sub, I get my commission. There is a time period attached but it's not five minutes.

Without knowing any further details it sounds like something went off the rails here.
Often that can be solved by direct communication:

"You're not responding to my emails. I can't work like that."

"I haven't seen a royalty statement in a year and you keep brushing me off."

The bottom line is Friend is going to have to talk to his agent. Either to negotiate a release of rights, or to deal with the problem. Don't pussyfoot around in this conversation either. If you have to, write down what you want to say and revise it so it sounds brutal and harsh. Often difficult conversations are hard to have cause everyone is being so damn indirect you don't know what's bothering them.

That's one benefit of being rude and abrasive (a description I now fully embrace but was hell on wheels when I was 22). No one is unclear about what I'm saying.

Any questions?


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Wow, I would really want to know more about what was going on here. Why is friend unhappy? The book is on submission. It sounds like the agent may yet score a deal. The agent got the door open. Why in any scenario where agent has submitted the book with success would writer not share commission with agent? This makes no sense at all to me. Of course it is early and coffee has not done its job yet. Hmm?

Jenn Griffin said...

Off topic, but...Rude and abrasive?

I was told by a former supervisor that I was argumentative and had too high ethical standards. Likely because I would argue with him about his unethical and illegal business practices.

Someone needs to stand for integrity. It may as well be me.

Ann Bennett said...

Red Flags, it would help to know what the red flags were. Not wanting to pay a commission is not a red flag.

If you have a contract, you have an agreement. Unless there were violations of the agreement, you are stuck. Unfortunately, when it comes to money you see a side of people that you wish you could unsee.

Sometimes you have to have faith that someone besides yourself can be right. I've been to conferences and heard how writers genuinely help other writers and that is true. But I have also witnessed some bad behavior like people not knowing that everyone they meet is a potential customer or having a big egofest in front of all. These people need an agent. They aren't business savvy. What I have enjoyed is how so many writers embrace their inner quirkiness with their clothes, hats and shoes. I haven't decided if this is a good business ploy or not.

My big question about conferences such as Bouchercom is "How does it benefit a writer to give a book away?" I have a stack that Amazon Publishing was having it's authors sign and give away. I got one from everyone. I will never read all of them, but I couldn't see taking one from a person and ignoring the people beside them. I will say I separated the ones the authors seemed more personable into a separate stack in my hotel room to make sure I read them.

MA Hudson said...

Sounds like maybe the friend is having pre-wedding jitters. Having an agent is (hopefully) a long term commitment and probably requires compromise on both sides. OP, get your friend to have a chat with the agent now, and if they're still hesitant about saying 'I do', with all the benefits on offer, then they should get the heck out of there.

Hopefully they've got another book ready to query and this one can be sold further down the line, once the exclusivity clause has expired with the estranged agent, or to a new publisher altogether.

Emma said...

I want to know what the red flags are as well. What would be enough to get someone to want to run for the hills after getting that far?