Wednesday, April 15, 2020

what authors should look for (or look out for!) in an agency contract

Hey Janet!
I have an offer from an agent I'm super excited about (hoorah!) and I'd love to know what authors should look for (or look out for!) in an agency contract.

I have a sense for the standard commission, but beyond that, what positive or negative things should I be scouring that contract for?

Also, I know that some writing orgs provide contract review for authors. Do you think that's worthwhile (I'm not currently a member of any org that provides this, so I'd have to join and likely pay a fee in order to take advantage), or should we be able to suss things out on our own?
The first thing you need to know is most agency contracts for representation are boilerplate. That is, they're the same for all clients. Don't expect to start negotiating the finer points. I've had some pretty serious wrangles with folks who brought lawyers in to review my agency contract, only to find out I wasn't prepared to change anything.

The ONE thing I will do is carve out areas of representation. I have a client who writes a very niche kind of book in addition to the more trade-oriented books I sell for her. Our agreement specifies that I do not rep her for those niche books.

I recently read a well-intentioned article about author/agent agreements that instructed writers to get an exclusion for work they pitched and sold themselves, and used the example of an author who pitched an editor at a conference and got an offer.

After I stopped laughing, I had to really sit on my hands to not write a letter to the organization saying "ummm...this is REALLY bad advice."

The reason it's bad advice is that you should not plan to be pitching your work to anyone if you have an agent. It's the REASON you have an agent.

If a client told me she'd been pitching editors at The Pitch Fork Slam DunkWriters Conference, I would consider that grounds for termination. Instantly.

Which is why some of the advice from writers organizations is well-intentioned, but not practical.

The commission rates are pretty standard: 15% on domestic sales, 20%-25% on subrights.

Some things you want to include: IF the agreement is ended by either party, the unexploited rights return to the author in a specified amount of time WITHOUT prior notice required.

I have a client whose unexploited rights are tied up with his former agent for the life of the copyright. She's not doing diddly to sell those rights. I can't unless my client wants to pay the commission twice. It irks me to no end.

Make sure there's a way out of the contract for any reason at any time. 30 days notice by either party is the norm.

And make sure you understand whether the contract is for a specific length of time, or it's until either party decides to dissolve it.

I know a couple writers who found themselves pretty surprised when their book didn't sell and the representation agreement expired, and the agent said "so long, snookums."

Agents should be able to explain the terms of the agreement to you, in a way you understand, and tell you WHY the wording is the way it is.

You're not expected to suss it out on your own.

Any questions?


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Should clauses exist in these contracts that deal with agent leaving agency and moving to another agency? What happens if agent leaves business altogether? Is that something that should be in the contract? How is that handled if agent is in a large agency? If the agent is independent and they quit, are you simply looking for another agent and how should that look in contract as far as rights and so forth?

Good morning everyone.

nightsmusic said...

This is one of those answers to a question I'm going to file away for if/when the time comes. I would have a lot of sub-questions regarding the contents of a contract and this is great. I didn't realize most are boilerplate with little variation unless it's negotiated. Thank you!

On a different note, I don't know how many of you enjoy Josh Groban, but he's taken to posting Songs From The Shower on Youtube every few days. I know, sounds silly but the acoustics! And they're glorious! :)

Josh Groban Shower Songs

Fearless Reider said...

I'm utterly baffled that any writer would want to pitch editors at a conference or anywhere else when they're blessed with an agent to face that kind of unpleasantness for them. And speaking of bafflement, can someone tell me why Josh Groban wears a parka in the shower? Thanks for the link, nightsmusic! Just the bit of sweetness I needed today.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm a very trusting soul (or perhaps you'd replace trusting with foolish). When I was querying my first book and the reputable idie press I was hoping to work with offered me a contract, I quick-grabbed a pen and signed on the dotted line. I barely read the document.

During our first phone conversation my soon-to-be editor stated the contract they were offering was standard and the same one they presented to all their authors. I believed her. I had no reason not to, and they went on to publish all my nonfiction titles. We had a wonderful relationship - till I got the bright idea to swerve into fiction.

You're querying reputable agents and/or editors - because you did your research - and when you get an offer, hopefully there's already a level of trust there (otherwise, why would you query them) and hopefully you feel confident enough to ask any questions you may have. Don't conjure up concerns and worry.

BTW, It would never even dawn on me to bring a lawyer to review a contract. I might bring a donkey - but never a lawyer.

nightsmusic said...

Fearless Reider, I think it's so no one sees him nude ;) That's okay by me. But he's taking requests and is posting them Tuesdays and Fridays. And some of them are accompanied :)

Fearless Reider said...

OK, I just watched the fourth video, where Josh explains that he was bundled up in the shower because his dog needs a haircut. Josh was chilly because he had the front door open to keep his dog from overheating. And now my husband should be worried about his status because what is more adorable than that?

Liz Penney said...

I have significant work for hire contracts annually and my agent DOES NOT get a cut of them. I developed these relationships myself (going on 8 years now). I know that some agents do take a cut of such work. I am happy to pay a commission for the work my agent sells for me. That's all.

Amy Johnson said...

Congratulations, OP! Wonderful news! I hope all goes well with the contract and with what comes afterward.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, in case you haven't seen it, this is a website that blog Reider Colin Smith put together, made up of various things but mostly helpful posts by Janet:

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th links on that page likely have lots of gems for you right now!


Timothy Lowe said...

nightmusic totally blown away. The fact that people are still taking showers is a stunner for sure.

Craig F said...

Yes, congratulations OP: this is the kind of happy news we all needed at this particular point in time. Best of Luck to you.

In lesser news I made myself a couple of masks today. The only material I had lying around was some damned ugly, lemon yellow 9oz. rip stop nylon. The stuff they make the outer layer of jackets with.

It was a mother to work with, but at least it doesn't have flowers on it. The only elastic I found was some 3/16 bungee cord. They definitely have a certain look to them, but they are to protect others, tests are an almost impossible thing to find round here.

BJ Muntain said...

Lennon's link linkified: Treasure Chest

Lots of good information there, thanks to Colin's gathering skills and our QOTKU's big heart.