Wednesday, December 08, 2021

I want to sign on the dotted line!

After recently attending a conference, I sent material to several interested agents and was quickly offered representation from one of them. This awesome agent works for Big Dream Agency so I have no concerns about her or the agency’s legitimacy. We met in person at the conference and later spoke on the phone—at which time she offered the representation (yay!!) and said take some days, alert other reading agents, etc. About ten days later I accepted her offer by email, and she responded back that she was equally thrilled to be working with me—again, YAY!

Here’s my question: It’s been a few weeks now, she’s given me notes for revision, more email communication, yet I still have not seen a formal contract. I asked her after our last email exchange if there was anything I needed to sign, and she responded nope, we’re good. At what point should I expect to see a contract? When we go out on submission, after, before? I’m excited and just want to make it official—is it? Thanks!!

It IS official.

When she said "nope, we’re good" she meant just that.

You have an oral agreement.
Not all agencies offer written agency agreements.
I can think of several VERY reputable agencies that do not.

On matters like this, my practice is to send an email confirming the understanding.

Any questions?


C. Dan Castro said...

But don't you need a few details in writing? For example, let's say (and hopefully not) the relation isn't working, and you choose to end the relation. I seem to recall some sort of time period is specified before the writer:agent relation officially ends.

And what about when there's good news, like a book sells? Where is the agent's 15% spelled out, along with other details? Or is that just in a contract that comes with the book selling?

Ellen said...

I only got a written agreement with my agent after she secured an offer on my book. Seven books later I am still with that same agent. So sleep easy, OP. And congrats!

Colin Smith said...

As I see it, the spoken "handshake" agreement is as much a risk for the agent as it is for you. After all, she's going to be investing time and effort into polishing your manuscript, writing submissions, following up with editors, and representing your work to the publishing world without any written, signed assurance that you're not going to jump ship to another agent next week. Not that you would, but likewise, you trust the agent isn't going to drop you next week without notice.

Yes, it would feel a bit more "real" to have something in writing, and maybe you could ask for that in an email as Janet suggests. But, as Ellen noted, it's possible your agent agreement will come with the publishing contract. Communication is key in every relationship, not least the writer-agent relationship, so if you're uncomfortable, ask. Talk to your agent. I'm sure she'll hear you out and do what she needs to do to alleviate your concerns. I gather "alleviating client concerns" is half the agent's work... 😉

Congratulations, btw, OP. This is awesome and exciting!

Leslie said...

First, mazel tov to the OP!

When I had an agent, he wouldn't put my proposal out to editors until I signed the contract

Claire Bobrow said...

Congrats, OP! What excellent news!

(I had no idea oral agreements were a thing in this situation. Count me surprised - and enlightened. Thank you, Janet and OP!)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'd be interested to hear how the agent who actually offered representation might respond to your concerns... Specifically, when you can expect to see a contract? In other words: why not ask her?

farfromgruntled said...

I have an oral agreement with my agent and my first book comes out in a month, more (god willing) to come! I would have been freaked out if she weren't an agent at a super reputable place, but there have been no issues at all. So congrats, poster!!!!

Craig F said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Now that I know about it, it seems like the right way to go. The actual contract will be with the publisher, not the agent.

Knowing that I would take a good look at any contract an agent tells you to sign. There might be something, like your book rights, that you my want to talk terms on.

Most reputable agents wouldn't do that , or so I'm told, I haven't gotten an offer yet, but there is always tomorrow.

Leslie said...

Hi Craig F. At some point you will need a contract with your agent.

He or she only makes money when a publisher buys your book, so a contract with you protects them in case you suddenly decide to go with someone else or self-publish or flake out some other way after they put in time and effort, not to mention making them look bad to their editor contacts.

A contract also protects your interests (especially down the line, when the sweet royalties roll in) in the relationship with the agent and agency.

Of course, there will be a separate contract with the publisher, but that's totally separate from yours with the agent

E.M. Goldsmith said...

The oral agreement surprised me too. Would you not have to sign some kind of agreement when a book sold to be sure that the monies were properly doled out and so forth? I mean, I would want to know what % agent gets and all that stuff. I have come across agents who don't set out formal agreements until first sale is made. I suppose that makes sense. They don't sell everything they try to sell. Is that maybe why there is the oral agreement? It makes things simple while trying to sell that first work. After the sale, however, would there not have to be something legally binding or said agent could run away with all the money or vice versa I suppose. Thoughts?