Over the past month I’ve had the opportunity to review and negotiate five separate publishing agreements for different clients, each from a different major publisher. Each one has taken some time, and my clients frequently write me wondering and worrying, saying things like, “How is the contract coming along?”
I’m not always sure what they’re actually asking me. I have a feeling what they really mean is, “I’m anxious to get the contract signed so I’ll know this is a done deal. I’m anxious to get paid. I’m worried that as long as this contract isn’t signed, it could go away. I’m worried that I dreamed this whole thing, and until I sign the contract I’m going to keep worrying.”
Authors are right to convey their anxieties to their agent. But in most cases, there’s no reason for any real worry. Sometimes contracts take time, but this doesn’t mean we’re in danger of losing the deal!
Instead, it means your agent is actively involved in trying to get you the fairest contract possible.
In some ways, this is becoming more difficult, because in these days of massive changes in the industry, the publishers are doing their best to make sure their own interests are covered, which frequently means new contractual language we haven’t seen before. This means agents need to carefully consider what each new contract sentence and clause actually means, what its implications are, and whether it’s fair for the author.
As agents, we’re advocating for our clients’ interests; but it’s more than just that one client we’re thinking of.
We’re always shooting for the win-win between author and publisher; after all, we want to continue selling books to these publishers so we want them to be successful and we want our relationships with them to be positive. We’re also thinking beyond the one client (whose name is on the current contract) to all our other clients who may eventually want to work with this publisher. If we see a contract provision we don’t believe is in the best interest of an author, we don’t want to let it go without discussion because it’s going to come up again in later contracts.
All this to say, there are numerous changes happening with publisher contracts these days. Not that I’m trying to be self-serving, but I believe it’s becoming more necessary than ever to have an agent if you want to publish with the majors. It would be so easy to sign something that you don’t understand and that limits your options in ways you didn’t expect. However, with a good agent, you can get a fair contract and have a positive publishing experience within traditional publishing. Yes, despite the self-publishing advocates, it’s still true!
Do you have any worries about publisher contracts? Have you heard rumors that concern you?
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