Today let’s talk about the agreement between the writer and the agent, known as an Agency Agreement. This is different from a publisher contract. The agency agreement formalizes the working relationship between you and your agent. It can be simple and relatively brief (the one we use at Books & Such is three pages) or it can be more complicated.
Here are a few things the agreement might specify. Your agreement might not cover all these points, or it may cover more.
→ The length of time the agreement is in effect (term).
→ The commission percentage you’re paying the agent (usually 15% plus an additional 5% to 15% if there is an international subagent involved).
→ Author and agent’s obligations with respect to the agreement.
→ A clause giving the agent exclusivity in representing your work.
→ A specification of exactly what rights the agent will handle as well as the territory (usually World).
→ Which works the agent is representing, and any exclusions, i.e. if there are any of the author’s works that the agent will not be representing.
→ Reasons the agreement can be terminated and method of termination.
→ If agency is collecting monies on behalf of author, the agreement should state the agent’s policy for disbursing funds to author.
→ How disputes are to be handled.
→ What will happen in the event of the agent’s death, disability or bankruptcy.
→ How often the agent will provide an accounting to the author.
→What happens to projects the agent has sold to a publisher, in the event of the author-agent agreement being terminated. (The agent usually remains agent-of-record on that book for the life of the copyright.)
Here are a few things to consider before signing:
→ Any fees the agency will charge the author. Legitimate agencies sometimes charge for “extraordinary expenses” (such as international couriers or large amounts of photocopying) but only with the author’s prior written approval of the expense. Never sign with an “agent” who charges a “reading fee.” Be cautious about anyone who charges for routine office expenses.
→ I recommend avoiding a clause that gives the agent the power to sign contracts or checks on your behalf. If this becomes necessary later on, and you have developed trust in your agent, it can always be added.
→ Some agents keep their claim on your unsold project even after you’ve terminated the agency agreement. That is, if your agent doesn’t sell the project, you terminate with your agent and later sell the project, the first agent still gets 15%. This is legitimate and ethical with some reasonable limitations; for example, the first agent gets 15% if you later sell the project to a publisher to whom the agent had submitted your proposal; or if you sell it to anyone within the next two years. Some agents will want to be the agent-of-record on a project forever into eternity. Watch for language that gives the agent “irrevocable, exclusive” representation on a project. There should be reasonable limits on their representation of your work.
What if your agent doesn’t want to do a signed agreement immediately?
Some agents, with new unpublished authors, will not go to a formal agreement at the outset. Instead they’ll work from a verbal agreement. This doesn’t necessarily indicate any lack of ethics or a sign of a fraudulent agent, but you may be uncomfortable with it. You may feel it’s not professional to move ahead without a formalized written agreement. If you find yourself in this situation, speak up and find out why they don’t have a written agreement, and only go with that agent if you’re comfortable with who they are, their track record, etc.
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Today on the Books & Such blog:
Old-Style Readers vs. New-Style by Janet Grant