Monday, May 05, 2008

So, Where Do I Sign?

Question of the day: I'm finishing up the work on a book and starting to think about looking for an agent and I have some questions. I assume that when you do finally find an agent, you sign some sort of contract with them? What kind of things are in the contract and what kinds of things should not be in the contract? I assume that in this type of situation their is the potential to sign your writing life away (just like with publishers) or am I just being paranoid? Any clarification would be helpful, thanks.

You are not being super-paranoid - this is a great question. Too few writers don't think about the fine print and can end up getting screwed as a result.

Every agent and agency handles contracts differently. Some (I'd venture to say most) agencies do indeed have standard contracts that they'll issue to you once you've been offered (and accepted!) representation. The clauses in the contract may include everything from stuff like the percentage fee that the agent receives to how they deal with foreign and film rights to how you can both remove yourself from the agreement. If you have any doubts about some of these clauses, I do suggest that you hire a lawyer - for one hour's fee, he or she can save you a lot of headache in the future. But basically, you should definitely ensure that you're not granting the rights to your agent for any and all future works and that there are clear terms on how to end the relationship. Agents are going to be inflexible on some things (i.e. their fee, which the industry standard dictates is 15%), but if anything is a real red flag and they won't waver, remember that having shady representation does no one any favors.

That said, there are plenty of agents - good, top agents - who operate with a gentleman's agreement. And this isn't necessarily indicative of whether or not they're legit. If this practice makes you uncomfortable, simply ask your future-agent to put it in writing: it won't be the first time he or she has been asked, trust me, and it shows good business acumen for you, your career, and your future.

So readers, what are some other contract red flags? What else can one expect to see in said paperwork?


Amie Stuart said...

And ALWAYS ask to see the contract when you're talking to the agent. Any agent worth his/her salt will send you a copy.

Unknown said...

Great advice, Allison. DEFINITELY make sure that your agent only takes a cut of any deals that he/she negotiates. I think it's always a good idea to sign an agreement, although I do understand a lot of people just shake on it. I wouldn't be comfortable with that. OH! Also...I tagged you in a meme...check out my blog here when you get a chance:

Sorry, I was too lazy to embed the link. :) XO

Eileen said...

Things I looked at:
- percentages
- how the relationship can be ended and with how much notice
- any fees (do they charge for copies/postage once an item sells and is there a max on this.

Angela Williams Duea said...

Thanks for the great advice!

Barrie said...

You guys have pretty much covered everything. Something that's not in the contract, but was of importance to me is how hands-on the agent is. As in, how involved in the polishing of the ms is she?

Amie Stuart said...

Also don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't get seomthing. My agent had a funky clause I totally didn't get and she didn't balk at all at explaining it to me.

Barrie...good point. Unfortunately it's something that totally falls outside of the contract. I've never wanted (or had) a very hands on agent (I've had three), but I feel like I have a good open-door relationship with my agent. She's more than willing to give feedback. I have crit partners for polishing--but everyone's different.