Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Contract Negotiation

One of the fun tasks of being an agent is getting to deal with contract negotiations. O.K. maybe it isn't fun, but it is a necessary evil. As a writer, I do think it is very important to understand what really goes on during the negotiations and why agents will push for some things and not push for others.

First of all, remember that every agent does things differently. Along the same lines, each time there is a chance to look over a contract, there are different variables at play. These might include the type of book, the author, the publisher and the things the author represents. With this in mind, while looking over contracts from other authors is interesting and will give you some insight into what is happening, you simply can't argue, "but they have it in their contract!" Things will always be different.

As an agent, we are working hard to make sure that not only do you get the best deal, but, more importantly, you are set up for some great progress in the future with your career. We never want to look at contracts in isolation and out of context. In other words, what happens with this deal will affect things for future deals.

Negotiations are not simply about looking at making a lot of money on that advance. We will take some time to look at how much you will make on royalties later on and in all of the various versions of your book. We also take a look at how many books will need to be sold before those royalties take effect. In some cases, agents may even recommend taking a lower advance or a different advance set-up to get you better royalty rates later on.

One big element we take a look at is the infamous "Options Clause." There are a lot of writers that panic when they see this; however, if we really understand the purpose, you can see why this is beneficial to both the publisher and the author. For the publisher, they want to make sure they get to keep you as an author if your story is pretty darn amazing and does well. They simply don't want you to run off to someone else with that 2nd and 3rd book. For you, as an author, you want to make sure you still have a foot in the door for those later books. This doesn't mean they will sign the book, but you will not have to go through the whole submission process a second time.

When it comes to the wording of the option clause, an agent might narrow the focus a bit more. Instead of the publisher having the right to the next book your write, the publisher might only look at something similar to the work you are contracting at that moment. This approach will allow a writer to actually write for different publishers with different genres.

Agents may also argue for maintaining certain rights for the book. Again, this all depends on the book and the agent. Some agents want the option to do ALL of the marketing of foreign sales. Some will allow the publisher to do it and just adjust the royalty breakdown a bit more. The same goes for movie rights, e-book rights and so forth. There are also times when an agent knows getting those rights might not be worth the fight. The key is to understand, everything is different.

We need to remember though, in these negotiations, you might not get everything you want. While in a perfect world, you might want it all, sometimes the best approach is a little give and take.



  1. Thanks for the information, Scott. I hope I'm at a point some day soon to be discussing a contract with my agent.

  2. The whole thing surrounding contracts can be unnerving. Although I'm familiar with reviewing legal contracts for work, publishing is a very different animal. I'm looing at one for an epublisher right now and trying to wade through it and decide if it's right for me.