Monday, November 3, 2014

Contracts, Agents, and Helping Out Authors

Last week, I received a request from an author to discuss what agents are doing to help out the writers with language in publisher contracts that might hurt the author.

I have to begin with a single statement. we cannot immediately blame the publishers (or I should say the reputable publishers) for this language. We have to remember that the contract, and all of those clauses and phrases that hurt authors can only happen if the author signs the contract. No one is forcing an author to sign the contract. I would also add that, as an agent, if an author says he or she doesn't want to sign the contract, then it stops right there.

But what about the agents. What are we doing?

First of all, I cannot speak for all of the other agents out there, but I am assuming we are all doing the same thing, we will only work with the publishers that are reputable and we can trust. Because our role is to represent the best interests of our client, we will not send projects to publishers, and even specific agents that have proven to be less than reliable. When we make those decisions we are looking at a lot of different factors including the type of contract the publisher uses, how flexible the publisher is, what the rates are, what the terms are, and certainly, whether or not the editors our authors would be working with know what they are doing.

Secondly, when a contract does come in, we do take the time to look it over and make changes that will work best for the authors. Much of this is even done before the contract is written up and the editor calls us to "make an offer" for the book. They will send us a "term sheet" which gives us the over-all view of what they will be offering. But we don't stop there.

When the contract does show up, especially for new contracts, we really do a lot of tweaking. We make sure the options clause is going to work for an author wishing to branch out or wishing to write for multiple publishers. We watch for termination clauses, advance copies, editorial notes and what not. This is ALWAYS on a case by case basis for each author.

Once that author is established with a publisher, this work often requires a lot less work because the contracts departments will consider the "last contract" the author approved as now being their individual "boiler plate contract." But we still look it over. There are times when things change. There are times when the author now needs to take his or her career in a different direction.

Now, there are times when things change at the publisher and we see "revisions to the contract" show up. These are the same thing as when your bank, your cell phone carrier or your insurance company sends out changes to their policies. When those occur, as agents we also review those and we have to sign off on those just like everything else. If something isn't going to work with our clients, we will go and fight for it.

For those of you working without agents, you can certainly do all of these same things we are doing if A) the publisher does negotiate with the author directly; and B) you know exactly what you are doing on the legal side of things. I do know I have heard some people take their contracts to lawyers, but unless the person is a lawyer that has done work with publishing contracts, you might find you are not got getting what you need. I am not saying you won't, but it is certainly a possibility.

The point that I want to make here is pretty simple. As agents, we are working strongly as advocates for our authors. We want the best for them and that does include fixing those contracts, finding them the strongest publishers and keeping them on the right track for great success.

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