Cash backwards

Would you be willing to address the history of "agent being paid by publisher, agent sending check to writer?" Why is it not the other way around, writer paying agent?

Mostly cause in the olden days, when this protocol began, authors owed money to their agents. Authors were broke, borrowed money from agents (remember this is the days before Visa Mastercard and AmEx were glad to lend you cash at exorbitant rates) and agents recouped costs from advances and royalties...most of the time. For a narrative of how that worked, just take a look at the biography of Richard Yates, A TRAGIC HONESTY by Blake Bailey. Here's a link to an interview about the book on Identity Theory

Plus it makes sense to have an agent watching your royalties. If you've got a publisher with a screwy accounting system (ie ALL of them) an agent has dealt with it before. You don't want to be arguing about whether the amount is right after you cash the check, trust me.

And an agent generally has more leverage with a publisher. You're one person. Even if you're doing ok, the agent has more leverage cause s/he's got several authors with the publisher.

And keeping track of what you're owed, and when, is one of those details that writers tend to be BAD at.

The system evolved into what we have now cause it made sense.


Maria said...

hInteresting. I wonder, does it work the same way for movies? Do the agents get paid, then the actors? What about football? Do athletes get paid, then pay agents or is it the other way around? Being broke probably isn't as big a problem for known actors or atheletes already selected to a team. But I wonder about smaller, lesser known? Does Miss Snark know how it works in other industries?

Miss Snark said...

Actors and athletes add business managers to the list. It works like it does in publishing: business managers and agents get paid, then they pay the "talent". If you watch Entourage on HBO you'll remember Ari giving Vince his two million dollar check for AquaMan. It went from Ari, the agent to Vince, the actor.