You want fine print? I'll give you no print!

Dear Miss Snark,
I just ran across something I have never seen before regarding an agent. A friend has received a request for partial from said agent, and was asking our crit group if anyone had any additional info about the agency.

Reviewing his site, I not only found that he has no experience in publishing what-so-ever, but he included this in his FAQ section:

Would I have to sign a contract?
The (XXX) Agency realizes that different clients prefer different things. We do offer a contract for those wanting one, however, we also offer verbal agreements.

VERBAL AGREEMENTS?????????????? What the???????

Am I just crazy thinking this bizarre, or is this some new trend with agents?

Actually, it's a very old practice. Written agreements between agents and writers is the new trend. There are VERY well established and respected agencies who don't do written contracts.

What might not be clear is that the publisher includes an agency clause in contracts for books they buy. That is the legal stuff that lets agents collect their dough even if no contract exists between writer and agent.

I like written contracts and I offer them to clients, and they have to sign them before we jump in the pool and paddle for dear life. I like to have everyone understand the money part upfront. We've all had experiences with people who didn't hear the same thing in a conversation.

Of more concern to me is that the guy has no experience in publishing. Even new new new agents usually have some sort of publishing experience. How does this guy plan to sell things if he doesn't know anyone?


harridan said...


Now that's an interesting tid-bit.

You'd think in this day and age contracts would be the norm, not the other way around.

Kelly said...

Once upon a time, I had an agent - one with a very old, established New York agency. We had no contract. I considered that a good thing, since she never sold my stuff and it was no problem to break off the relationship. For a published author, I'm not sure if no contract is as good of a deal.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I've found it very interesting over the past decades that I've been pursuing publication for my work that the scam agencies almost always offer a written contract and that many of the legitimate agencies do not. I gave it some thought after encountering how some of those scams used that in their dealings with writers. Essentially, it has several purposes.

One is to assure the writer that the scam agency isn't a scam.

A second is to furnish the scammer with a tool that can be used to threaten the writer should the writer get wind of what's going on and attempt to refuse payment.

That's why a lot of scams that do submit to publishers send the work to publishers that are a) not appropriate for the kind of manuscript content, b) sure to pass on a query so the scammer doesn't have to actually send in a full copy, or c) inappropriate and accepts queries so that there's no chance of a slip-up. Then the scammer can produce some rejections, keep the money, and drag the writer along for as much money as can be coughed up. This way, the scammer can contest any court challenge with proof that he tried to sell the manuscript and that there was no lack of performance on his part according to the contract which the court would then have no recourse but to enforce. Unwritten contracts, scammers have learned, are harder to enforce when it comes to up front fees.

Harry Connolly said...

Isn't that the sign of a useless, but non-scammer agent? A useless agent is someone who, having never worked in publishing before, decides to hang out a shingle, correct?

Even if they have the most honorable intentions, they're more harmful than helpful, as I understand it.

Carter said...

As always, I like to use common sense. When I get to the point that I am negotiating with an agent, the following points will become relevant:

1) I don't know this person from Adam's housecat.

2) This person will be handling large (hopefully) sums of money for me.

3) If it's in writing, we both know what was said and what was not said, and misunderstandings will become far less common and far less rancorous.

That may be me being paranoid, but I've been burned a few times in my life.

David Isaak said...

Many fine agents don't use contracts, and many well-known agencies have never adopted them.

Frankly, I'd worry a lot more about the track record of the agent and agency (and their membership in AAR), and very little about the presence or absence of a contract.

True, every agent has to start out somehwere. But many of the better 'beginners' start out at established agencies, not by simply hanging out their shingle. In cases where the agent is new and also independent, did they just quit as a wired-up editor at a good house? If not, well, caveat emptor, folks.