1.30.2006

Another Braying Voice

Anyone who actually signs with an agent is foolish. There's no need to sign a contract with an agent. I've been writing and publishing for years, have had three agents and never signed with any of them.



Uh huh. Glad to hear it. Hope it continues to work well for you.

I don't work that way. I like my clients to know, in writing, what they're going to pay. I like them to know, in writing, how to get out of my clutches. I like them to know, in writing, that the laws of the state of Rabbitania apply. I like them to know, in writing, that I may have to pay a foreign rights agent, and how much that will cost them. I like them to know in writing, what expenses I charge them for and when. I like them to know, in writing, that if they leave the agency, they still have to cough up commissions for work I sold.

This is a business. It's not a social relationship. That means we're not taking vows "for life" and "better or worse". It's a letter of agreement that spells out our understanding.

Some agents do not have letters of agreement, or written contracts. They rely instead on the publishing contract to spell out the agent's duties. That's all good and well till you get to the part the publishing contracts don't address at all. Like expenses, communication, foreign rights, film rights, binding arbitration, and the fact I represent people whose work competes with yours.

I look on an agency contract as a statement of good faith by me to you.

You can disagree all you want, but it certainly doesn't make my clients foolish. Foolishness is, as they say, represented elsewhere.

18 comments:

Marissa said...

Glad it worked for anonymous. I, on the other hand, have the negotiating abilities and contractual expertise of an amoeba and knowledge of who's buying what in NY to match. My agent's busy on my behalf right now and I'm sure she's earning every bit of that 15%.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

It ain't (to quote Lord Peter) business until its on paper and signed. period.

The honorable handshake is a myth. This is so not so much because people are crooks, but because memories fade and memories differ.

Working without a signed contract is more than a tad stupid. It suggests one has an "I can handle it myself" attitude. The best way to handle it yourself is to have a legally binding, well written and honest contract.

Why is it that some exude self-confidence as they prepare to walk off a cliff?

Dave Kuzminski said...

There still remain some people with integrity who can be relied upon to conduct business honestly based on nothing more than a handshake.

Anonymous said...

Dave--

But how do you know you've found the person who IS honest and honorable?

I'd say I was honest, honorable, and cute to boot, but you don't know me. How do you know I really am? Research into folks will only get you so far...that's why there's so many listings over on P&E...

Miss Snark said...

I agree with you completely Dave: Nat Sobel, Molly Frederich to name two. Utterly and completely reliable people.

I'm not saying contracts are required, or the lack therof is a red flag. It's simply how I choose to operate my agency. Castigating my clients as "foolish", which is what the original commenter said, was what I took issue with.

The lack of a contract does not offer protection that the presence of one would remove. There's no benefit to no contract as far as I can tell; and plenty of plusses.

Anonymous said...

My agent is utterly reliable. Can't say were buddies or pals, but she has a good track record, a hustling attitude, enthusiasm for my work, and a cool leather Harley vest. And even though she likes red wine rather than gin, she has been spotted at the LBF using a pail - so that's to the good as well.

I trust her completely. That's why we have a written contract. Trust should be a happy-good thing, and a few clauses and signatures removes the anxiety-bad part.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. When an agent sells for you, doesn't the agent get the check from the publishing company? Why would anyone have their money sent to someone else without a written agreement? Here, I trust you to give me my share of this 10k I made? No, no, no, I don't need anything in writing. WTF?

Maya said...

Like Miss Snark says, the contract is there to protect the writer. The agent can count on the publisher's contract to protect the agent's 15%.

My contract addressed little things like my expectations. I would not have proceeded without it, and I like AND trust my agent.

Kate Epstein said...

Contracts are great and I use one for my agency, but they're actually pretty difficult to enforce, which is probably why some agents don't bother. They're good for everybody--but they're not all that good. They don't make a huge difference in most cases. Still, the few in which they make a difference is certainly worth the postage and the trouble.

David Forbes said...

My agent's contract is a long paragraph addendum to the contract I got from the publisher. Meaning I didn't sign with him until he had already got me a three-book deal.

He spent six months offering advice on polishing the book to get it as editor-friendly as possible, all on his dime with no committment from me either. We spoke on the phone a lot, he told me he charged 15% for domestic rights, 20% for foreign and dramatic rights, and charged very minor manuscript copying costs, which were itemized out of my first advance payment. He is worth every dime and I really enjoy the way he does business.

I guess he falls somewhere between the handshake kind of agent and one who uses a contract. I had expected a contract from him when he agreed to represent me. And he is no lightweight agent either; he has a sizable stable of bestselling writers. I consider myself fortunate to be one of his clients.

Mags said...

I would think that having a contract to read also prevents a lot of annoying e-mails and phone calls from nitwit writers. Though this be madness, yet there is method to it. ;-)

Deborah said...

*twitch*

I learnt from my father that you should ALWAYS GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING.

That was when he reneged on our verbal agreement regarding the cleanliness of my cave... I never did get that pony...

I am in awe of the restraint used by Miss Snark. The writer is obviously counting on the pixies of good fortune to protect him. Best of luck Dimmy McDimerton, for your sake, I hope you never have to learn the hard way.

No wait… I lied. I am FULL of hope.

Anonymous said...

As Miss Snark has said repeatedly, in this post and in others,'no contract' is NOT a red flag.

My agent doesn't use contracts. She's with a reputable, long-established agency that doesn't use contracts. She has a track record, and clients who sing her praises. All this was researched before I queried her.

Are some of you seriously suggesting that when she offered me representation, I should have said, "Unh-uh, not without a written contract..."?

If Miss Snark had offered me representation and said, "Here, sign this contract," I would have signed. That how her agency does business, and I can see the advantages.

A contract can solve some problems, but a contract really won't protect you from the kinds of scammers Strauss and Kuzminski, the Fearless Vampire Killers, spend their time exposing. People had contracts with Dorothy Deering, for heaven's sake.

Research won't give you total certainty. It's like getting married: can you really be absolutely certain your spouse isn't a serial killer? No, but you can have a realistic assessment...

And by the same token, when your spouse comes after you with that same axe they have used on so many other victoms, brandishing the "honor and cherish" clause of you marriage vows probably isn't going to save you.

"Faith, and it's an uncertain world entirely." --Captain Blood

Stacy said...

If money is involved, I would think that it is only sensible to get a contract before the check arrives. Until then, it's all just talk, isn't it?

kim a. said...

I have a question, Miss Snark, if you read this and care to answer it.

If you do change agents, who deals with getting your previous agent her commission on the work she sold? Does your new agent deal with that or is it up to you?

Thanks!

April said...

I just signed a contract for my seventh book. I have been with the same agent the whole time. First she was with an agency that has been around since the 1930s or earlier, then she went out on her own. In all that time, we have never had a contract between us. It has worked out fine - at least for us.

I love this blog - it is my favorite way to spend time I probably should be writing.

Carter said...

Take it from someone who's been around the block a few times. And then a few more. If money is involved, get it in writing with a signature.

Hey, as far as I'm concerned, if you want a stranger handling your money without anything in writing (which means little or no recourse if/when things get strange), that's on you. I'll pass, thanks.

Jo Bourne said...

I'm another writer without a contract, and quite content.

My agent has worked in the genre for years. Her reputation is unblemished.
She handshakes.

Fine with me.

Now I wouldn't deal with an agent I didn't trust on just a handshake ...
but I wouldn't sign a contract with an agent I didn't trust either.

The publisher's contract
(let us touch wood)
will spell out the minutia of money
when the time comes.