Check please!

Dear Ms. Snark:
"What about a writer requesting split checks is so offensive? It seems like the easy and bankruptcy proof thing to do, but according to an earlier post, you would drop a client like a hot potato if he or she made such a request."

Indeed. First, mostly agents don't go bankrupt. They die. That's the reason you look for someone who is set up as an LLC or a corporation--so the agency can survive the death of the agent.

But, indeed, why not make it simple and just request the publisher send you your check separately right at the start?

First, and from a totally selfish point of view, I won't get any of my expenses paid. Ok, that's not reason enough for you, I can hear you scoffing from here.

Second, it's easier for you to have one payer at the end of the year (ie me) than 50 small ones. Yes, you'll get a check from the publisher. What about all those small ones from the foreign rights sold in Bhutan, Peru, Nigeria, and Rabbitania? All that money comes through my coffers, and you get a 1099 at the end of the year.

Still not good enough? Smaller publishers know you get two checks, and they pay me, and forget you. That's an 85% savings for them for as long as it takes to figure it out.

Still not convinced? Then we're probably not going to agree on a lot of other things as well, and we'd not be a good fit to work together.

Bottom line: this is how I run my biz. It's pretty standard. If you don't agree with it, no worries, mate, but also, see you later WallyGator.


Caryn said...

I've also heard agents say that they like to receive the checks in order to verify that their authors are not getting cheated. After all, one thing that makes it nice to have an agent is that s/he knows many of the business details that a lot of authors don't know.

laurow said...

I would assume that tracking down errant biannual checks for publishing rights in Fredonia is part of what Miss Snark and her cohort do to earn their percentage.
Do you really like mucking about knee deep in paperwork? (I have lots of better ways to avoid writing, but to each his own.)

C.E. Petit said...

There's another reason to avoid the split check related to dying: The author dies while the work is still in print. Even if the author has left a complete, proper will that actually covers the literary estate (hint: if you didn't go to a lawyer, it probably didn't, as none of the "will packages"—whether from books or otherwise—of which I'm aware even come close), the probate process could very well screw everything up, especially if the publisher's royalty check isn't accurate. <sarcasm> Of course, that would never happen, as the big-hearted accounting deparment will make absolutely certain that dead authors are getting every cent to which they're entitled. </sarcasm>

This basically boils down to the technical civil procedure doctrine of "standing"… but you really don't want to know the details. My law practice involves this stuff every day, and I don't want to know the details!

So, the short answer is that, IMNSHO—which, since I am not the fabulous Miss Snark, should not necessarily be taken as hers—"split checks" are not a good idea for single-author works, and seldom a good idea for multiple-author works. Further, depending upon the exact timing of checks it won't even evade the "problems" with bankruptcy and the agent's death anyway…