Dead Agents

Hi Miss Snark,

Suppose an agent with a good track record wants to represent me, but she’s elderly and a solo practitioner. Further suppose that the agent sells my book, and then dies or develops Alzheimer’s. The agent or the agent’s heirs would continue to collect a commission on my book’s earnings, but who would perform the agent’s duties? Who, for example, would go to bat for me if I encounter a problem with the publisher?

Would you discuss the provisions that should be included in an author-agent contract to protect the author in such an eventuality?

Yes, the agent's estate is entitled to all the money, but nope, there's no one there to do the work. Nice situation, huh. You want to ask how an agent sets up her biz. Is she an LLC? Who inherits?

And forget elderly...anyone can get hit by a bus in this city, or die at a young age. Just this past couple of weeks there was the sad news of the death of an agent who was under 45, and the closing of a publisher after the untimely death of the principal some months back.

The only people who really are in a pickle are the ones who have books that are still earning money but who are not writing any more books. Those folks have nothing to offer a new agent. If you are continuing to produce work, your new agent may be willing to work on the old stuff as a courtesy. Or, if the dead agent's heirs are willing, they can split the commission with a new agent.

If there isn't a lot of money at stake, the dead agent's heirs can assign the commission rights back to you.

This is a tough subject to ask about but it's one you should. The LAST kind of call you want is "Your agent is dead, and the last royalty check was cashed some time back and we have no idea by whom or where your royalty is."


Anonymous said...

Is it better to go with a big agency than a one-person shop for this reason? At a big agency, you'd be fine unless everyone at the agency was hit by the bus.

Sherry said...

I'm surprised some clever insurance agency hasn't developed a policy against this kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

While I am not a lawyer, many of my relatives are, and this is fairly straight forward stuff: when the agent dies, the contract is over since one of the parties no longer is in this world; any royalties uncollected by the author are like unpaid debts that are due from the deceased agent's estate.

While it can be more complicated, of course, usually it isn't.

Miss Snark said...

Anon2 is incorrect. The estate of the agent is entitled to collect the commissions earned by the agent as long as the book continues to earn royalties and commissions are not assigned elsewhere.

Future commission is an asset. It does not cease to exist upon the death of the owner any more than a bank account does.

The contract for representation may be over, but the rights to commission are not null and void.