Agents without Contracts

Dear Miss Snark:

I've been working with my agent for five years. I've never signed a contract with him. Our relationship is defined on paper when we sign a contract with my publisher. Is that normal?

When I was starting out, I read most agents don't ask clients to sign contracts until they've sold a book. Lately, I've been reading about authors who have contracts with their agents before selling anything. I've always had a suspicion that my agent wants to give himself the freedom to back out of our relationship whenever he wants to and that worries me.

Would you please explain why some agents require clients to sign contracts and others (or just my agent) don't?

Many legitimate, effective, successful and hot shot agents operate on a handshake basis. No written contract from an agent is NOT a red flag at all.

This is how the business used to operate - it was "gentleman's word" and of course the relationship and authority to act was spelled out in the publishing contract. I'm not sure when it changed but lots of us now offer written contracts. I prefer it cause it spells things out and there's a written record of this that and the other is agreed upon.

I know your agent doesn't operate on a handshake cause he wants to be able to dump you in a heartbeat. Even those of us who have contracts can give clients the old heave ho with a mere 30 days notice and a letter. If we're really furious with you, we send it in the SASE you sent your original query in..oh wait, guess I shouldn't mention that in case JA Kornrath is reading.

Nothing you've mentioned makes me think there's anything amiss. Quit fretting. Go write something to make you both wealthy.


Anonymous said...

I think the thing that would worry me is it's been five years without a publishing contract. Is that normal, or should there be a conversation sometime soon to understand why there's publishing contract?

Anonymous said...

That questions has been driving me crazy lately. A well-known agent offered me representation two months ago, submitted my proposal to 7 publishing houses, and, still, hasn't sent me an agreement. He has a track record of sales, but I am not sure why I haven't received an agreement.

I didn't know other agented authors are contractless. Honestly, I feel more at ease.

I'm sure once/if we land a publisher, I'll receive one the next day.

Should I equate not garnering a written contract from my agent with his enthusiasm toward my project?

Anonymous said...

i have two agents (talent and literary) at wma, and have never had a contract from them in the three years i've worked with them. they get me great deals and it's never been an issue...as long as i work to stay awesome, they work to stay awesome too!!!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Can agents without contacts see?
That’s a puzzle to me?

How can they read my submissions,
How can they get Editors’ permissions.

This is all a great mystery

What’s that you say?
I read it wrong?
Contracts? Contracts? You don’t say!

I think I’m going away
All embarrassed.
I’ll find my glasses so I can read,
This is a case of blindness,
Or at least so I’ll plead.

Insta Poem by Rachael

I honestly read “Agents without Contacts.” I think I’m growing old or blind or just turning odd.

I'm not sure I'd be comfortable without a signed contract. I suppose it depends on the Agent and my comfort level.

Miss Snark said...

Anon 1, I think the writer meant that the publishing contracts he does have include an agency clause. I didn't read it that his work had never sold.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to ask. What happened with JA Konrath's agent? Is he still represented?