Hi Miss Snark-

I'm a blogger who has generated enough of an audience to become something of a D-List Internet celebrity. I'd always wanted to write something book-like but had yet to get off of my ass to start pitching.
A couple of weeks ago, though, an agent cold-e-mailed saying that he'd be interested in representing me and helping guide me through the process of coming up with a proposal, based on my blog.

This is of course the fantasy of every blogger with pretentions, and I know I'm extremely fortunate, but since I am by nature suspicious and cranky, my first thought was that it was all too good to be true. It does appear to be on the up and and up,
though: the agency he works for his well-known and respected, and some Google searches reveal that Mr. Agent Man actually does work there.

Mr. Agent Man was nice enough to send me a boilerplate version of the contract his agency usually signs with authors. It
all seemed like pretty much exactly what I expected except for this bit:

"You agree to reimburse us for the reasonable expenses incurred by us in connection with the disposition of any of the Rights to the Literary Work, including, without limitation, postage, messengers, copying, facsimile, telephone, and other similar charges. Should it be necessary or advisable for us to incur any extraordinary expenditures on your behalf, we shall obtain your prior consent. Any expenses incurred by us hereunder shall be paid by or charged to you, as we shall mutually agree, apart from our compensation."

Now I had heard from other sources that a warning sign that an agent that might rip you off is that they charge you up front for "marketing expenses" and the like. Don't doubt the legitimacy of this agent, so: what's the deal with this clause? Do agents typically charge for this stuff? Do they typically charge you as they incur said charges (i.e. I would have to write them a check for them to pimp my book around) or just take it out of your advance/royalty checks once those actually manifest themselves? And what kind of charges are we talking about for this sort of thing? Any guidance, snarky or otherwise, would be appreciated.

Sign me,
Baffled in Baltimore

Yes we charge you for expenses. There are two things missing in this clause that make my eyebrows go up: the lack of a limit and failure to mention WHEN the expenses are charged.

This is what my contract says:

(Agency) will bill you for postage, copying and other costs specifically related to the sale of the represented works. This cost will not exceed $300 without your consent. You will not be billed until your work is sold and payment received.

Most agents I know are so lax about billing expenses that it's almost funny that we talk about this so much.

The agents I excoriate are the ones who make you pay up front or before the work is sold.

Ask the agent to change the clause. It's just boiler plate probably but insert a limit on amount and when they are charged.


Sara Dennis said...

This expenses issue raises a question I've been thinking about quite a bit lately.

If a client offers to print you x number of copies of their manuscript and send them to you at their own expense, would you agree to that, or do you prefer to print it on your own?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the billing clause. I guess if the manuscript never sells, the author never has to pay. Yep, and then the costs get written off on taxes as business overhead, makes sense. The other clause that has open-ended charges for whatever and forever smells like yap poo, or in common lingo, a con job.

Anonymous said...

What is it with agents scanning blogs for new writers? Have you seen some of the books that come from bloggers? (Actually, I don't think I have! But I'm sure Miss Snark's book will be good.)

Anonymous said...

If a client offers to print you x number of copies of their manuscript and send them to you at their own expense, would you agree to that, or do you prefer to print it on your own?

I think the same question was covered in the "Snarkives" somewhere. If I remember right, the answer was that given the amount of copying Miss Snark has done, it would be tough for you to get copies done as economically as she does (even if you print them yourself). Add to that the cost of shipping all those manuscripts and you'll end up paying more. Furthermore, you'll pay up front for the copies instead of paying when a publisher pays for your work. All in, not a lot to gain by doing it yourself, and I'm sure there are other practical reasons not to that haven't already been mentioned...