Handshake deals

Miss Snark: What is your take on agents who use verbal agreements instead of written contracts? Should this be a cause of concern even if the agent has years of experience, a solid client base with award winning books, and consistent sales? Thanks in advance!

Lots of very very good, reliable and honest agents do not use contracts. It's NOT a red flag at all.
Just like very good and reliable agents don't belong to AAR sometimes. Don't use this as an absolute criteria or you'll miss some really good people.

Agents who don't have contracts do have agency clauses in the publishing contracts though.


diane s said...

(Bestselling author) Joshilyn Jackson has no contract with her agent and says he's wonderful- so I guess it's more about trusting them x

lizzie26 said...

Thanks, Miss Snark, for posting this. It's a question others have asked on writer's boards. I have an agent who's a member of AAR and no written contract. (A nice letter welcoming me as a client, though!)

Anonymous said...

Agents who have contracts also have agency clauses in the publishing contract.

There's no way an agent is going to allow for any misunderstanding.

bookfraud said...

my agent and i have a verbal agreement, and there have been no issues to date. he prefers the arrangement because it allows either party to easily move on, in case things don't work out. (which may be a negative...).

of course, if my novel would sell, our relationship would be even better.

Maya said...

At the time my agent extended an offer of representation, she said she didn't require a contract since she would be protected in any contract with a publisher that she had arranged.

I requested a written contract, and she immediately agreed and emailed me one. I asked for some changes, we discussed them and came to a contract we were both happy to live with. I redid the contract myself, signed two copies and sent them off. She promptly returned one signed copy, and we've been happy since.

James said...

Apros pos to nothing at all, I’d like to thank you. I’ve spent the last two months writing and rewriting my query and synopsis. Your critiques and comments have made this electrician a better writer. I’ve cursed you and drank to you (bourbon not gin, barrels not buckets) but there’s no denying that you’ve helped a lot. Thank again.

Anonymous said...

That's a good question. When my agent didn't rush a contract to me when he offered to represent me, I was puzzled, and felt he wasn't optimistic about selling the project. But he has a 30-year plus track of sales to high-powered publishers. Right now were working on one.

I found that many successful agents operate the same way.

It would be interesting to generate some comments regarding the pros and cons of agent/author contracts from an Agent's perspective.

Anonymous said...

I had a written contract with my agent for a single book, named in the contract. That has long since expired (never did sell it), but she has since sold three other books for me,without a formal contract. We just assume the original contract holds for all future sales.

April said...

I have had a "handshake deal" with my agent for 14 years, first when she was with an agency that has been around since the 1930s, and later when she went out on her own. It has worked out fine.

Anonymous said...

I did not have a written contract with my first agent. He was pretty good for a time, but eventually I twigged (over a period of two years when he screwed up in a major way on three projects) that he wasn't perfect. Since we had nothing on paper firing him was emotionally difficult, but accomplished over the phone, no formal letters.

He DID have those agency clauses in the contracts he negotiated. I still get royalties from his agency for books he'd sold, even after 10 years. When a book's gone out of print he has relinquished anything to do with it, leaving my new agent free to represent it. (Which she has done very well indeed!)

My new agent exchanges paperwork with the old one when she wants to acquire the right to rep a particular OOP title. I don't know how she does it, but am most glad she has the magic touch!

Finding the right agent is very much like finding the right spouse. You want someone who can be enthusiastic about your work, has a totally professional attitude, and be easy to talk to--or at least that's what works for me. Other writers may prefer someone more abrupt and businesslike, but I'm more of a "casual Friday" type!

Anonymous said...

A few months ago I could have asked this exact same question myself. I don't have a contract with my agent, who isn't an AAR member--however, when I met with her in person one of the very first things she said was, "I'm willing to send this manuscript out to editors right now, but I think you'd be more likely to get a better sale if you make some revisions first." Then we talked about potential revisions for 90 minutes or so, in addition to discussing editors to whom she was thinking of taking the manuscript and my plans for future writing projects.

The seemingly informal way in which she conducts business (at least at this stage) was confusing at first, but a couple of published writers I know who don't have contracts with their agents convinced me that I had nothing to worry about--partly because the agent who I'm working with has a reputation that implies that a handshake deal from her is as good as a written contract; partly because you'd think she wouldn't have wasted her valuable time in a fairly long meeting with me and with subsequent follow-up e-mails if she didn't intend to sell the book. She has a very good track record and has been completely honest in her dealings with me so far, and I feel lucky to have found her.

Elektra said...

I should be more worried if an agent insisted on a very binding contract, ala Barbara Bauer and Co.

Lydia said...

I had a written contract with my first agent. She was terrible.

With my second agent, it's a handshake deal, plus contract clauses. And guess what? She fabulous. She has at least eight NYT/USA-today bestsellers in her stable and has moved mountains to help my career, so it's likely that I'll soon be joining them.

tabatha said...

I much prefer having no contract. My two agents, past and present, instead represent the book, legally speaking; their interests are spelled out in each book contract, as many have said here. I really like the fact that my first agent will represent the books he sold for me forever (I get royalty checks, very tiny ones, many years later), but I was free to leave when I needed to.

Conversely, an aquaintance who signed an agency contract had to give something like 60 days written notice of his intent to depart. His book hadn't yet been submitted, and for 60 days he couldn't take his ms. elsewhere--at least that's how he explained things. He felt trapped.

I suspect that if people could see how clearly and in what detail a book contract spells out an agent's relationship to the publisher, the author, and "the work," they would have fewer worries about agent-client contracts.