Dear Miss Snark:
I have at long last received an offer of representation from an agent. My excitement, however, was somewhat dampened when I read the agency's boilerplate contract.
These provisions, in combination, trouble me:
1. It covers not just a particular work, but all literary works or properites of the author during the contract period.
2. The contract is for one year and, at the end of the initial term, can be terminated on 90 days notice. (Sounds like it is binding for the first 15 months; I thought a 30 day termination notice was standard.)
3. Expenses are charged against the author's earnings, but if there are no earnings, the author is billed for them.
Have these contract provisions have become common in the industry? This is a well-known, reputable agency, so should I just be grateful and not worry? It is unlikely I could get changes to their boilerplate contract, in any case. Still, I would really appreciate your advice before I sign.
Why do you think they won't change it?
Have you asked?
Ask for the reason behind the language and if you don't agree, ask to have it modified.
I don't think there is a standard agency agreement. My colleauges and I are always tinkering with things based on experiences (read: horrible unforseen situations we hope to never deal with again) and what we learn from other people. For example I just added a "duration of one year" clause to my contracts.
I don't agree philosophically with the idea of the author picking up expenses if the work doesn't sell. It's also unenforceable. What are they going to do? Turn you over to a collection agency for unpaid postage? They can't hold your manuscript hostage. They can't say "well, yanno, he didn't pay his postage and messenger bills before he sashayed off into the sunset" without looking like TRUE idiots.
And they may have 90 day term in there cause it takes awhile to close all the open submissions. I have 30 days, but the only time that was a problem was when an author, disheartened, said he was leaving, and I said ok, but I'm not pulling any submissions just in case, and by dog I sold the thing for him about 45 days later. We weren't parting on bad terms, and we laugh about it now but oh man was I glad he didn't say "yanno, SnarkforBrains, you technically don't represent me no mo".
Bottom line: ask for more favorable language. The points your asking to change aren't significant, back-to-the-lawyer language things. They're adjustment of time and payment clauses.