9.06.2006

This is a business transaction not a religious experience

Dear Miss Snark,

Your insight and crispy comments have always been helpful. Thank you.

My question is whether I should get an agent under the following circumstances?

Last week, I received an offer from major publisher on my YA novel. Not a big advance-$10,000 but I accepted offer (by email) b/c A. I was impulsive and thrilled since I am first-time novelist and as such focused on opportunity; B. I was encouraged that whatever promotion they did it would top a small press; C. I was impulsive and thrilled...

So, now that I have made oral commitment and editor advised contracts will be drawn and take month or so, I am facing the question of whether to get an agent. I wouldn't want an agent to wrangle over the deal which I believe is standard for a newbie esp. in this genre, and of course because I've already agreed to it (however stupid I now see that as). However, this might be the right time for me to get an agent for future work and to help encourage promotion, and of course help with final manuscript of this novel.

What should I do?


Don't be a nitwit. The "standard contract" steals your coat and tries for your galoshes too.
Publishers aren't stupid (mostly). They will happily treat you like an adult who is expected to adhere to the contracts she signs.

You need an agent, or you need a contract review specialist. If you sign this without one or the other looking it over I'm going to ban you from reading this blog AND I'm going to send KY over with the clue gun. He may be short but he's got dead aim.

Your oral commitment does NOT NOT NOT cover the minutiae of the contract. We do this all the time, particularly at auctions. We get the money and some of the details on the table, and agree we're going to make a deal. THEN we negotiate the contract. Publishers expect this. They'll tell you the stuff they won't budge on, but almost everything is negotiable.

Publishers are not doing you a favor. They intend to make money. You don't think the car mechanic is doing you a favor by making an appointment to service your sedan do you?

This is a business transaction. Treat it like one. Query agents. If no one bites, email me again. At the very least invest in Kirsch's Guide to the Book Contract and bone up on what you're going to be looking at.

Bad contracts can damage your career for years. Don't fuck up.

14 comments:

Sherry Decker said...

I'm so glad you told her/him that~! The first thing I thought, halfway through the third paragraph, was DAMMIT - GET AN AGENT! I'm sure an agent will be interested, especially at this point.

by the way, author - Congratulations!

Diana Peterfreund said...

An agent is important, even if you think your boilerplate won't budge (it will -- maybe not on the advance/rights/royalty terms you agreed to, but almost definitely on options, approvals, any of a dozen other issues that are going to wind up being important). Furthermore, you want an agent, because an agent will go to bat for you whenever you need them to. Horrible cover? Unacceptable flap copy? Need an extension on your deadline? Agent, baby. Agent.

Lynnzer Tart said...

Okay, Miss Snark is gving it to me plain and simple--GET AN AGENT--but what she didn't address is the negative effect this could have with editor/publisher whose email offer containing advance and rights, I said I was thrilled to ACCEPT. She alludes to the fact that SOP-standard operating procedure-is to agree, then negotiate. But, is this so even when you have led publisher to believe it's a go? Can I really recover from my initial knee-jerk nitwit answer and get an agent who negoitates without destroying "my word?"
Thanks so much for the congrats!
Thank goodness for Miss Snark--bite on!

Dave said...

When I was young, I bought 4 acres of nice land in the country (farmland next to a county park) with the intention of building a house.
When It came time for the construction mortgage, the bank insisted on their lawyer sitting in on the deal even thought the builder and I agreed on everything in the contract.
That lawyer saved my ass many times over and was worth his $$$$.

Years later when I had to be executor on an estate, I found out that the deed to my {relative}'s house was in the deceased's name. Only a lawyer could handle that mess so that my {relative} didn't pay inheritance tax on his house.

GET AN AGENT YOU WILL BENEFIT YOUR SELF BY HAVING ONE!

Bella Stander said...

Can I really recover from my initial knee-jerk nitwit answer and get an agent who negoitates without destroying "my word?"
Of course! Besides, what makes you think your publisher's "word" is unchanging & immutable? As well as not being a religious experience, this isn't a popularity contest. Be a business person & get an agent. The publisher may not like you as much (because they won't be able to push you around as easily), but they sure as hell will respect you more.

Jenny Rappaport said...

I agree completely with Bella!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Outside of the UK and the USA, literary agents are actualy a very rare breed. Almost unknown in the non-English speaking world. I have just received a request for the full ms from an editor at a major UK publisher, an editor I've had dealings with in the past and who loves my writing. If she takes me on I am seriously considering doing without the agent - after having queried and submitted for half a year and no agent falling in love with my ms enough to rep me. I just grew tired of "it's great, but not for me, thanks."

I'm a member of the Society of Authors which means I can get my contract vetted for free if it comes to that.
We'll see.

Anonymous said...

lynnzer tart: She alludes to the fact that SOP-standard operating procedure-is to agree, then negotiate. But, is this so even when you have led publisher to believe it's a go?

LT, read carefully Miss Snark's paragraph that begins, Your oral commitment does NOT NOT NOT cover the minutiae of the contract. Read it several times, because you're rattled and not, I think, absorbing the full sense of the words.

Slow down. Breathe. A good thing has happened to you, and you've been thrown by the unexpectedness of it. You are not an oathbreaker for getting an agent in to negotiate for you at this point. It is an expected part of doing business. Boilerplate is designed to strip the shirt off the author's back. Agents are designed to rectify the imbalance.

Congratulations. Remember to breathe.

Aconite

Anonymous said...

"Don't fuck up."

That's why I like Miss Snark. -JTC

Anonymous said...

Publishers want to make as much money as they can. You want to too. The only way you can do that is to get someone to negotiate the contract. They won't drop you for trying.

Note:Never accept on an impulse again. Impulses are bad at giving good advise

Lynnzer Tart said...

Thanks for the unanimous vote that I should get an agent. I'm certainly concluding here that it's not glaringly "unkosher" for agent to negotiate certain aspects of email offer I agreed to. In a sense email was agreement for this publisher to publish and now I'm seeking agent for better understanding of the details. This is how I'm framing it in my mind.I have one friend who's been published however, and she did mention that sometimes a "lower" advance for first time isn't so bad since you want the book to "earn out." So maybe I'll ask agent to leave that aspect alone since online research anyway says $10,000 1st time/YA is in ballpark and low advance is not necessarly reflective of marketing publisher will do for you, despite the truth of this corollary with a sizable advance. I think I missed one thing in what Miss Snark said--Does anyone have an opinon on her 4th sentence re: "they will happily treat..." know it's sarcastic but inthis context what exactly does she mean here. Don't want to bug her on this tiny point when gist of her response is clear.

Anonymous said...

"They will happily treat..." means that down the road, they won't budge for "But, I didn't have an agent and I didn't understand what I was signing, so couldn't you pleeeeease change the terms now just because you love me?"

I am in this situation with a NF book, and I wrote to Miss Snark about it, and she said the same thing. I took the route of consulting a book contract specialist lawyer. Because he was so expensive, I discussed the contract with him, then negotiated myself with the publisher. I just sent off a contract with about 20 changes on it (including striking quite a few rights, and more money!) Still, I will never do this without an agent again.

Heed Miss Snark - GET AN AGENT.

Oh, and CONGRATULATIONS!

Anonymous said...

Lynnzer said: "Thanks for the unanimous vote that I should get an agent. I'm certainly concluding here that it's not glaringly "unkosher" for agent to negotiate certain aspects of email offer I agreed to. In a sense email was agreement for this publisher to publish and now I'm seeking agent for better understanding of the details. This is how I'm framing it in my mind."

That's nearly right. You now need an agent or contract specialist to review the CONTRACT. And, you initially wrote to Miss Snark with:

"So, now that I have made oral commitment and editor advised contracts will be drawn and take month or so...."

So you should now query agents, bring someone on board, review the contract (and modify it if necessary), and remember that the e-mail agreement is PRELIMINARY. The details will be worked out later. Best of luck, congrats, and remember that the agent will be reviewing the details of the CONTRACT, not merely the e-mails.
-SK

Anonymous said...

And rather than framing it as "negotiating the details of the e-mail offer," you should view this as "I’m waiting on the contract to arrive, and will need help to negotiate the details of that written contact."
-SK