Letters of intent

Hey Miss Snark --

I'm speaking to a book agent now who I've been dealing with for the past two weeks or so. I haven't gotten to hand her in my non-fiction proposal yet because I've been so swamped with other things, though I have an online campaign building momentum for this book and I believe she's seen it and now believes even more in the project than she had, before.

She just wrote me and said that she understands that book proposals take time, so don't worry, but in the meantime, she'd love to do a letter of intent with me. I think this sounds like great news but am just unaware of what that actually means in the publishing world?

Could you pleaaase enlighten us, over here in my neck of the woods?

My guess is she wants to nail you down so you aren't shopping this to other people but I don't know. I've never heard of issuing a letter of intent before but perhaps some of the Snarklings can enlighten us both.


Luc2 said...

I don't know the publishing world, but I have a legal background. In most cases, a Letter of Intent is a binding contract in which not all the terms have been described yet, but binding nontheless. I'd suggest you take it to a lawyer.

Good luck!

DeadlyAccurate said...

Maybe the agent doesn't work on a contract and the letter of intent simply serves to clarify the terms of the handshake deal. I'm just guessing, though.

Rowan said...

In my day job industry (automotive), a letter of intent is usually issued in order to kick off a supplier, when the actual purchase order may be some time off (due to the bureaucratic nature of many purchasing departments). As luc2 said, it's normally binding (i.e. cancellation charges) and serves to start work on parts that have 8-week lead times.
I suspect Miss Snark is correct here. The agent wants to get 'first dibs' on what you've got.

Anonymous said...

You should reply to the agent and ask for clarification. "What exactly do you mean by a letter of intent?" is a fair question and if she's excited enough about the project to keep in contact with you, she should similarly be willing to help answer your questions. After all, it puts her in the best light possible and gives you an extra nudge to do business with her.

Why not ask her to explain what she means? Explain what the letter would indicate, what the terms might be, and what you'd then be responsible for (turning in a manuscript by a specific date, or giving her first dibs on reviewing your work). What would be included? These are the things I'd ask.

Don't sign anything without careful and close review. Asking for an explanation is the smart thing to do. Let us know how it turns out! Good luck.

Snout's Ghost said...

Beware a letter of intent. Without the terms defined, it could end up meaning almost anything. If you have something worth shopping around, why bind your hands with open-ended terms that could, ultimately, be resolved in ways unfavorable to you? The only reason I can see doing something like this is if you really want this agent and no other, and that's the only way he/she would undertake your representation (that, in and of itself, has my antennae quivering, and they're making my head hurt), or you honestly feel your chances of shopping this to other agents successfully are slim to none. When you start mucking around in binding people to a deal without the terms of the deal being known, it's scary. When you do that between two parties who have no history on which to base their beliefs as to the fair dealing they can expect, it's a horror flick in the making.

Tattieheid said...

I agree with most/all the comments already mentioned.

A letter of intent is if you like a "pre Contract" that is in itself legally binding. Ie. in this case you are committing to this particular agent for this work unless something akin to an act of god interferes.

They are normally used where one party (in this case presumably the agent) may have/want to invest time and money in a project and needs some kind of guarantee of return if successful. For example, a manufacturer that has to set up a special production line to test a new project will expect a letter of intent. If the production is successful that company will have a reasonable guarantee of getting the actual work.

This agent may feel they can market this book and want to do the groundwork now; and/or may feel the need for editorial assistance, but need some guarantee that they will get their tuppence worth once you come up with the concrete proposal.

This is not in itself unreasonable. A letter of intent need not be scary. The reality in this case is it will probably be their standard agency contract without mention of the specific work, as you haven't done the proposal yet.

Bottom line always have any contract checked but if this is a good agent don't worry too much and in the current climate be glad to get an offer.

Twill said...

A letter of intent is one step worse than a handshake agreement.

In business, it is helpful as a way to indicate the terms that have been agreed, and to specify the terms that are still to be negotiated.

But, regarding agents, how many terms are there to negotiate? Standard agency contract is (I understand) 15%, with certain expenses paid by the agency and certain by the author. Either the agent is going to represent you or not.

So the impression I get is that the agent thinks you are going to get away. (Probably because you have done so much work already.)

On the other hand, she would be a fool to start pushing your project without some kind of deal with you, handshake or letter of intent or contract. The only question for you is, does this agent have credibility? Has she actually sold nonfiction like yours? Is this agent someone who can actually represent you? And is she onboard for this one exciting project or for your professional life? If so, get her onboard so she can be whispering at the same time as your other campaign.

If not, then who cares what a letter of intent is?

Joshilyn Jackson said...

I have a handshake deal with my agent, always have, through three book deals now. A month or so BEFORE he shopped my first novel, he asked me to write a letter of intent that basically said, "I'm so glad we are going to be working together as you try to place my book."

He was already excited abotu the book, and he wanted the letter while I was still revising. He had a lunch with an editor he thought might bid, and he wanted the authority to talk the MS up before he was officially shopping it. It was a gray space where he didnt; have the final MS...

If she wants a letter of intent, she MAY be wanting to talk up the project with editors or an editor she knows is looking for somethign very like yours, and wants to have somehign set with you before she starts puttign work in to sell a project you may take elsewhere?

That's just a GUESS based on why my agent wanted one, lo these many years ago...I would be OPEN and DIRECTand say "I'm not familiar with that term in this context..." and then I would ask both exactly what the agent wants the letter to say and what purpose it serves.

KC said...

I don't know for certain what a "letter of intent" means in the publishing world, but every year college football recruiters do their darndest to get talented high school football players to sign a "letter of intent" to attend their schools come fall. It effectively takes the player off of the market as far as other colleges go. Maybe your prospective agent watches a lot of ESPN.