Hi Miss Snark,
Glad to have you back. Here's a question I don't think you've answered before: When an agent makes an offer, is it rude or inappropriate to ask to see her boilerplate contract as part of the thinking-about-it process? Or do the agent and author simply assume they will be able to agree on contract terms? The author wouldn't want to say yes to the agent, withdraw her submission from other agents who are considering it, and then find something she doesn't like in the agent's contract. So reviewing the contract as part of considering the offer might be a good thing. Right or wrong?
Let's review terms. Boilerplate is NEVER used to describe an agent's contract with an author. It's used to describe standard contracts with between publishers and authors. You'd never ask to see boilerplate before you signed with an agent because you don't know which publisher is going to buy your book.
The offer of representation from an agent in written form is called simply a contract. You ALWAYS ask to see it before you sign. Always. You ask every question in the book before you sign.
The rub though is that most of us will not change our standard offer terms for you. I run into this every so often usually when someone has given this to a non-literary lawyer to look at.
I had one potential who wanted me to set up a trust account at the bank for client money. No dice. Trust accounts are a separate kind of checking account and operate under a very stringent set of rules. Not even AAR requires that. My accounts are separate for client money and operating expenses (in line with AAR stipulations of course) but the client account is not a trust account.
He didn't understand that and it was clear he thought I was trying to hookwink him. We solved the problem quite nicely by parting ways before we ever got started.
Another one wanted to include something in the contract that the agent would never say or do anything to damage the book. I asked if that meant he was sending me ziploc bags for the manuscript. Again, we parted ways before signing.
Another wanted to include a provision that if he was unavailable for 30 days, I could sign contracts for him. I explained I could not do that, and would not do it. I think he thought I was irresponsible shirker, but it doesn't matter-he's toast.
So yes, you get to look at the terms before you sign. Make sure you understand them, and make sure there's a way to part ways from an agent that doesn't include her agreeing to it. There's lots of advice about this floating around and most of it's pretty good.