Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What's In An Agent Contract? Part 1


I thought I'd take some time over the next few weeks and share some parts of my agent contract. When I received the 3 page wonder in the mail, some parts were expected, but other parts were new to me. In this blog series, I will discuss commission, rights, issues regarding disagreements, what happens if the author (aka, me) screws up, dissolution terms, etc.

disclaimer: The total number of actual agent contracts I have held in my hot little hands is one. One. So, these posts will be based on that limited experience.

If you have an agent and your experience is different..please weigh in!

If you are an agent trolling this blog...please weigh in!

The intent of these posts is to get a discussion going and educate each other so we know what to expect when that wonderful, blessed piece of paper hits our desk.

OK, onward....

Commissions: Standard commission is 15% domestic 20% international/movie rights.

Here was a clause that I think is fair, but had never considered and found interesting:

"Agent shall be entitled to retain full commissions received if client is required to repay advances or other considerations to any third party as a result of Client's breach of contract (for example, failure to deliver literary material in accordance with an agreement with said third party)."

interpretation: if you flake and don't turn in your pages on time and cost the publisher money, or worse, if you don't turn them in at all, then you owe the full advance back to the publisher including the agent's commission.

Good to know. Don't spend it all 'till it's a done deal, just in case.

Questions: were you aware of the standard commission rates? what do you think of the repayment clause?

What if an editor wants to take the book in a different direction and you have a hard time writing it? What if you don't want it to go in that direction? Are you aware of any cases like this? Let's talk about it...


MeganRebekah said...

I was aware of the standard commission rates, and the repayment clause sounds familiar, but I'm not sure if that's because I read about it (somewhere like Pub Rants maybe) or it just sounds standard.

I can't wait to hear what other shockers were in there.

Lisa and Laura said...

These were both in our contract as well. Pretty standard I think...of course we also only have experience with one contract, so there you have it.

SO...subs...horrible, right? We need to start a support group STAT. E-mail us if you want to commiserate.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wow Tess,
I don't have an answer to that question what if you don't want to go the direction the editor wants. But I sure would like to hear if somebody else knows. Do you return the money and start the submission process all over?

SJDuvall said...

I would think that before you get your advance, that directions the editor wants it to go would be discussed? Maybe I'm mistaken. And I didn't even think about what happens if you have to pay the advance back, but it's definitely good to know. As for the commission, I know them from Writer's Market books.

B.J. Anderson said...

Thanks for the tidbits, Tess! And I have no idea about any of this stuff (well, besides the standard 15% commission thing). And that's a good point about paying back the advance if you flake out. Kind of scary!

Lady Glamis said...

Oh my goodness. This is just scary stuff I can't even think about right now.... Um, if by some amazing miracle an agent ever wants to sign me, I will be coming to your house for some words of advice. This is so awesome that you're sharing!

quixotic said...

Oooh, great information here! I did not know that about repaying monies.

Danyelle said...

I didn't know about the repayment part, but I think it's fair for flaking out. A little scary though if the editor wants to take the story in a direction you're not comfortable with though. :$

Tess said...

Ok, Here's the scenario I had a friend run into:

Editor loves her manuscript, puts her under contract

They start to work through the editing part

Editor leaves pub house to take a job elsewhere

New editor assigned to her novel (since it was under contract, it stayed at that house)

New editor doesn't love novel as much and sees potential if they make some fairly significant changes.

What now?

Honestly, I don't know. In this specific case, the writer had to go through a lot of grief and argument (note she didn't have an agent to help field this problem) and eventually ended up with a compromise that she was only so-so with.

Just something to think about, to discuss, to learn from.

L.T. Elliot said...

I knew about many of the things you mentioned but I wouldn't have the faintest when it came to vision and disagreements of direction. I just hope I never have to go through that. (I suppose I ought to get to the contract part first.)

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Tess,
I'm just at the beginnings of this stage too. I haven't had to sign the actual contract yet with my agent. Maybe mine does it once we have a publisher? Not sure. But as she's shopping my MS's, I'm getting a glimpse of the need to be flexible as writers. We have our agendas and goals, but I'm learning that I may have to be willing to try things a little differently than maybe I'd planned. Flexibility is key, but maybe not too the point that it stomps us flat and drives the life out of us!

Joyce Wolfley said...

Okay- don't be a flake...I think I can check that off my list. Maybe.

Since seeing a contract is just a dream still, I'm very interested in this series of posts. Thank you for sharing!

Jeannie Campbell said...

i heard about this happening: author was paid in advance to write a book. she wrote the book. publisher did not like how certain themes were played out in the book. asked her to rewrite or pay back her advance. *sigh* if the advance is "gone" already...what choice would you, as the author have, but to rewrite? something to think about...and how to have a conversation on the front end about what you're planning to write? and what if the characters take things their own direction?

Tess said...

MeganRebekah- no shockers or anything salacious, sorry - lol. But, maybe some good things to think about and discuss.

Lisa and Laura - yes! a support group is a great idea, looove it :D

Tricia - every case I've heard of, they have worked it out in a compromise. I'm interested to hear from others on the matter as well.

SJ - I think you are right, especially if you have an agent, but what about when the editors change or if you sell a partially finished novel? Probably not a super common thing, but common enough for agents to have a clause in their contract...which I think is fair of them. interesting stuff.

BJ - it is interesting, isn't it? Just good to be educated of all possibilities, I think.

Glam - it's SO going to happen, girl! And, when it does, we'll do the happy dance together :D

quixotic - I'm glad this post offered some new info for you. thanks for weighing in!

Danyelle - I think it's all about communication and understanding that you have to stick to your original book premise once it's under contract. I agree it's fair.

LT - I'm sure it's not super common. Still, like I said, good discussion point.

Jody - maybe she doesn't work with paper contracts. Not all agents do, and that's super ok. And, you are so right...flexibility is key. Good point.

Joyce - funny ('check that off my list'). thanks for the giggle :D I'm sure no one starts off intending to be a flake. It must be a tough situation all the way around.

Jeannie - Oh, interesting example. Thanks so much for sharing it! And, that's sort of my point...I think I'll hold on to my advance (praying I ever get one!!!) until the book has finished the editing process and is more on the actual publication end! Very good advice and discussion, thanks.

Robyn said...

Not fair to the author. Your friend Tess, why couldn't she ask publisher if she could opt out and follow editor. It's not fair that the new editor wanted to make sweeping changes that the author wasn't happy with.

And I knew about the commission but not the repayment clause. But it sounds fair. An author just has to make sure she/he does their work. But again, what if editor wants to make drastic changes that the author can't in good conscience do? Still repayment? Sigh. :)

Davin Malasarn said...

Tess, thanks a lot for doing this! I actually meant to ask some of you represented writers about this sort of thing. I knew about the commission rates and the second part makes sense too. But, I still appreciate learning about this and reading the actual wording.

Crystal said...

This is very interesting, Tess! Wow, I didn't know there was so much to think about for an agent's contract. Thanks so much for sharing! I am definitely paying attention as people chime in here.

Kelly H-Y said...

Great information ... thanks!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

What a great post this is! I did know about the commission rates, but had never really thought about the whole repayment clause, although I do think that it is fair. In the case of your friend, I don't know, but I would hope that part of having an agent is to protect you from situations like that, or at least have your back when such situations arise.

Christy Raedeke said...

HUGE, ALL CAPS CONGRATULATIONS! Steven Chudney has a great reputation. Nice job landing a biggie agent! I'm excited that your ms is one step closer to the bookshelves...