Thursday, April 02, 2009

Is This Standard?

In teaching my class this semester at NYU and in talking to authors, I’m often struck by how often I am asked whether something is typical or standard within the industry, and this is probably one of the most frustrating things that writers have to deal with. While certainly with publishers there are a lot of things that are considered industry standard, this isn’t always the case with agents.

Just recently, for example, I was asked by a reader whether or not it’s standard for an author-agent agreement to be in effect for one year. And my answer is yes, and no. For some agents and agencies it is; some do contracts that are for a certain number of books and for a certain time frame, allowing what the agent feels is sufficient time for them to have to sell the project. Other agencies, BookEnds included, has a contract that is unlimited and hopefully for the life of your career. While we don’t have a time frame on our contract we do have a rather easy termination clause to allow any party the ability to get out of the contract at any time.

So if few things are standard between authors and agents, what are they? Typically commissions are standard. Most agencies take a 15% commission on domestic sales and rights sold through the publisher and 20% on foreign rights. It is standard that you should not be paying any upfront fees to your agent for any reason. Not only is it standard, but it’s part of the AAR’s Canon of Ethics.

And I think that’s it. The rest is a matter of comfort to you and if there’s ever anything in the author-agent agreement you are not comfortable with or don’t fully understand, you should talk to the agent about it. If you’re not comfortable doing that then maybe you should first question whether this is the agent for you.



Anonymous said...

How do you normally handle a situation where one of the authors you rep decides to work in a genre you don't generally rep? Like a romance author deciding to do a YA project?

Also, what is your policy of film/TV options? Do you shop treatments for books you rep? Or do you have someone you recommend for that?

How do you hand series/trilogy books? Do you want to see the synop for the whole series? Should it be mentioned in the query when the first book is finished?

(I know, I know, sell the first book FIRST - just curious about all of these.)

PS - thanks for letting us all get it off our chests yesterday. I think it was very cathartic. Going in, many of us feel like we're being treated like 2nd class citizens, this was our quiet revolt, and no harm done with a lot of anger let go. Thanks.

MeganRebekah said...

I'm a first time visitor to your blog and have immensely enjoyed reading your posts, filing away the information for later use.
Please keep the information and wisdom coming - it's much needed for aspiring authors!

Story and Logic Media Group said...

Thanks for the new post. I hope agentfail can get a rest now.

Sookie said...

I did a quick read of yesterday’s complaints. Wow! Much calmer around here today. Venting is good; I do mine in the shower. (Poor shower grout, it sees the worst of me—literally.)

I like your 'no time frame' stipulation because timing is so important, yet it's an uncontrollable facet of publishing.

Confucius says, woman who put dish soap on top shelf, jump for Joy.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm a fan of the "no exact time frame" option, although I assume that even with a one-year agreement, there's the possibility it can be renewed if both parties wish to continue their partnership.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of "life of your career." That's great. It's more than just a "one hit wonder" and that it's more of an ongoing relationship. That's awesome.

Thanks for the post.

CJ said...

enjoying your openness -- I actually didn't think yeserday's comments were all that hostile -- and venting really helps!!

now -- I would LOVE you to do an awesome agent post and comments list -- I recently got a rejection letter from a MAJOR agency, with a perosnalised paragraph in it giving me SPECIFIC advice on how to make the book stronger -- and soem notes on well written pieces which made it clear they had read my whole partial...

and I would like to have Greene and HEaton of Londond fully acknowledged for that!!!


Judy Schneider said...

The one thing that should be standard in an agent-author relationship is trust. I trust that my agent is working her best on my behalf. And she can trust that when she or an editor gives me a deadline, I'm going to meet it. If you don't have that trust, you haven't found the right agent for you!