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Aidan Aasarin
August 2nd, 2003, 11:27 AM
I recently had a debate with a friend that raised two questions and I have, so far, been unable to find information on. I post this in the hopes that someone may have heard or experienced such a scenario or, failing that, possibly have an educated opinion on the matter.

First, upon receiving a contract from an agent for representation, if the terms of the contract (i.e. commision%, costs associated being charged against royalties such as plane flights to NY?!) are felt to be unreasonable, is it considered unethical to query another agent while using the previous agents' notice of interest as leverage? For example:
"Hello, I'm so and so, another agent has expressed interest in representing my novel, Some Such or Another , and I would be interested to know if you would like to look at my work."

Second, how common is it to see an agent unable to sell your work? Is it a "sure sale" if you pick up an agent? I am smart enough to know that an agent won't stay in business long if he peddles work that publishers wont buy. So it would seem these agents would have their hand on the pulse of the editors, thus knowing what will work and what won't. Should you rest easy or coninue to solicite your work to others?

Edit: Sorry KatG for the misdirection. I have not received a contract but was instead merely discussing this topic with a friend. I can only hope to see one of these contracts one day. Until then, I will just keep working. :)

KatG
August 2nd, 2003, 05:03 PM
Originally posted by Aidan Aasarin
I recently had a debate with a friend that raised two questions and I have, so far, been unable to find information on. I post this in the hopes that someone may have heard or experienced such a scenario or, failing that, possibly have an educated opinion on the matter.

First, upon receiving a contract from an agent for representation, if the terms of the contract (i.e. commision%, costs associated being charged against royalties such as plane flights to NY?!) are felt to be unreasonable, is it considered unethical to query another agent while using the previous agents' notice of interest as leverage? For example:
"Hello, I'm so and so, another agent has expressed interest in representing my novel, Some Such or Another , and I would be interested to know if you would like to look at my work."

Second, how common is it to see an agent unable to sell your work? Is it a "sure sale" if you pick up an agent? I am smart enough to know that an agent won't stay in business long if he peddles work that publishers wont buy. So it would seem these agents would have their hand on the pulse of the editors, thus knowing what will work and what won't. Should you rest easy or coninue to solicite your work to others?
First of all, congratulations.

Contract terms: commission has been standardized at 15% for awhile now. If the commission rate is higher, there should be a reason given for it. (Sometimes commissions on foreign translation rights are higher because another agent is involved marketing those rights.) Agents are allowed to charge you for some basic costs directly related to marketing your work. Usually, they arrange to bill you for these charges, with the option of deducting the amount from your royalties received if you don't pay their bill. Acceptable charges are photocopying of your ms., postage of your ms., particularly international postage, and in some agencies, long distance telephone costs which must be logged and itemized by the agency.

A flight to New York is not an acceptable charge since an agent not located in NYC who goes on a sales trip to Manhattan will be marketing several works to publishers, not just yours. That's a business expense that the agent is expected to handle, and given that a large number of agents are located in NYC and don't have significant travel charges, it's really dumb of your agent to try to include that in the contract. (Or are you just assuming that this will be charged to you? The exact charges that would be charged should be spelled out in detail in the contract.)

#2: Soliciting another agent. If you haven't agreed to have Agent #1 rep you, then it's okay to go soliciting another agent if you're unhappy with Agent #1's contract terms. (However, discussing the contract terms with Agent #1, as some of them may be negotiable, is recommended, especially if Agent #1 is a highly reputable agent.) You can tell Agent #2 that another agent wants to rep you, though you can't tell details. This can sometimes diminish other agents' interest, but usually, it works in your favor. However, if Agent #2 doesn't like your ms., Agent #2 won't take it on even if she knows Agent #1 is interested.

If you have an agent representing your work in the marketplace, there is no guarantee that the agent can sell the work. Despite the best efforts of agents, sometimes projects just don't find a home. However, if you agree to have an agent represent you, that means that you are agreeing to have the agent handle all the marketing stuff. If you go running around trying to get publishers to look at your ms., you are undermining your agent's efforts. The exception to this is if you meet an editor at a writer's conference or similar event who wants to see your work. Said editor should then be referred to your agent.

If the agent can't sell the work in a reasonable amount of time, usually the author and the agent mutually agree to break up and the author is free to find another agent or market the work directly to those publishers who will look at unagented material. Sometimes, if a project doesn't sell, the author will retain the agent and they'll try again on another project of the author's.

An agent has two main jobs: #1 -- sell your work to a publisher and #2 -- protect your rights in the marketplace, in licensing deals, in written contracts and during the publication process. An agent is not only your representative, but also your business manager and principle advocate. So if you're really uncomfortable with the contract terms and are unable to come to some sort of agreement on those terms with the agent, it might be a good idea to go looking elsewhere. If you do go looking elsewhere, though, you probably shouldn't expect Agent #1 to hang around waiting on you for very long. But never be afraid to ask questions, I would advise.