Agents Now Worse Crooks Than Publishers

Kristine Kathryn Rusch on what agents and agencies want to do to writers these days. Via Sea Wasp.

“This agreement—I kid you not—gave the producer all rights in that particular story for $1. In perpetuity and in the entire universe. The worst contract I had ever seen.”

“Agency agreements have become as draconian as publishing contracts—maybe even more so. Because one agency agreement I saw stated that the agency could negotiate for the writer, that the writer could not reasonably refuse the terms negotiated, nor could the writer easily terminate the agreement. Worse, that agreement, in a very sneaky manner, gave the agent the power of attorney over any contract negotiated for that writer.”

“Because everyone wants a piece of the content provider without paying the provider a dime—or, at least, not paying the provider more than a single dollar.”

“One other thing: In the past three weeks, I have gotten—unbidden—two contract addendums from two of my publishers. Both of these addendums wanted to change the e-publishing rights clauses in my contract. Both of these addendums were awful for me as a writer. One even gave the publisher the right to condense, change, alter, or add to my existing work. I refused to sign both. I later talked to several of my friends who had gotten similar addendums. My friends’ advocates, to a person, had recommended taking the deal.”

Dave Wolverton (good writer) added in the comments, “I recently read a contract for an author that gave the publisher all rights, for eternity, with no guarantee of publication, with no advance whatsoever. The contract, which I thought of as perhaps the most evil I’ve ever seen, came from a religious publisher.”

In case you’re wondering, apparently hiring an intellectual property lawyer (IP) can sometimes be helpful these days, and they’re a lot cheaper. Laura Resnick comments about that in the same comment box.

There are many, many helpful comments. These days, even if you’re not a writer, you may be some kind of content provider who needs to pay attention to this stuff.


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3 responses to “Agents Now Worse Crooks Than Publishers

  1. “In case you’re wondering, apparently hiring an intellectual property lawyer (IP) can sometimes be helpful these days, and they’re a lot cheaper. Laura Resnick comments about that in the same comment box.”

    To clarify: That depends.

    If you’re making a $500 advance from a small press, then your legal fee could eat up a significant portion of your advance. (One option is to pay for an hour of the lawyer’s time to look it over and advise -you- what to negotiate for when dealing with the publisher yourself.) If, by contrast, you’re making a $100,000 advance, then a reasonable legal fee for thorough negotiations is a VERY minimal expense compared to what an agency commission would be ($15,000 of the advance PLUS 15% of royalties); and if it’s an option deal wherein the contract resembles one you’ve previously negotiated and are largely happy with, so the lawyer doesn’t have to do much ore than review it and discuss it with you, the expense is even MORE minimal.

    In my situation, my legal fees for contract negotiations have so far cost me the equivalent, respectively, of 4%, 2%, and 0.1% of my advances earnins on those deals. By contrast, an agency commission would have cost me 15% of the advance earnings AND 15% of any royalty earnings. That is a SUBSTANTIAL difference–also an ironic one, when you consider how much better the resultant contract is is negotiated by a literary lawyer rather than an agent (who has no formal qualifications, training, education, or licensing whatsoever, and who is not an expert in contracts, law, or legal language).

    • Thank you very kindly for stopping by! I’ve got several books by you. 😉 This is very useful information, and I think writers are very wise to spread this sort of news far and wide.

  2. Just to add to that–SAVING MONEY wasn’t why I quit working with agents. It has turned out to be a beneficial side effect, but (although, in retrospect, this now confounds me) pocketing a much larger share of my earnings, now that I now longer pay agency commissions on new deals, wasn’t on the long, long list of reasons I ceased working with literary agents 4+ years ago.

    However, apart from sheer common sense, it certainly SHOULD have occurred to me. I made my first 9 book sales without an agent, and I noticed the distinct dip in my income immediately when I hired my second agent (my first had made promises, but no sales) and sold an option book to my usual publisher “via the agent.” The agent was, it turned out, unable to negotiate better terms or monies than Iw as already getting on my own, so the direct result of my first-ever agented deal, on book #10, was that my income went DOWN.

    I also had subsequent experiences (with my next two agents) of making sales myself, then bringing the agent in at contract negotiation stage… only to have the agent insist s/he merited 15% of the money, despite clearly not having done 15% of the work (not even done the normal full-load of an agent’s working, i.e. finding the market and getting the offer on the table). So those occasions were notcieably expensive for me, too–as well as unsatisfying since, having insisted that merely negotating a deal already on the table merited 15% of the earnings, the agents then negotiated a contact that was so-so. (I have seen a substantial improvement in my contracts since assiging this function to a lawyer rather than an agent.)

    So I was well aware of how expensive literary agents are, particularly in comparison to the services I actually got, for the most part. However, I certainly noticed the substantial improvement in my income when I ceased working with agents, as well as how much LESS expensive it was to have a lawyer do a thorough and skilled negotiation of a contract once I’d gotten the offer on the table.

    Several friends who’ve also stopped working with agents immediately notiecd the same thing: suddenly, you’re pocketing a lot more of your income.

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