by Dawn Frederick
A common question when we’re wooing a new author for “Team Red Sofa” regards the agency contract. Even the mere existence of it can cause confusion, and yet it can be a source of comfort for others.
Why would an agency contract be advantageous? Let’s discuss:
1. Everyone agrees on the jobs assigned. The agent is agreeing to take the book to publishing houses and negotiate on the author’s behalf once an offer is made. The author and agent will agree to what rights will be handled by the agency. It’s generally understood that any agent will need to handle the print (all forms), electronic, audio and foreign rights. Other rights that agents are involved with include film, performance/dramatic, and merchandising rights, as agreed upon.
Those “extra” rights are usually fine to keep, especially if the author can exploit these rights without any assistance. Ex: Author makes films for a living, so it’s better for him/her to retain those rights for the book.
The only other job that matters? YOU the Author will be able to focus on your writing.
2. Standard commission rates will be noted in advance. The traditional commission rates at a minimum are 15% for agents, 85% for authors. 20/80 for foreign, 20/80 for film/dramatic. It’s important to remember that agents aren’t paid unless your book is sold, and these are standard rates.
3. The contract will be governed by the state where the agency is located. This matters because it’s a legal document, and if an agent issues a contract, it’s for the protection of both agent and author, and makes all the business transparent to an author.
4. Accounting will be discussed and agreed upon. Most agents will have the publisher pay the agency directly, and thereby provide the appropriate checking of the accounting as well as tax paperwork to their authors, i.e. those handy 1099s. This also gives the agency the necessary authority to ensure its authors are paid by the publishers and that those payments are completed in a timely manner.
5. Termination standards will be put in writing. With Red Sofa Literary, it only requires a 30-day notice in writing – but it is a legal standard that an Agent of Record on a contract is Agent of Record for the life of that contract. If you part ways with your agent, it is for future books – not for anything already under contract that was placed with a publisher by Red Sofa Agency. This is standard in publishing.
6. Recognition of 3rd parties during the life of the book. Know anyone who has been divorced? Do you have any children? As we all know, life happens. Hence things like divorce, death, marriage, and more can affect one’s profits. There have been times where ex-wives, children, and others were supposed to receive a certain portion of an author’s advances and royalties. An agency contract should recognize this and be fully prepared for these situations (as they will inevitably happen).
This is only a brief glimpse at agency contracts. Being a person who likes to know the details of any business agreement, I believe every agency should provide an author contract. Ultimately it is a written agreement of our business plan for the life of a book (and possibly future titles). Knowing each of our responsibilities is to the advantage of the book, strengthens the author/agent relationship, reduces surprises and disagreements for both author and agent, and provides a plan outside the immediate boundaries of one’s book and writing successes.