Okay, you’ve made your choice and you’re signing the Author-Agency Agreement (which you hopefully saw after the call, and had a chance to ask any questions.) What should you expect to see in every agreement?
What work(s) are including under the terms of the agreement. (And what, if anything, is excluded.)
The commission rate – standard is 15% for domestic, English language sales throughout the World, and 20% for foreign and other subrights sales such as film/performance. (Sometimes you’ll see 25% for foreign, though that is less common.)
How often the author or illustrator will get paid.
What recouperables, if any, will be charged to the author. (These are far less common now that submissions are emailed instead of printed and mailed/delivered. But you might have recouperables for, say, copies ordered of your book for foreign subrights sales.)
How to terminate the Author-Agency Agreement, and what happens once the agreement is terminated.
While there may be other clauses included, you should be sure the five points above are covered in any agency agreement you sign.
Watch out for:
Any instances where you would have to pay the agency, with the caveat that it’s not unheard of to be billed for recouperables. (Though you should be informed and have approval before anything is spent that you will later be billed for.)
Ambiguous language regarding the termination of the agreement. (Note that it is completely standard for and agent to continue to receive commission on contracts they had already negotiated or were in the process of negotiating when you left.)
Anything that ties you or you heirs and assigns to the agency indefinitely. This is a red flag.
Can I negotiate the commission rate?
Generally, no. It’s an agency commission rate – not that particular agent’s commission rate – and so they cannot lower it.
One should also consider that an agent can work for quite a while on your books before there’s a sale and therefore any compensation at all. So to try to underpay them before they’ve started to work for you is generally going to start the relationship off on a bad foot.
I already write or illustrate regularly for (this periodical), what do I do?
It’s not uncommon for things like magazine writing to be excluded from agency agreements. There’s no harm in asking for things like this, if you would still prefer to handle them yourself. Depending on what it is though, it may still be in your best interest for the agent to work as your representative.
I’ve self-published and I want to continue doing that and be represented for traditionally published work too. What do I do?
In general, an agent is going to want to represent you for your whole career, and there are opportunities that agencies can provide to self-published authors that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
But every agency is going to have slightly different thoughts on how they usually handle hybrid careers. Definitely bring this up during the call if this applies to you.
Posts in this series:
Working with An Agent: What does an agent do?
Working with An Agent: Step 1 - Writing your query letter
Working with An Agent: Step 2 - Researching agents and submitting
Working with An Agent: Step 3 - Getting the call
Working with An Agent: Step 4 - Responding to an offer
Working with An Agent: Step 5 - Your author-agency agreement
Working with An Agent: Step 6 - After your sign
Working with An Agent: Step 7 - If you decide it's time to part ways...