Questions for published authors

Over in another part of the internet, a question, in several parts, has arisen, to which I used to know the answer, but it seems, like so very much else, that the Wisdom of the Internet has produced a new, and startling, answer.  This happens a lot, as we get older, that what worked for us no longer works for anyone else, so this is in the nature of a reality check.

So, first, the meta-question, with my own response beneath, in parenthesis.

1.  Do you need an agent?

(Well, no.  You don’t need an agent.  We’ve variously had agents and didn’t.  When we have had representation, I’ve found it to be worth the 15% commission.  In my experience, agents not only vet contracts, but they’re also on hand to make those Awkward Phone Calls, such as:  “In the most recent contract, X Rights are reserved to the author, and yet you, the publisher, have now exercised those rights.  We assume, of course, that this is an honest error, but, still, it needs to be addressed.  How would you like to proceed?”  Also, we often ask our agent for advice regarding situations we haven’t faced, and which she likely has, by reason of representing many authors. So, that.)

2.  Is it “better” (as in “more cost effective”) to have a lawyer go over your contract, as opposed to an agent?

(My received wisdom is that lawyers look at publishing contracts and their heads explode, because they simply don’t know what the words mean.)

3.  Will the publisher get angry with you, the author, if, after they’ve offered you a contract, you hire an agent (or a lawyer) to go over it?

(Myself, I think that a legitimate publisher would be delighted to have a pro going over their contract and dealing with the writer’s questions, rather than having to cope with that, themselves.  I also think that, in the probable case of the agent/lawyer finding nothing amiss, that this finding would be the beginning of a foundation of trust between author and publisher.)

4.  Would you ever not read a contract because you know that the publisher would never, ever act against your interest as an author?

(Myself, I think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Also that good fences make good neighbors.  Mistakes happen.  Somebody new in the Contracts Department might send the wrong contract, for instance.  It’s a pain, but — just better, all around, to read the thing and reassure yourself that your publisher loves you.)

5.  I addressed this somewhat in my answer to #1 above, but — Do you feel that having an agent is actually cost-effective?  Why or why not?  Examples are encouraged.

One thought on “Questions for published authors”

  1. I am an outlier–I have had the same agent since 1986 (albeit under more than one umbrella–I stayed with him when he left an established agency that had done downhill to start his own, a few years after our coming together.) I find having an agent to be a big help and definitely worth the money.

    That’s because I’m a crap negotiator, and know it. For one thing, I came into this far too trusting and like most novices far to eager to “get published.” Particularly at first, he had to explain things I didn’t know and drag me away from bad deals. (“But so and so told me at the convention he was dying to publish me…and he’s really nice…” kind of things.) I’m also not good at selling, unless the customer is already in need of something and the price is fixed (again, not a negotiator.)
    When I was a kid in the hardware store, if someone wanted a Phillips screwdriver or a pound and half of sixpenny nails, no problem. But I couldn’t sell Girl Scout cookies door to door when I was a Brownie.

    It’s also because he spends his time on the business end so I can spend mine on the writing end…and again, business is not my strong point (not a total weak point but not that strong a point), and writing stuff is what I’m good at. He takes the trips to London for the London Book Fair and talks to foreign agencies and that’s why I have so many foreign sales. I would never have had them (and at times they’ve been 30% of my writing income) without him. Me, spend a week in London shopping my stuff around? I’m useless at that kind of thing.

    Some writers are equally good at the business stuff, but for those who know their negotiating skills are weak, who know they can’t “sell” their own stuff, but who are good productive writers, an agent is the best solution, IMO. That’s because it’s worked for me. I’ve heard the bitter complaints of those for whom it didn’t work out, who go it alone and are satisfied. I think the most important thing is to be honest about one’s own abilities in both directions–writing fiction and handling the business-contacts end–and do what works best for you-the-individual.

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