Agents

4 Types of Literary Agents

23 August 2016

From Books & Such Literary Management:

Recently I had a conversation with Dee, a potential new client, and our chat turned to four different approaches agents take to teaming up with authors. I explained to Dee some of those methods. I think they’re instructive in understanding how an agent can help to structure an author’s writing career.

Just-Show-Me-the-Money Type of Agent

This person is all about the business side of the equation and sometimes is indifferent to the creative side. She wants to work on the financial stuff and not cross over into the right-brain territory.

That means, in terms of career planning, that thecompass focus will be on getting more money for the next book. Such an emphasis is inevitable because the agent isn’t tuned into helping to shape the project so that it not only satisfies the author’s vision of what it should be but also appeals to the market. That’s more nuanced than this type of agent tends to want to be. In turn, that means the agent gauges only one way to grow the author’s career–through the size of the next advance.

. . . .

 I’m-in-for-a-Chapter Type of Agent

This agent agrees to represent one project at a time. If all goes well, then the agent wants to continue the relationship; if not, the agent is ready to slip away.

The idea is to try out the relationship to see how it works for each person. On the surface that sounds good, but in actuality, it gives the client no assurance that the agent is committed in the long-haul. I describe this as teaming up with a writer for one “chapter” of a writing career rather than signing on for the entire “book” of a career.

. . . .

Each type of agent appeals to different authors. If you don’t want your agent to mess with your creative business, then you want a Show-Me-the-Money Agent. Or if you want to make as much as possible on every project without being overly concerned about the future, than Show-Me-the- Money is for you.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to David for the tip.

Agent Agreements

22 August 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

We’re almost to the end of the contracts/dealbreakers series. I can’t tell you how pleased I am about this, because I feel dirty just looking at some of these contracts and agreements.

Most of you indie writers tuned this series out long ago, because you believed it didn’t apply to you. And yet, I read all the time about indie writers who sign with an agent to sell the print versions of an ebook and to sell foreign rights and auxiliary rights.

Bad move. Really, really, really bad move.

First, you’re signing traditional publishing contracts if you sell your paper book rights. You’re also signing traditional publishing contracts if you sell foreign rights. And I’m not even going into Hollywood options or movie deals or TV deals—

. . . .

Think about that for a moment: this writer hired an agent to represent all rights in the book, including movie and TV rights, and the agent had the writer sign a shopping agreement with a third party. Right there, that’s suspect. Because the agent should already have representatives from the agency (or a partner company) shopping the property.

This shopping agreement had no termination date, allowed the third party to shop the book to anyone who might make a film, a game, anything that moved, in technology developed or not yet developed, in territories around the world and the universe in perpetuity. For the duration of the agreement, the third party and the agent controlled all of those subsidiary rights in the project.

And the kicker? No money exchanged hands. The writer lost control of all subsidiary rights in her book project for no money and no reason, in perpetuity. All because her agent told her to sign the damn agreement. And the writer did.

And then she sent it to us as an example of the agent doing a good job.

. . . .

At first glance, these agent agreements, as they’re called, seem pretty benign. Most are no more than 3 pages long, and seem to be written in English. In fact, most of them are written in chatty language, usually in the form of a “letter,” so the writer thinks they’re signing something informal, when really, they’re signing a contract.

The worst one I’ve seen comes from a huge, very famous agency, whose chairman (and lead agent) apparently figured he could save money on legal fees, and cobbled an agreement together himself.

It looked like it was made of spit and glue, and had many unenforceable clauses. I’m sure it’s been revised since by lawyers, because I know two writers who challenged the thing in court.

But the version I have gave the agency 15% of the copyright in every project the agency represented. It said so flat out in the agreement. (I’m sure the updated version says the same thing, as well. I’m sure it says all the same things, except in better legalese.)

The agency also decided to cover its tushy by adding some version of this:

The writer agrees to follow any agent clause in a publishing contract to the letter.

In other words, that agent clause in your traditional publishing contract, the clause we discussed last week, the clause stuffed full of things that benefit the agent? Well, if you had no agreement like this with your agent, that clause is toothless.

If you have an agreement saying you will abide by the clause in that traditional publishing contract, then suddenly the clause has teeth. And so does every version of that clause you signed from the beginning of your relationship with the agent.

. . . .

The agreement I have before me, from a long-time agency, founded by one of the big name agents of the mid-20th century, has an agency agreement that looks like the chatty letter-type agreements I saw in the 1980s.

Until you read it.

And then you find clauses like this (the emphasis in bold is mine):

You hereby irrevocably assign to us and we shall be entitled to retain a sum equal to fifteen (15%) percent of all gross monies and other considerations paid to you or on your behalf with respect to any and all contracts negotiated and concluded under the terms of this agreement…

Well, you can delete the word “irrevocably” and the clause isn’t that bad, right? If they negotiated something, then they’re entitled to their percentage, right?

Um, the clause doesn’t stand by itself. Combine it with this baby:

This agreement is effective immediately and continues in effect until terminated by either party…We will continue to function as your agent and to receive our commission on all contracts negotiated and concluded during the term of this agreement, or within six (6) months following termination, if negotiations were commenced during the term hereof, and any modifications, replacements, extensions, and supplements of such contracts regardless of when made or by whom negotiated or when payments were received

So imagine this: you fire the agency because they screwed up your negotiation. Say, maybe, they tried to give a free option to a big name actor, or something stupid like that.

You do the negotiating yourself on the deal (with a lawyer back-stopping you), get a movie option for six figures, that’s then made into a film for seven figures, plus the book the movie is founded on stays in print, and becomes a bestseller, and you renegotiate the contract and, according to this stupid agreement, you still have to pay the f***-up agent her 15%. The agent you fired because she was bad at negotiating.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Why You Should Query Agents For 6 + Months Before Promoting Your Self-Published Book

9 August 2016

From Writer Unboxed:

When approached by self-published authors for help with book promotion, I used to ask a single question:

“Do you have blurbs from at least two established authors?”

If the answer was no, I’d suggest they gather some before we speak.  Blurbs are an essential piece of the vetting process and vetting is crucial to gaining the media’s interest. All the more so for self-published books, which don’t have the benefit of a publishing house’s stamp of approval.

While I still request blurbs, I’m beginning to think there’s another question I should ask self-published authors considering a PR campaign:

“Did you query literary agents for at least six months before deciding to self-publish?”

. . . .

I’m not looking at agent interaction as a form of validation, since in the end, the only real form of validation from an agent is a contract.

Rather, the experience of querying agents provides crucial preparation for the experience of book promotion.

As we all know, the process of querying is charged with hope and expectation, trepidation and angst.  Each query letter contains a piece of our heart; each inevitable rejection letter — or lack of response — breaks our heart in its entirety.  The waiting and uncertainty break our spirit.  Yet from these wounds grow the emotional armor we need to keep at it, the patience and resilience that allow us to shrug in the face of prolonged uncertainty and above all, the deep humility that is fundamental to every writer’s survival, and success.

. . . .

When coverage does run, it can disappoint. Reviews are not always what we’d like them to be.  Reporters are notorious for misquoting and making factual mistakes. My list of examples is shamefully long.

Of course, sometimes media opportunities pan out quickly with brilliant, exhilarating results.  Just like in publishing.  But it’s crucial to know when going into the promotion process that often, they don’t; that paying a publicist does not guarantee instant and glorious success and that there simply are no shortcuts.  No matter how you cut it, in promotion–like in publishing–you will need patience, resilience, deep humility and very thick skin.

For this, there’s no better boot camp than querying agents.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Books Are an Agent’s Game

31 July 2016

From Inverse:

This week, we spoke with Molly Friedrich, a top literary agent with over thirty years in the game, having represented the likes of Frank McCourt, Sue Grafton, Terry McMillan, and Jane Smiley.

Because you’re so established, do you still feel the need to keep up with industry trends?

I would never run my business according to any kind of trend. At writers conferences, people talk about what’s selling. You see people poised with pens, and you think, “By the time you write it down, it’s going to be over.”

Do you usually try reading the book of the moment?

If three people tell me to read a book, and they’re not in publishing, I make a point of reading it. Sometimes, like with Fifty Shades of Grey, it takes ten days. Other times it can take years.

. . . .

You mentioned Fifty Shades of Grey — when that was at the height of popularity, people outside the book industry were bemoaning it. As someone in the industry, did you share those concerns?

No, there were people who have not read a book since college reading it. But, often with a book like that, you’ll see moms reading it, and then the teenage girls will read it. The idea that your first sexual experience would be anything like an introduction to sex as illustrated by Fifty Shades is really sad. But, any book that rises above and beyond itself is, to me, a cause for celebration.

. . . .

I sold one book where the editor said, “This is the book I’ve been waiting for all of my career.” And everything that happened with that book went wrong. It didn’t get great reviews, the sales reps didn’t love it as much as he and I did. It just didn’t work. A lot of times when books seem to work, the author has secret help. There’s advertising money kicked in, or the author has an uncle who is famous and that rolodex is being pushed around. But I’m talking about the pure debut when the author has no MFA, no set of connections; just the book. That’s disappointing when that happens, because you don’t have anything to do except try your hardest. Some books are more successful than others. Sometimes there’s something that gets perceived as an unfortunate step, and you rebuild. That’s hard but incredibly important to be able to do. That’s the business of calling upon relationships and being profoundly collaborative with the publishing house to figure out how we can resuscitate this person’s book career. It can be done.

. . . .

As the industry is changing with the rise of ebooks, has that impacted you much?

Ebooks have been very healthy for publishers. They have not been healthy for authors. Publishers are making a load of money — very little of which is going to the author’s statement.

Link to the rest at Inverse and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Reserve, Rinse, Repeat

28 July 2016

From Brillig:

Here is a letter which I am sending today to the CEO of one of the major publishing conglomerates.  All authors and agents should feel free to copy and paste, put in appropriate specific details, and do the same.

Once upon a time, the reserve against returns was kind of necessary.  Books only sold in print.  All those print books were fully returnable.  Sometimes 70% of the copies were returned.

But now, books sell digitally, with very few returns on ebooks and downloadable audio.  Printed books are still fully returnable, but for a great many books, sales through channels that lend themselves to especially high return rates have dwindled.  I’m not saying reserves are entirely unnecessary.  I’m saying it’s time to push back on doing things this way because they’ve always been done this way, accepting reserves in any quantity when they no longer serve their original and intended purpose.

There are too many business practices tilting against authors, and we can’t continue to accept all of them.

Dear CEO:

I hate arguing about pennies, but I also don’t understand why publishers want to keep pennies from my authors for no reason, holding reserves on titles where none is necessary.

I’m attaching the summary page of the just-received royalty statement for [book by my client] by [client name], as the quintessential example of this.

Please notice the book earned $1750 in ebook royalties.

So how can you justify the 92 copy reserve on the trade paperback?

The trade paperback royalty per US copy is $1.20.  If the ebook royalties were to drop by half on [book by my client], [you] would still have $875 to credit to the author’s royalty account on the next royalty report.  That is a sufficient reserve to cover the return of 730 trade paperback copies. The actual returns on the trade paperback were 46 copies.

This isn’t reasonable.  It’s time for your contracts to acknowledge that, and to renounce the right to hold reserves against returns when ebook income can reasonably be expected to cover print returns, as is clearly and abundantly the case on this royalty report, and on so many others.

Link to the rest at Brillig

How to get yourself blacklisted

28 July 2016

From In the Inbox:

A man named David Benjamin was unhappy an agent rejected him. He wrote a bitter blog post.

I’m providing this because I want you to know that people like this exist. Agents frequently have to protect themselves from this kind of abuse. The industry is small and agents pass this kind of thing on to each other. Note that this is not his first bitter post about an agent who rejected him.

. . . .

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Link to the rest at In the Inbox and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

PG’s initial reaction is, of course, that this guy should self-publish his ms and see how readers feel about it.

His second reaction comes from long legal experience with hundreds of clients and would-be clients. If a prospective client is someone who has hired and fired several attorneys before coming to PG, PG’s reaction is that even his unique PG-magic is unlikely to satisfy this particular client.

In some cases, this may be unfair to the prospective client, but every time PG has broken this informal rule, he has regretted doing so. On one memorable occasion, the local police had to drag a client out of his office.

Want to Get Published? NY Literary Agent’s Tips For Native Authors

21 July 2016

From Indian Country Today Media Network:

Native authors wanting to get their books published may have felt a jolt of inspiration over the past year as publishers and literary agents embraced such social media movements as #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Though many literary agents and publishers want to work with authors of diversity, most don’t know how to find them.

Eddie Schneider is a successful literary agent and Vice President ofJABberwocky Literary Agency, which he joined in 2008. Schneider says he is among those agents who wish to work with a greater selection of diverse authors, but says many aspiring writers don’t know how to navigate the submission process.

Schneider’s website and literary blogcites some sobering statistics about the lack of diversity in the publishing world.

“According tothis study of literary prize demographics conducted by the University of North Texas, 95% of Pulitzer Prize winners are white, 75% are male, and 85% of them live on the East Coast. When it comes to the National Book Award for Nonfiction, it’s only slightly better; 90% of winners are white, 70% are male, and 80% live on the east coast. The winners are being drawn from a pool where the numbers are stacked against women and minorities. Seventy percent of the submissions for these awards are for books authored by men.”

. . . .

“As obvious as it sounds,” writes Schneider, “the first thing that you want to do to get your work published is to write the manuscript (fiction) or the proposal (non-fiction). With fiction, one of the great pitfalls that authors encounter is finishing projects they start. Too often, the candle that burns brightly at the start goes out before all the wax has been used. With a new author, agents and publishers need to see that you can finish projects, and the way to demonstrate that . . . is by finishing a project.

“Non-fiction is a little different. What you need to succeed there are sample chapters that demonstrate you have writing ability, and a proposal that shows you have a strong concept for the book as a whole.

. . . .

 “If you’re near a bookstore, that makes things fairly easy,” says Schneider. “You can move around the physical space and look at the other books that might one day be your book’s neighbors, and see where your book fits in, as well as how it stands out within its own genre/sub-genre. Sometimes people already have a strong sense of which genre they write in, but sometimes this can be eye-opening.”

. . . .

Schneider says there are four things to remember when writing a query letter.

“First, is that your letter is going to capture the tone of your book. It will even if it feels to you like the business letter that it is and everything in you wants to break the mold and do something unusual to stand out.

“Second, it’s a good idea to have one or two catchy lines that don’t feel contrived. That sometimes shows up as a hook near the beginning of the letter, sometimes as some part of the plot summary that sticks with you later, sometimes in the final paragraph which is mostly just to say that you look forward to the agent’s (or publisher’s) response.

“Third, it’s best not to self-aggrandize and get too adjectival when describing the work.

“Fourth, the bio paragraph should contain information that’s relevant and not get all that personal. If you’re a nonfiction author, this is your first opportunity to show your platform. If you’re a novelist, list a few publication credits (if you have any) or mentions of relevant work, life, or college experience will suffice.

“When submitting the query letter,” says Schneider, “Send it simultaneously! And if an agent offers representation, let the other agents know. And be sure to follow individual agents’ guidelines. Usually they don’t differ too radically from one another, but we get hundreds of email messages and letters each month and if something comes in that has ignored our guidelines, well, we’re looking for excuses to trim down the size of our reading piles.”

 

Link to the rest at Indian Country Today Media Network

Or you could self-publish one or two or three books during the same amount of time it takes to go through the above-described exercise and immediately increase the number of diverse books available for purchase.

Author Sues Universal Over Musical Theater Adaptation of ‘October Sky’

7 June 2016

From Yahoo Movies:

The author of the New York Times best-seller Rocket Boys is suing Universal Pictures for overstepping the life rights he granted in the 1990s and shutting down a musical adaptation of his book in favor of launching its own, according to a complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Homer Hickam Jr. says he agreed to give Universal the rights to one book to adapt into one film, October Sky.

Now he is suing Universal, and its president James Horowitz and vp of live theatricals Christopher Herzberger, for a host of claims including breach of contract, fraud, misappropriation and unfair competition. Hickam is seeking at least $20 million in damages, an injunction to shut down the October Sky musical and a declaration from the court that Universal does not have any rights to his life story other than the right to make the original 1999 film.

Rocket Boys is the story of Hickam’s life, centering on the family conflict surrounding his decision to build rockets instead of entering the coal mining business.The author claims he sold that story to Universal in 1996, and his now-deceased literary agent Mickey Freiberg assured Hickam that his sequels were protected and reserved, that the agreement was for one film only and that Universal would have to provide significant payment if it wanted to remake the movie or create a new project.

A decade later, Hickam developed and produced Rocket Boys into a live stage musical with the approval of Universal, according to the lawsuit. In 2015, Universal decided to create an October Sky musical, purportedly based on the film and Hickam’s memoir, and has shut down the author’s stage show.

“Universal has demanded that Hickam cease and desist in developing, producing and performing the Rocket Boys musical and accept a complete gag order that would punish him if he ever said a word about Universal’s wrongful and improper conduct,” states the complaint. “Universal has taken the completely fallacious position that Hickam has optioned all rights to Universal to make any and all motion pictures or live stage productions arising from any and all stories he may write about his life.”

Link to the rest at Yahoo Movies and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

PG will observe that deceased agents are not very useful for determining the meaning of ambiguous contract clauses.

If an author contractually grants rights to his/her book for the full length of the copyright (the remainder of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US and similar durations in other western countries), everybody involved in creating the contract will be dead before the contract ends. This is one of the many reasons for getting the language of the contract exactly right.

Of course, the consequences of poorly-drafted contract language would have fewer potential adverse consequences for the author if the contract’s duration was a more reasonable period of time. A misunderstanding that impacts an author for three years or five years or seven years is less serious than one the author will never outlive.

PG will also observe that the contracts of KDP and other ebook sales channels of which PG is aware may be terminated by either party at any time. This is not to say that authors should not take their KDP contracts seriously and understand the obligations contained therein, but an author who wants to take their book in a different direction can easily do so.

Writer Steve Hamilton’s Second Chance

20 May 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Thriller writer Steve Hamilton tends to reserve the high-stakes drama for the pages of his novels. For years, he stayed with the same agent and the same publisher. He lived in rural upstate New York, and wrote at night while working as a technical writer at IBM.

Then he went rogue. When his brand-new mystery was about to go to the printer last year, he blew up his book contract in an unusual dispute over marketing and publicity and went looking for a new publisher.

Today, that book, “The Second Life of Nick Mason,” comes out amid more fanfare than he’s ever experienced. With a new book deal and movies in the works, Mr. Hamilton is hoping to take his career to a new level.

The 55-year-old author grew up around Detroit devouring the hard-boiled likes of Elmore Leonard and James Crumley. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1983, he moved to upstate New York and went to work as a technical writer for IBM. He spent the next 32 years explaining the company’s products to customers.

He joined a writer’s group and in 2000 sold his debut novel, “A Cold Day in Paradise.”

. . . .

“I led a double life,” the author says. “When my co-workers were on vacation, I was on a book tour,” which usually meant driving to stores in Michigan and Illinois.

But after 12 books in 13 years, Mr. Hamilton, who is married with two children, hadn’t broken out nationally. “I was ‘that Michigan writer,’ ” he says. Like many authors, he blamed it on a lack of marketing and publicity support from his publisher, the Minotaur imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

. . . .

In 2013, as his New York literary agent prepared to retire, Mr. Hamilton signed up with Hollywood screenwriter and producer Shane Salerno, who sidelines as a literary agent. Mr. Salerno’s main book client is Don Winslow, who used to scribble novels while on stakeouts working as a private investigator.

Mr. Salerno urged Mr. Hamilton to launch a new series and quit his day job. “He needed to be a full-time writer,” Mr. Salerno says.

Mr. Hamilton felt loyal to his publisher and didn’t want to abandon his McKnight fans. With St. Martin’s, he signed up for four more books—two Nick Masons and two McKnights—in a deal reported to be “near seven figures.” IBM offered to match the money in his contract, Mr. Hamilton says, but after learning the amount, they said, “OK, good luck.”

As Mr. Hamilton turned to full-time writing, what mattered most to him was launching Nick Mason with broad media coverage and advertising as well as a bigger book tour.

. . . .

About two months before the publication date, Mr. Hamilton and his agent say they asked for a marketing and publicity plan. They were shocked. “It was a page of nothing,” Mr. Hamilton says, well short of what had been promised. Advance copies of the book for the media promised an initial print run of 75,000 as well as a national marketing campaign. Mr. Hamilton called that a “complete and total lie.” The two sides argued for a month but St. Martin’s didn’t satisfy the author and his agent. So they decided to yank the book and buy back the contract.

“I just couldn’t watch it die,” says Mr. Hamilton. He says St. Martin’s executives told him: “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life; you’re ending your career.”

Heading toward the rupture, “my wife and I were lying in bed just staring at the ceiling,” Mr. Hamilton says. “I was terrified.”

. . . .

Mr. Hamilton says he was deluged with emails from other writers. One wrote, “I feel like I’m in a jail cell, watching you go through a hole in the wall.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Ruth for the tip.

‘Star Wars’ Director Claims the 20 Percent He’s Paying Agents Is Unlawful

15 May 2016

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Star Wars: Episode VIII helmer Rian Johnson is now piloting a campaign that might be described as the talent strikes back.

In March, Johnson was dragged to court by his former agent Brian Dreyfuss, who claimed entitlement to 10 percent of all commissionable projects including Star Wars. Not only is Johnson resisting the demand, he’s now returning fire by seeking to have Dreyfuss disgorge past commissions from past works.

Dreyfuss began representing Johnson in 2002 as an agent at Kohner Agency and helped raise money for Johnson’s first feature-length film, Brick. Four years later, Dreyfuss formed his own firm, Featured Artists Agency, and Johnson came along as a client. Up until March 2014, the two worked together as Johnson’s stature in the industry rose with projects like The Brothers Bloom, Looper and several key episodes of Breaking Bad.

In 2011, though, around the time Johnson was readying the release of Looper, he had also retained Creative Artists Agency. That meant for the subsequent three years, he was paying double commissions — 10 percent each — to both CAA and FAA. In his lawsuit, Dreyfuss says CAA’s engagement was the result of interference from Johnson’s producing partner Ram Bergman who allegedly wanted to “marginalize” him.

. . . .

Regardless of how it happened, Dreyfuss’ relationship with Johnson came to an end on March 23, 2014. “I just want to pursue other opportunities,” Johnson allegedly then told Dreyfuss, who is now suspicious about the timing of his termination. According to Dreyfuss, Johnson was pursuing a World War II spy film, an adaptation of acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and perhaps most importantly,Star Wars. Dreyfuss says that in January 2014, he was contacted by LucasFilm to inquire about Johnson’s interest in future film projects. Johnson allegedly waived it off, but Dreyfuss can’t help but think that by “other opportunities,” Johnson meant Star Wars. Dreyfuss demands a cut.

Post-termination commissions aren’t unusual, but in this instance, Johnson has reacted by filing a petition to the California Labor Commissioner.

In the petition, Johnson says he fired Dreyfuss well before receiving an offer to write and direct Star Wars, and that Dreyfuss didn’t play a role in him obtaining the gig, but what takes the dispute beyond the ordinary is allegations how his former agent has “circumvented guild rules and regulations on licensing requirements, maximum commissions and post-termination commissions.”

According to Johnson, when Dreyfuss first began representing him, the Kohner Agency was licensed and franchised by the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America. The guilds have an agreements with the Association of Talent Agents whereby directors and writers pay no more than a 10 percent commission to agents.

Johnson, through his attorney Aaron Moss at Greenberg Glusker, says he’s now come to learn that Dreyfuss has been operating as an unlicensed talent agent, and further, “unbeknownst to Johnson, when Dreyfuss left Kohner to start Featured, Featured deliberately failed to become franchised by the DGA, in order to attempt to avoid the obligations required of the ATA-DGA Agreement.”

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter and thanks to Alexis for the tip.

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