From Writer Beware:
Earlier this week, I ran across a blog post by best-selling author Claire King about the process by which she decided to become a hybrid author, ditching her high-powered agency in the process. It’s an interesting story–but what really caught my eye was this:
And then one day on the phone my agent informed me that in order to continue to be represented by this mighty agency, I would have to turn over 15% of the proceeds of my about-to-be self-published book to said agency. Not only that, but I would have to publish it exclusively through Amazon, because the agency had a system in place with Amazon where I could check a box and their 15% would go straight to them, no muss, no fuss.
I’ve warned in the past about interminable agency clauses in author-agent agreements (language through which an agency claims the right to remain the agent of record not just for the duration of any contracts it negotiates for your book, but for the life of the book’s copyright). One of the many concerns raised by such language is what happens if you want to self-publish backlist books that the agency originally sold for you. With an interminable agency clause, might your agency feel entitled to a share of your self-publishing income?
. . . .
Contract language often lags behind technological innovation. For instance, years after the advent of digital publishing, many publishing contracts still don’t include adequate rights reversion language (I’ve written here about why that’s a problem).
The same is true for author-agent agreements, many–if not most–of which don’t address self-publishing at all. Right now, I’m sure that most self-publishing questions are dealt with amicably one-on-one between author and agent. But with more and more writers choosing to become hybrid authors, and more and more agencies branching out into publishing and self-publishing-related activities, those kinds of informal resolutions aren’t enough. For the protection of both author and agent, author-agent agreements need to explicitly address what happens (or doesn’t happen) when clients self-publish, either on their own or through the agency.
Link to the rest at Writer Beware and thanks to Sandra for the tip.
PG says the contractual solution for this is simple. Agency agreements should be terminable by the author at any time.
If the agent has already made a sale for the author, the agent should be entitled to commissions on that sale. If the author has signed a life-of-copyright publishing contract the agent has procured, then the agent’s commissions will continue for the length of the publishing contract (another very good reason to insist on split checks – who knows what kind of people will be running the agency in 50 years).
In PG’s everlastingly humble opinion, a trip to the courthouse would end most agency agreements that purport to tie the author to the agent when the author no longer desires the agent’s services.