f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 4 of Agents – The Negotiating Hat

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Day 4 of Agents – The Negotiating Hat

Were we on Family Feud answering the question, “Name one thing an agent does?” my guess is that this would be the #1 answer out of 100 people surveyed.

Contracts scare the crap out of most of us. We're worried that some boilerplate in subsection IV, Clause 9 will forfeit their first-born if they use a comma in the wrong place. Probably not. Rather, the give-and-take of contract negotiation is mostly about the burden of risk.

A publisher, naturally, wants to take as little risk as possible in publishing your book. Every dollar spent is another inch out on the plank over a sea full of sharks. You’re trying to convince them to take another inch.

Here’s my feeling: you should never sign with an agent solely for the purpose of negotiating a contract. Seriously, it’s not that complicated. This book is an excellent (and readable) resource. If nothing else, hiring a lawyer for legal advice at a flat fee is a cheaper option than losing 10-15% of your advance and royalties.

I guess that’s my gauntlet thrown to agents. Be more than merely contract negotiators. Many, many are. They have editorial and marketing expertise. Those are the ones who earn the percentage they take. Those are the men and women who offer the most to their clients.

Here’s my other comment—and I’m writing this as part of a publisher so…grain of salt and all—the largest advance isn’t always the best offer. Bookselling isn’t like the music industry where artists are often screwed out of money. If your book does well, unless you have the worst contract ever, you get paid. And the better is does, the more you get paid.

So, in the end, your best offer comes from the publishing house that will deliver you the most sales. To be even more specific, which house will deliver you the most sales over the course of your career. Unless, for some reason, you need all your money upfront, a book that sells 100,000 copies at a $20,000 advance is worth more than a book that sells 50,000 at a $50,000 advance. You just get your money a little later.

Figuring out the best offer for your book is the primary reason you have an agent. Look past merely advance, working through all the plus and minuses involved with both houses and when you do that, chances are you’ll end up at the place best suited for your book.
Continue to Day 5 of Agents.