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Literary Agent Contracts: How To Protect Your Rights

literary agency contract

Everybody knows that literary agents negotiate contracts for you with publishers. But who is going to negotiate a contract with a literary agency for you? Many writers know what to do when a literary agent requests a manuscript. But fewer have taken the proactive step of understanding literary agent contracts before a contract is offered.

As for writers who DO know their stuff even before they’re offered a contract…well, we think that’s a pretty good indicator of future success. So use this article to learn what you’re getting into before you get yourself into it. Then, enjoy the ride!

If a literary agent offers you a contract, which legal terms and phrases should you look out for? Which terms are negotiable, and which ones aren’t? If the agent does not sell your book, how does the law say that you should part ways?

WRITE IT UP:  Tell us about the book that YOU are pitching to literary agents right now. Click Leave A Comment above! 

First and foremost, we’re going to tell you the same thing we did in our article about literary journal contracts: If you don’t understand a contract’s terms, don’t sign it until you do. Never hesitate to show the contract to an attorney. We reiterate: Contracts typically favor the person who drafted them. 

Second, do your homework. Would you go on a blind date without Googling your intended? No way, not in this day and age when everything you need to know about a person’s reputation is likely to be online. Before you sign a contract, research in order to confirm that the agent is reputable, experienced, and successful (with a track record of book sales), and has references that (s)he will willingly provide. Unlike the rigorous exams taken to become a doctor or lawyer, there is no test to become a literary agent.

Want to learn more about what’s important to know before you sign with a literary agent? Read this: Nine Questions To Ask A Literary Agent.

Third, know that an agent’s contract will define the scope of the representation: Does the agent represent you for one particular work, or does (s)he represent you for all of your works and future works regardless of the medium in which it is published (i.e., if your book is made into a movie)? The contract should also set a term or time limitation during which the agent will represent you and your work.

What if you discover that you and your agent do not click as a business team, but you signed a five-year contract? Before signing, you need to know the duration of your relationship with this agent. A yearly term, renewable by you after each year, is typical. Look for termination clauses with notice provisions in case either party is unhappy with the relationship. For instance, to terminate the agreement, you may need to provide your agent with 60 days prior written notice, while (s)he may not need to provide you with any.

Last, but not least, beware of fees and charges in a contract such as a reading fee, editorial fee, or marketing fee. Almost all reputable agents charge only by commission, usually 10-15% for domestic sales and 20-30% for co-agented or foreign sales (as a third party is usually necessarily involved in overseas sales). Learn more: Warning Signs: How To Spot A Bad Literary Agent: Part One.

There are many issues and contract terms we could discuss, but these key provisions and matters should get you started. While we can’t offer legal advice, Writer’s Relief submission strategists provide our clients with much-needed information about reputable agents and their contracts.

WRITE IT UP:  Tell us about the book that YOU are pitching to literary agents right now.

7 Responses to Literary Agent Contracts: How To Protect Your Rights

  1. I am shopping a novel about infidelity and the journey that both husband and wife take to discover who they are and who they are to each other. A real life scenario that plays out in many households everyday. Life’s Love Affair is the title. It’s about a devoted house wife that discover’s her husband is having multiple affairs. Her own journey through her own infidelity,the secrets the plotting, the resentment that fuels the decision to press onward in the venture that Veronica and Riley have found themselves in.

  2. Every Breath is Precious: Dying Taught Me how to Live is my account of my near-death experience. In 1988 while working at a dude ranch, a stampede of horses crushed me against a hay barn. With grey skin and lips “as blue as my jeans,” I was eventually declared dead. But I stood a few feet away and watched it all. Every Breath is Precious narrates my experience with dying and returning, a near-death experience (NDE). This includes my journey to Heaven or what I have come to call “Upstairs”, my talks with Light Beings, and the help I received in my decision to stay there or return to my life on earth.

  3. This Glorious Mess is a wild and witty approach to the big life questions like why we’re here and what you can do about it. Why I have such outrageous answers? Well, I had some mystical experiences in my life, like a vision and two-way conversations with a God-like being, much like Neale Walsch had, I just hardly ever talked about it. It’s a good thing that I have been busy writing and editing for women’s magazines in those thirty-five years since my first mystical encounter. At least I know how to write and entertain you, even if you don’t believe a word I say ;-) My category is 98% narrative non fiction. The rest is plausible fiction.

  4. This is a true story of a Minnesota farm girl, coming of age in the early 1900’s. Her life is documented by hundreds of letters written to her brother and telgrams from her husband and others
    After leaving the farm, she marries a handsome, dashing Board Track Racing Circuit race car driver from Colorado. In the mid twenties, she joins him on the racing circuit and keeps a diariy of life on road for two years. In 1928, the two of them are taking their Miller race car to South America to start promoting the development of a racing circuit. They left New York and three days out, their ship flounders at sea, her husband and many others drowning. She and her dog,The Queen of Speed, make it onto a lifeboat and she resumes her life in California, never re-marrying. After the death of her husband, she packs all her racing memorabila into a steamer trunk and ships it to her brothers farm. The trunk languishes in a barn for over fifty years before being discovered, opening a window into the drama of the short lived Board Track Racing.

  5. My novel is unique for its characterization … a “dumped”, middle-aged housewife, her pregnant daughter, daughter’s ex-Navy husband. The three struggle to attend college and hold down numerous menial, part-time jobs throughout a merciless upstate New York winter.

  6. The Queens of Galena – two girls (sisters) growing up in a remote and rustic ski lodge. Without TV or radio, they develop an intricate imaginary kingdom inspired by the Wizard of Oz series.

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