There are so many book publishing companies these days that the big New York publishers no longer have the corner on the market. Writers can often directly approach smaller and independent publishers without having to first secure literary agent representation.
But when an offer of book publication does come in (yay!), a writer who doesn’t have a literary agent faces the daunting task of negotiating a book contract alone. Here’s what to do if you have been offered a book deal from a publisher but don’t have literary agency representation.
What You Should Do If Offered A Book Publishing Contract Without A Literary Agent
Get familiar with book contract law. Intellectual property and copyright law can seem very convoluted (even to the professionals!). And electronic rights issues have only complicated matters further. At the very least, become familiar with book deal basics as you begin your research, negotiations, and decision-making. Know your rights so that you can protect them—start by getting your hands on a primer about literary law for writers.
Query a literary agent—fast. Some literary agents are willing to review book contracts and negotiate with publishers on a writer’s behalf—even if the writer does not officially become a client of the agency. Be prepared to pay a fee that’s either based on commission or is an upfront flat fee.
Find an intellectual property lawyer who specializes in publishing. Some lawyers who are not literary agents specialize in book contracts. In the same way that a real estate lawyer can look over your paperwork, an intellectual property lawyer can be paid to review your book contract.
Join a writer’s association or group; ask questions; read reviews. If you don’t already have the inside scoop on your potential publisher, exhaust every possibility to find more information. If you can’t find a lot of commentary on the publisher, consider that a red flag—it may mean you’re looking at a publisher who a) doesn’t have a strong backlist, b) doesn’t have a lot of experience, or c) doesn’t have a strong reputation.
Brush up on your negotiating skills. If you find a lawyer who will make contract recommendations for you, your next step may be to actually negotiate on your own behalf and compel your publisher to make your requested changes. Learn how to negotiate from a position of power.
Don’t rush. If the editor wants your book badly enough, he or she will wait until you have all your ducks in a row. Remember: You’re the one with the hot new book! As long as you’re working toward an agreement, your publisher should be patient. If you’re feeling undue pressure to sign on the dotted line ASAP, consider that a red flag.
Don’t try to go it alone. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve received letters from writers telling the same sad story: I signed a book contract with an independent/small publisher and now they’re giving me the runaround. But I can’t get out of my agreement even though I want to publish somewhere else. Here are just a few of the things that can go wrong if you don’t have a professional in your corner when you’re negotiating your book deal contract.
Does It Help To Have A Literary Agent When Working With A Self-Publishing Company?
As recently as a few years ago, literary agents did not work with self-published authors, but this is no longer the case. Learn more about whether or not writers who self-publish need a literary agent.