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Thread: Agent renegotiating old contracts

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Agent renegotiating old contracts

    Hi there

    I am considering taking on a literary agent. (Reputable agent, I have friends who work with this agent + checks out fine on P&E.)

    I have one question for the wise advisers out there.

    I am aware that a literary agent can negotiate superior deals to an individual author. The agent that I am dealing with has mentioned that he can also renegotiate my older contracts to be more favourable than what I originally signed up for.

    I have six book deals done direct with the publishers over the last ten years. (The books are still all in print.)

    How on earth is this possible?

    I thought that once you have signed a publishing agreement, everything was final.

    Is this cause for concern? My main worry is that the agent is looking to claim extra commision for historical titles.

    Any thoughts?

    Peter

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW
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    No thoughts here, but I'd really like to hear an answer to this since I thought they were "done deals" too. I have never heard of this. What incentive is there for the publisher to waste its time renegotiating old contracts?

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Dollywagon's Avatar
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    I don't understand it either. Not that I am experienced in such matters - I don't consider "taking an agent on" I just beg them to take me on a regular basis.

    Can I ask what kind of publishers you are contracted to. Are they traditional publishers or some kind of POD press, maybe the difference would be in this area?

  4. #4
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Contracts

    Thanks for everyone's feedback. My contracts are regular trade books.

    I'll let everyone know some more information as I am meeting with the agent next week. I will definitely ask for this issue to be clarified and explained.

    Cheers

    Peter

  5. #5
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    I'm dubious. I'm not saying it can't happen--you can never say never in this business--but I've certainly never heard of this, and I can't imagine what the incentive for the publisher would be.

    Who's the agent?

    - Victoria

  6. #6
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Agent

    Yeah, it certainly is an odd statement. I can't see what is in it for the publishers either. As everything is verbal and unclear at this stage, I'd rather not name the agent. (I may have misinterpreted something... perhaps).

    Cheers

  7. #7
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    A fully executed contract between the author and the publisher, in force for years, with the book still in print? If neither side is in breach of contract, and the contract wasn't defective to start with, you can't just up and renegotiate it. You certainly can't renegotiate a whole string of them.

    It's easy to see why the agent would tell you it's possible. He wants you as a client, and he needs to have something to offer you. Unfortunately, he's lying. Is he a member of the AAR? You might want to tell them about this. I think it may qualify as professionally unethical behavior.
    Winner of the Best Drycleaner on the Block Award.

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    One incentive for a publisher may be getting publishing rights to the author's future projects. I am aware of one author who renegotiated the royalties on his backlist titles as part of a deal for two new books in the series. This was done, as I recall, without the involvement of an agent.

    I, for one, would be reluctant to give an agent the authority to renegotiate contracts for books already sold. The relationship between agent and author only works when the agent has "skin in the game." In the case of books already sold, the agent has only to gain and nothing to lose. The hard part, selling the books, is done. The author, on the other hand, has a lot to lose, primarily the good relationship with the publisher who currently sells his or her books.

    If your agent is thinking about approaching your current publisher for your new book, wouldn't it be better to instruct him or her to use the previous deals as leverage to get a bigger advance on the new book?

  9. #9
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coyote Man
    One incentive for a publisher may be getting publishing rights to the author's future projects. I am aware of one author who renegotiated the royalties on his backlist titles as part of a deal for two new books in the series.
    Sounds like a clever negotiation all round, but that author had something to offer the publisher: an improved deal on the new books.

    Simply proposing to a publisher that they renegotiate the contracts on six old books, for no particular reason that's of benefit to them, is another matter. All they have to do is say "Thanks, no, we like the contract as it stands," and the agent's at a standstill.
    Winner of the Best Drycleaner on the Block Award.

  10. #10
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    The normal system is that the agent gets a percentage of what they sell for you. This means that if they want to make more money, then they need to get you a better deal.

    Good system.

    However, if the agent is re-negotiating an old contract - then this is reversed. The agent's best option is to offer you a WORSE deal than you already have. That way the publisher will agree to the deal, and the agent will then get 15% of your bad deal.

    15% of a bad deal is worth more to the agent than 0% of a good deal.

    Mac
    (PS: This is just game theory - I have no idea how it will happen in the real world)

  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    old contracts

    Interesting points.

    Thank you.

  12. #12
    'bye soloset's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mac H.
    However, if the agent is re-negotiating an old contract - then this is reversed. The agent's best option is to offer you a WORSE deal than you already have. That way the publisher will agree to the deal, and the agent will then get 15% of your bad deal.

    15% of a bad deal is worth more to the agent than 0% of a good deal.

    Mac
    (PS: This is just game theory - I have no idea how it will happen in the real world)
    I don't get it. But then, I suck at game theory (go ahead, try to explain that Let's Make a Deal puzzler to me. Strong men have given up in tears).

    If the author is bringing something new to the table, it'd be in the agent's best interests to negotiate a better deal, one that both the author and the publisher will agree to and that the agent makes a commission on.

    If the author isn't bringing something new to the table, it'd still be in the agent's best interest to negotiate a better deal, because the publisher might go for it, and the author certainly wouldn't agree to a worse one (resulting in the 15% of nothing scenario anyway).

    Unless the author is already locked into whatever deal the agent procures beforehand, in which case, any deal would be better than no deal, but the agent would still want to negotiate a decent one.

    And what about negotiating a deal that's roughly comparable?

    You know what? I like the Prisoner's Dilemma better. Let's go play with that one. <g>
    #

    Nothing’s inherently wrong with telling; nothing’s inherently wrong with showing. . . .
    When Picasso paints a canvas using only blue, you can still tell that he knows what he’s doing with color. When I paint a canvas using only blue, you will be quite certain from the result that it’s because I have no clue what to do with red or yellow—and you won’t be too sure I’ve got a grip on blue, either. Learn all the colors; then choose whichever seems right at the moment. Master the whole craft. ~ Keith Snyder

  13. #13
    lover of fonts zarch's Avatar
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    Taking on an agent. Never thought of it that way.

  14. #14
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    it'd still be in the agent's best interest to negotiate a better deal, because the publisher might go for it, and the author certainly wouldn't agree to a worse one (resulting in the 15% of nothing scenario anyway).
    I'm assuming simply that the publisher has enough information about projected volumes, etc, to see if a new deal will be more profitable for them.

    A simple example: If the new agent gets you a 100% better deal on the hardback edition (which has made you $10k so far), at the expense of getting 10% less on the audio book (which has made you ZERO so far) the author may feel it is a good deal. However the publisher would propose it simply because they know that it isn't planned to make another hardback edition, but they are about to release an audio book.

    OK - a purely hypothetical example, with made-up numbers. But the point is that the 'both parties wouldn't agree to it unless it is beneficial to both parties' doesn't work if one party has a lot more information than the other.

    Mac

    (go ahead, try to explain that Let's Make a Deal puzzler to me. Strong men have given up in tears).
    (PS: Is the 'Let's Make a Deal' puzzler the same one as the '3 Doors Paradox' or 'Monty Hall Paradox'?

    That one is pretty simple:
    * If you don't change your mind, the only way you can win is to be correct on your first guess (1/3 odds).
    * If you DO change your mind, the only way you can LOSE is to be correct on your first guess (1/3 odds).

    So changing your mind changes the odds of winning from 1/3 to 2/3.

    OK, I know I'm doomed to failure with trying to explain it, but, gosh-darn it, you challenged me!)

  15. #15
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    I wouldn't bet that a sufficiently-good agent couldn't renegotiate contracts.

    Is this agent sufficiently good?

  16. #16
    Ooo! Shiny new cover! Absolute Sage Cathy C's Avatar
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    I think it would absolutely possible to renegotiate an older deal if, for example, a publisher was granted a subsidiary right that they haven't yet exploited over the years. If the publisher had no intention to ever develop the books into audio, or sell them overseas then, yes, I think the agent could try to have them release those rights back to the author so the agent could sell them. I know this is something my agent has done for other authors she's taken on mid-stream in their career.

    A contract isn't just royalties and advances, after all...

    Quote Originally Posted by zarch
    Taking on an agent. Never thought of it that way.
    You should. This is EXACTLY what is happening when an agent offers representation. It's like an attorney accepting a case. They're still YOUR employee, so you are, in effect, "taking them on."
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  17. #17
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks Cathy

    Cathy

    Thanks for sharing your information.

    You have made an excellent point about unused rights. That would definitely be to an author's advantage, despite having to conceed on agents commision.

    I really appreciate your thoughts.

    Thanks

    Peter

  18. #18
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mac H.
    The normal system is that the agent gets a percentage of what they sell for you. This means that if they want to make more money, then they need to get you a better deal.

    Good system.

    However, if the agent is re-negotiating an old contract - then this is reversed. The agent's best option is to offer you a WORSE deal than you already have. That way the publisher will agree to the deal, and the agent will then get 15% of your bad deal.

    15% of a bad deal is worth more to the agent than 0% of a good deal.

    Mac
    (PS: This is just game theory - I have no idea how it will happen in the real world)
    I truly didn't see that one coming. Mac, you have a devious turn of mind.

    Your point is correct. The previous agent must remain the agent of record as long as those contracts stand, which means the new agent wouldn't see a penny off them. The publisher can't be made to renegotiate, and has no incentive to change the contracts so as to give the author a bigger cut of the take.

    The pry bar the new agent can use to break those contracts open is to offer to collude with the publisher against the author's interests. The publisher gets advantageous new contracts. The new agent gets 15% of the author's share of the take from them. And the author and the previous agent both get screwed.

    It's not an impossible scenario. Tensions can accumulate in legitimate author-agent relationships, especially if the author feels that his or her career is stalling for no good reason. Occasionally a change of agent is in fact what's needed; but being a published author doesn't mean you're immune to getting flim-flammed by a crooked one.
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  19. #19
    Ooo! Shiny new cover! Absolute Sage Cathy C's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HapiSofi
    The previous agent must remain the agent of record as long as those contracts stand, which means the new agent wouldn't see a penny off them.
    True . . . except in the circumstance I suggest. The new agent would be making a SIDE deal, with a new publisher (for foreign, game, movie or audio rights) that the old agent wouldn't have a stake in. The old deal wouldn't be affected, and even if the new agent co-opted the old agent in for a cut of the prize, in the case of an author who's become a big name since the original contract (and can therefore command five and six figure foreign/audio deals), the new agent is making adequate commissions to make the effort worth their while.

    JMHO, of course.
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    "An entertaining (and occasionally very dark) mystery." -- Locus

    "[Shapeshifter] fans are about to hit the jackpot as Clamp returns to re-energize this amazing series. Searching for layered plotlines and complex characters? Look no further, as Clamp truly delivers!" -- RT BookReviews

    "Cathy Clamp is a visionary author, creating new worlds that are both strong and vividly drawn. Adventure and excitement at its best." -- Yasmine Galenorn, New York Times Bestselling Author

    "A struggling community under attack, compelling action, characters struggling with dark secrets ... FORBIDDEN hit all my favorite notes, and I love the rich world of the Sazi!" - Rachel Caine, New York Times Bestselling Author

  20. #20
    Moderator In Name Only AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    This just tells me that having an agent doesn't absolve a writer from learning as much about the publishing industry as possible.
    --Roger J. Carlson

  21. #21
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Are these books that could be reverted? Is that what the agent's suggesting?

  22. #22
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Old contracts

    Hi there

    Thanks for all the great feedback.

    I still think Cathy has made the best point regarding improving rights distribution on older contracts. Typically writers do not receive the best possible deal when negotiating directly with publishers. This is where an agent can offer some valuable input.

    I have never had an agent before, and I am being extremely thorough in my research before contemplating joining up with one.

    So thanks again to the members who have added their feedback.

    I feel my question has been well answered.

    Thank you.

    Peter

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