View Full Version : What is a fair contract?

10-22-2004, 02:18 AM
What are things I should be looking for?

What is a fair advancement for a first time, unpublished writer to shoot for? (Fantasy Genre)

What is an average length of a solid contract? Best scenerio? Worst?

What is average sales for a agency? I mean how many should they sell to publishers per year to become a legit practice?

Although this is a tangest question...one of the people who responded said that they shoot for bestselling authors. WHAT is classfied as a bestseller? How many volumes?

Feel free to add anything else. These are all the questions that I have dealt with so far, but I am sure theres alot more info I need to know.

Thank You,


10-22-2004, 03:09 AM
Well, Eric...you and I are in the same spot:shrug . I just got an agent myself and this is how it was for me. Keep in mind that I don't know how things will go for me, but this is my story thus far...

My agent told me that a bottom barrel advance is less than $10-5000 for an unpublished author. There are those who get 6 figures right of the bat, but they are few and quite far between.

A standard contract is a year, but mine is open ended with a termination clause. She wants to represent everything I have, not just the one book.

As far as "shooting for best selling authors"...I am new to this but I can guarantee you that EVERY agent only takes on the ones that he/she thinks can/will be that JK Rowling. I'd almost be a little leery of an agent who said that to me. (I mean think about that statement for a sec.) I waited to see if my agent was going to say, "THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I HAVE EVERY READ IN MY WHOLE LIFE...you will be a millionaire!" I would have run away had she said that. As far as what is a best seller, I will defer to the more experienced writers on the panel...Victoria? James D? Bueller?

Good luck to you:thumbs ....I am keeping my fingers crossed that mine turns out okay. Wish I could be of more help.

10-22-2004, 03:32 AM
Advances vary depending on a lot of things--publisher, agent (some are tougher negotiators than others), whether there's an auction (which can drum up the price), whether the publisher thinks your book will make a splash and is planning to put a promotional push behind it. You might get as little as $2,000 or as much as six figures. Average for a new fantasy author is probably around $5,000-$10,000 (I say this very tentatively, so if I'm wrong someone please correct me).

Contracts from commercial publishers usually run for the life of copyright. To offset this, they should include a clear out of print/reversion clause which details when and how the book will be taken out of print and rights returned to you. How quickly books do go out of print depends on a number of things, including publisher policy (some publishers seem to take books OP quicker than others) and sales. A book will generally be left in print as long as it continues to sell decently. That might mean only a couple of years, or much longer.

To judge the quality of an agency's sales record you need to take into account the size of the agency (an agency with 25 clients is obviously not going to sell as many books in a year as an agency with 100 clients), the publishers it has sold to (ideally, a wide mix of different imprints and houses), and, to a lesser degree, the success of its clients (it's a good sign when an agency has a number of prestigious or top-selling writers--though since these comprise a small percentage of all writers, they'll usually also comprise a small percentage of the agency's clientele, most of whom will probably be people you've never heard of--though you should have heard of their publishers).

>>one of the people who responded said that they shoot for bestselling authors.<<

This strikes me as absurd--see the parenthetical comment above. Also, if you're a bestselling author the odds are that you're satisfied with your current agent and not looking to jump, and if you're a new writer, how is anyone going to know you're a bestselling author until your book is published?

- Victoria

10-22-2004, 07:16 AM
Sorry guys I didnt do a good job at actually my meaning.

The were after bestilling authors...should read like this: "We are after manuscripts that we beleive will be bestsellers."

I dont know if that makes a difference or not...it kinda struck me as odd too...I mean how many people can possibly BE a bestseller. Anyways, that is why I was asking how many volumes it takes to become a bestseller.

Thank you for all the info


10-22-2004, 07:33 AM
!. I knew what you were asking....I have no idea how many books you have to sell to be a best seller.

2. I understood what the agent was saying....that's why Victoria and agree that that agent is not too kosher. Every agent looks for writers with best seller potential. DAH!

3. I feel your pain. Like I said, I HOPE I am not being taken by my agent. It's a life full of lessons....


10-22-2004, 07:52 AM
It makes sense to me. One agent wrote back and said something like "we don't represent a male version of chick lit. We are looking for the next Grisham and Stephen King."


Tish Davidson
10-22-2004, 01:31 PM
Bestselling depends on a lot of things. Books that are timely or topical need to sell a lot of copies right away in order to make money before the topic dies (think of celeb and political tell-alls that soon become old news). But agents and publishers also look for evergreen books that will stay on their back list and sell steadily for years or that will get on school required reading lists .

10-22-2004, 05:38 PM
Okay....so what we are all saying is that we have no idea what the magic number is that defines a BEST SELLER!

By the way...that "male chic lit" comment must have hurt!:smack I feel your pain too.

BTW, when I am a bestseller, I have a lot of agents to send a copy of my book to. The inscription will say:

BIG MISTAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

10-22-2004, 09:41 PM
Actually I don't hold grudges. I know an agent's job is to find the writers and books they feel will succeed, and when you're an unknown, unless you have a project that fits the "best seller" mold, it's hard for them to "give you a chance." If I were an agent, I would do the same. And trust me, most agents have enough clients and projects to keep them busy and gainfully employed. Hindsight is 20/20... I'll bet quite a few regretted turning down Stephen King when he first started out, but life goes on.

If I were you, I wouldn't do the "BIG MISTAKE" thing. :nerd You never know what road lies ahead. Some of these agents might be better than the one you have, and when you become a best seller, you may want to use them. An agent may not be your friend, but a good one can get you a great deal.

James D Macdonald
10-22-2004, 11:03 PM
I believe Mr. King sold his first book (Carrie) unagented. I know that he wrote somewhere, "You don't need an agent until you're making enough money from writing to make it worthwhile for someone to steal."

Replying to criticism at all is something we call the ABM: the Author's Big Mistake. 100% of what any agent or editor owes you is to say "Yes" or "No." They've done that; they've done their job.

(And the right agent for one person may be completely wrong for another person. It's a business relationship, true, but it's also a personal/chemistry relationship.)

As to best seller status: it's hard not to be one if you've gotten any kind of decent distribution. There are all sorts of bestseller lists. But most people when they talk about "bestsellers" mean the New York Times best seller list. So -- get the NYT lists for the last year, hit the library, and start reading.

First time advances -- can be anything. Commonly 2,000 to 5,000. 10,000 isn't out of range. Beyond that, it's luck. Publishers try to match the advance to what they think the book will sell. If it sells better, all that means it more money downstream.

Hope for the best, and work on your next book.

10-23-2004, 12:17 AM
But most people when they talk about "bestsellers" mean the New York Times best seller list.

And remember that the NYT list specifically excludes certain kinds of books like romances and religious books.

James D Macdonald
10-23-2004, 12:42 AM
The USA Today best seller list mixes everything together; many consider it a superior list.

10-23-2004, 02:45 AM
Aw come on....a writer can dream! Since I have never been one to burn a bridge, I would never really p- off any other agents by doing the BIG MISTAKE thing...(especially since my agent may end up being a snake oil salesperson). I might need someone else one day!

Having said that....I hope I don't.

10-23-2004, 03:35 AM
So I asked a Borders GM today..what he thought a bestselling book is. He said for Fantasy..if you can sell 50,000 copies that would be considered a bestseller. Most other genres take 100,000+ to reach that list.

Which...now brings me to my next question regarding contracts. I have 3 examples of agencies I am considering...you tell me if this is 'fee charging' or is acceptable.

$8.75 per manuscript sent out. (Month to month contract.)
$45/yr up front for shipping/handling/copying/mailing...refundable (1 year contract.)
$75 one time refundable mail/shipping/handling/copying charge. (6 month contract)

Now, I am sure these are considered fee charges, but once again this is in the grey area to me...it is not that much to pay out...as a business person I could see 'why', but are even this small of amount a "deal breaker?'

Also, I noticed that spywriter told his agent that he just couldnt afford it...and she still accepted him. Is that the kind of approach I should take when talking to each of these agencies? Or should I rely mainly on asking about their sales...who they sold too....and how large their clientelle is?

Thank you guys


James D Macdonald
10-23-2004, 03:45 AM
$8.75 per manuscript sent out. (Month to month contract.)
$45/yr up front for shipping/handling/copying/mailing...refundable (1 year contract.)
$75 one time refundable mail/shipping/handling/copying charge. (6 month contract)

These guys are scammers, one and all. Don't even think about paying an agent anything, ever. Agents make their money off commissions. No sale, no money. It's that simple.

<a href="http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004772.html" target="_new">On the Getting of Agents</a>

Now <a href="http://www.cafepress.com/yog_1,viableparadi,yog_2.2310900" target="_new">get the tee shirt</a>.

If you sign up with a fee-charging agent I will come to your house and mock you in person.

10-23-2004, 04:57 AM

You have nothing to lose by saying what I did. When you talk to him or her, listen to what they have to say and then flat out say...."If I don't have the money, do you still want my book."

If they say YES, then you decide on the money thing. We can't do that for you.

If they say NO, RUN LIKE HELL. If he/she thinks they can sell your book, they know they will get that money in the end...when you are a bestseller! They are scammers...plain and simple.

Look Guy...BELIEVE IN YOURSELF and do not settle for garbage. You are worth more than that...so is your talent.

We are all in this together.

10-23-2004, 08:37 AM
Let me try to identify them just by the fees.

$8.75 per manuscript sent out. (Month to month contract.)

BA Literary Agency or Benedict and Associates (they're the same agency, run by one person under two different names). No sales.

$45/yr up front for shipping/handling/copying/mailing...refundable (1 year contract.)

Lawrence Kingman. No sales.

$75 one time refundable mail/shipping/handling/copying charge. (6 month contract)

West Coast Literary. About 10 sales over the past 10 years--not exactly dazzling.

(A note about the "refundable" fee: the promise of a refund is made mainly to make you feel better about handing over money upfront. Not only is it a safe promise--since the agents who make it usually aren't very good at selling books--it's a reversal of standard practice. It's perfectly reasonable for an agent to want to recoup some of the expenses of marketing a ms. However, a reputable agent will allow expenses to accrue and reimburse himself out of your income once the book sells--i.e., he's reimbursed only if he succeeds on your behalf. An agent who asks you for expense money upfront, with a promise to give it back if he makes a sale, is essentially being paid for failing.)

Of course, because nothing is simple, there isn't an absolute correlation between money requested upfront (i.e., anytime prior to a book sale) and questionability. A handful of decent agents do ask for some sort of deposit or retainer. But it's not typical practice, and it's so rare among good agents and so common among bad ones that it's reason enough to avoid an agent, even if you know nothing else about him or her.

- Victoria

10-23-2004, 01:50 PM
I'm dying to know if you got 3 out of 3 right there!

Spy: Just wanted you to know that I knew you were kidding about the "BIG MISTAKE" inscription and I thought it was hilarious. :grin

10-24-2004, 01:26 AM

Actually, yes those were all correct guesses.

I guess it is time to scrap a few of my choices...and start over again.

Thank you all for all your help and info


10-24-2004, 06:04 AM
Victoria is VERY good. Listen to her.

10-24-2004, 06:57 AM
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

P&E has developed a new criteria for publishers. I've heard lately from some writers who were offered contracts only to discover that there were setup fees in order to have their books printed by a small publisher offering ebooks and what appears to be print on demand. P&E is taking the stance that the lack of forewarning to authors makes this a deceptive process on the part of the publisher to make it known only when a contract is offered where the author is forced to choose between rejecting the contract or paying. Too many writers are unaware that such fees are not standard or even acceptable.

If you know of any publishers who charge such setup fees and do not announce those clearly in their submission guidelines, please let P&E know about them so we can give them an appropriate rating.

Kate Nepveu
10-26-2004, 10:46 PM
Stephen King also called fee-charging agents "unscrupulous fucks" in _On Writing_.

10-29-2004, 12:44 AM
Being a bestselling author is not a matter of how many copies you sell. A bestselling author is someone who gets onto a major bestseller list, period. And having a friend compile their own bestseller list and put you on it doesn't make you a bestselling author. It's got to be something like the NYTimes or USA Today.

Sales velocity counts. If you sell a bazillion copies over a very long period, you won't get onto the lists.

Once you're a bona fide bestselling author, you stay one forever. This is one of the odd fringe benefits of writing tie-in novels for bestselling commercial series.

Being a bestselling author doesn't mean that every novel you've written can be described as a bestselling novel. That's only legit if the specific novel in question has achieved bestseller status on its own.

10-29-2004, 04:48 AM
If you want to see an idea of what a contract looks like and what it means, Michelle Sagara goes over one of her contracts, (one of her first ones--so it's more representative of what a first timer would see) and breaks it down piece by piece in her online journal. Start here:

www.livejournal.com/users...16938.html (http://www.livejournal.com/users/msagara/16938.html)

Ty T
11-03-2004, 08:57 PM
Hypothetically, if a first time writer had already lined up interviews with several national papers, I.E The Sun, The Daily Mail, Mirror etc. You know lined up several double page interviews. You know maye there was something special about the book or writter that meant everyone wanted a story on it. How much do you reckon you would get then from a publisher

James D. Macdonald
08-30-2005, 07:11 PM
Best selling, and agencies. Always fun to play with.

I wonder if Ty T is still around, and how things worked out for him?