Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Contracts and nothing but contracts

Do literary agents look at just one book contract without the author having to sign up with them, a one-off deal? I'm asking because an author may have a contract but want someone to look over it, etc? Do you know if literary agents do this?

Yes, they do - at least, Australian agents do. I can't/won't/don't enough to speak for agents from other lands.

Most agents receive the occasional request to look over a contract and, if we have the time, we will do it. Some agents will want to take on the author as a client but some - including me - don't do that even if the author asks. If an author already has a contract then I tend to believe they're past the point of me being able to do much for them - the existence of a contract signifies that the negotiation of advances and so on is over, so my usefulness extends to reading and negotiating the contract. I also don't like to take on clients unless I believe in their writing - the fact that they have a contract is not enough. But that's me. 

The only way to find out if an agent will look at the contract as a discrete action is to ask them - just don't ask all of them at once. Pick one and ask; it's a quick answer for an agent to give so you should hear back within a couple of days at most. If you don't hear back, move on to the next agent.

When agents give contract feedback as a one-off activity, they usually do not also negotiate that contract with the publisher - that responsibility falls to the author. But if you'd rather have the agent also negotiate the contract, you should raise that at the same time as you ask them to look at the contract.