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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

All in a day's work

So there are people in the world who wonder what an agent does and why an author might want one...

A couple months ago, a publisher came to us wanting to re-add e-book rights to an old contract, in which the e-book had to be published within x months and wasn't. The author wants to help out, we want to help out, we have an ongoing relationship with the publisher and want to support the newer books by the author. But I also pointed out to the author that there was an unearned advance of a few thousand dollars, that we'd get around $1.25 for each e-book sold, and we'd be a while in actually getting any royalties based on realistic expectations for the e-book sale. We ended up reaching an agreement with the publisher for the e-book to be separately accounted, so that print sales could still go against the advance, but it would be mutually beneficial for us to sign an amendment for the e-book edition.

[tying back to my last anniversary musing, the ultimate difference that Bill Baldwin and I had was this: I think if you're a professional writer that the goal is to make money, Bill that the goal is to have books in print, and the two are not always synonymous. This is an instance where the author's first instinct is to want to have the book available, and here I as agent was able to step in and find a way to bring the two goals closer together.]

We have our first contract with a big publisher. Big publisher is thinking they should no longer publisher children's books that they can't do an app for, because this is the big next new thing that people are talking about for children's books. Have they done any apps before? Not really. Are they definitely going to do an app for this book? Who knows. Do they know what they might include in the app if they were to do it it? Not really. But nonetheless, they have to have the rights. Big publisher wants to get the rights in the broadest way possible. The problem is that their broadest way possible will not make the general counsel at Big film studio happy if ever we are able to sell film rights, it probably won't make the publisher of any audio edition very happy, this app with who knows what that may or may not ever exist could make it impossible to sell other very valuable rights. So we have to go back multiple rounds with Big publisher to narrow the definition as much as we possibly can. Besides the back and forth with the publisher, when it becomes clear that the publisher is getting very insistent on having these rights, we need to talk to our client to have client support for the idea that the publisher has to come at least a certain way toward our position, or we will in fact say "no" to a decently sized advance. The ultimate resolution, we are still granting these rights to the publisher for the first time, and we're not very happy about it, and we really wish we weren't, but we've at least narrowed things down to the point where the definition is as narrow as it can be without saying "no," and we think narrow enough that if we ever have to discuss the contract with Big film studio, we should be able to do a film deal that will co-exist with the book deal.

Another publisher is very insistent on publishing books in the reverse order of the delivery dates in the contract. Hence, the author is delaying work on the revisions his editor requested on book #1 in order to have book #2 in early. Someone has to explain to the publisher that the author's delivery and acceptance advance on book #1 shouldn't be entirely held up because the publisher requested to have the other book in early.

These are some of the things we do to amuse ourselves during the workday.

There are bad agents who might not do any of these things. There are authors who have the knowledge and the inclination to do each of these things just as well or maybe better. But if you can't look yourself in the mirror and sincerely say to yourself that you would've held off on having an e-book edition just because it wouldn't make you money until 2017, or understood the conflict between the app rights and movie rights and dragged out your contract negotiation for rounds and weeks to protect yourself, and/or felt comfortable arguing when the publisher explained how it was like taking first born child to pay a delivery and acceptance advance for a book that hadn't had its revisions delivered and accepted, then you might conclude an agent can do some things for you.

1 comment:

Brian Niemeier said...

Wow. I've heard of audiobook rights interfering with radio rights and all kinds of merchandising conflicts, but I never would've imagined smart phone application rights interfering with film rights.

Just goes to show how the rapid advances in technology are mucking up the boilerplate.