Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Agenting 101: Part Eight: Option Clause

STATUS: Yep, another late night. And gosh darn it’s hot in New York City. I realize it’s hot everywhere right now but 100 degrees in NYC is not the same as 100 degrees in Denver—not by a long shot. I think the word “sweatball” comes to mind.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Nada. Not even the telly is on at the moment

So, I promised to talk about option clauses. As I mentioned before, Publishers want the broadest language possible and agents want the narrowest language possible.

For example, Publishers will ask for “the option on the author’s next work” or some such similar language.

Well, duh, of course they do but that’s way too wide open. Next work could mean anything—from nonfiction to the next literary novel to the next romance or what have you. Any next work from the author.

Agents always limit the option to specifically what the author is writing and the more specific, the better.

For example, if the author writes historical romances, then you can limit it to that. Better, is to even designate what type of historical (ie. Next historical erotic romance, next historical paranormal romance, next regency-set historical romance).

Specifics is key.

In fantasy, you can have the option be “for the next fantasy work in this series.” Next epic fantasy. Next Urban fantasy, next dark horror fantasy.

Get creative.

For nonfiction, you can limit it to the next self-help nonfiction work appropriate for XYZ line.

Another good thing to remember is to put the word “adult” in front of certain unclear categories such as “adult chick lit.”

This is super important if you have an author that’s branching out into young adult, middle-grade, or children’s and as an agent, you need to manage both sides of the career.

You can also add “writing under the author’s own name” or “XYZ pseudonym.”

Limited option clauses are imperative for authors who want to write for several houses, in different genres, or for two different markets—like adult vs. children’s.

Another tricky clause to be on the look out for is the non-compete clause.

Publishing houses like to insert that little bad boy in there and often it will read something like this: “this work will be the next published work by the author and the author will not allow any other work to be published until six months after publication of the final book in this contract.”

And this is a loose paraphrase since I don’t have a contract in front of me.

Well, that can get darn complicated if the author is writing in various genres for various houses.

An important clause to really dig in and change.

Okay. My brain is done for the day.


7 Responses

  1. Bridget Medora said:

    Kristin, thanks so much for taking the time to do this Agenting 101 series. It’s been wonderful.

    They say it’s supposed to cool off in NY today…I hope it will! Thanks again Kristin!

  2. Simon Haynes said:

    Is it a positive if your contract has no option clause? Mine’s free of any dibs on future work, but I thought that might be due to it being a three book contract. I’ve just handed in the last manuscript and have more on the drawing board.

  3. Tori Scott said:

    Thanks Kristin! Hope you can stay indoors in air conditioned places.

    It was 107 in Dallas yesterday. We work outside, so it was a really miserable day.

    I really appreciate you telling us to watch out for. The one contract I’ve seen was a doozy and there was no negotiation allowed. Yikes!

  4. Anonymous said:

    I have a sneaky question. Say you want to get an agent but your current publisher already has you in an all-encompassing “we see your next work first” deal. Can you send them one of your less favorite projects and then send your good work to the agent since technically, you’ve given your obligatory “next work” to the publisher?

  5. Sherry Decker said:

    I’ve heard it gets darn hot in NYC but try to imagine 104 degrees just outside of Seattle. Soggy sweatball comes to mind.

    Just found your blog via Miss Snark and think it’s great. Thanks for staying up late when you’re tired, just to talk to us.

  6. Sherryl said:

    I was really interested to see your advice regarding that “next work” clause. My agent has just been through a long, drawn out argument with my publisher, who wanted the following in my contract – “The work shall be the author’s next work to be published in any volume form or medium.” They wouldn’t budge, so we ended up just crossing it out and signing the contract and sending it back. They then came back with an amended clause which kind of fudges it down to “OK we’ll back down a bit but you have to immediately advise us if another book is accepted”. I mostly write for children, so it’s very likely that I will have other books accepted by other publishers! I forwarded your blog link to my agent. Neither of us quite “get” what this clause is about, apart from trying to stop authors publishing elsewhere. In my area, it’s almost a given. Any comments or further thoughts?

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