Pub Rants

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

Tales From The Contract Wars

Status: It’s pouring rain and the temps feel anything like spring but I’m eating ice cream right now anyway.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? DON’T GIVE UP ON ME NOW by Ben Harper

Today we officially wrapped up our negotiations on the new Macmillan boilerplate contract. It only took 6 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days from start to finish. It was worth it to get a decent contract.

Oddly enough I was excited to sell yet another book to a Macmillan imprint. THAT contract will only take several weeks. All the heavy lifting is done.

Then I get a new Random House contract in. Basically the same except for 2 rather key clauses that come at the very end of the contract but are referenced throughout.

Great. Publishers will certainly let you reserve rights but are now inserting clauses that hamstring the author from exploiting those reserved rights.

This seems to be the latest fashion.

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15 Responses

  1. MJ said:

    Wow, I’m curious what percentage of agents don’t take the massive effort required to work out these “kinks” in the contracts? Where does that leave their authors?

  2. Anne A said:

    Since you once mentioned that you don’t lots of comments on these type of posts, let me say that reading this stuff makes me very happy there are agents like you that look very carefully at such things!

  3. Anonymous said:

    When authors leave traditional publishers in droves and agents reinvent themselves as editors and marketers as the whole thing goes to self-pubbing, I am not going to feel bad for the crumbling corporations who bought this on themselves…

  4. David said:

    Totally with anonymous. While I enjoy Kristin’s work for her clients, those who don’t have an agent like her may best be served by e-books.

  5. Joseph L. Selby said:

    I’m very pro-traditional publishing, but each time I hear about these kinds of changes, the less I feel I want to work with people like that. And I work for a publisher! Agent or no, there’s a line between “good business” and “exploitative business.”

  6. Caroline said:

    When you have those ‘gotcha’ clauses, how do you get them out? And what advice do you give clients if the publisher refuses to budge?

    One agent I asked dismissed concerns over some things that looked sketchy by saying “publishing doesn’t work like that, they’re not out to get you,” and basically blamed it on a hyper Legal dept. Given that most agents are not attorneys, I’ve begun to wonder if many agents just don’t GET what the contract is really saying.

  7. Christine Ashworth said:

    I’m hoping any agent I am lucky enough to get is at least as diligent as you are, Kristin. Even the one ePub contract I signed had things in it I should never had allowed through.

    Keep on being stellar, Kristin!

  8. Amy B. said:

    Ugh. Not looking forward to that.

    AAR is having this great series on contracts this summer. The first one was all the things cropping up in boilerplates, and this issue came up. Oh more battles to wage.

    One takeaway was that it can now pay to see a publisher’s boilerplate before accepting a deal, taking it into consideration when choosing between publishers. Definitely something to keep in mind.

  9. Brendan Gannon said:

    Veeery interesting, particularly with some of the publisher-agent-contract talk popping up in the blogosphere in the past couple of weeks. One gets the feeling that authors new and established really have to watch their backs in the legal dept. In case you had any doubts, Kristin, contract talk is *not* boring.

  10. Marilynn Byerly said:

    Remarkably absent in all the talk about how to “save” traditional publishing is the simple concept of treating the creator as a partner.

    If traditional publishers had actually offered fair terms to their legacy authors instead of the current insults, the authors or their heirs would have stayed.

    If traditional publishers were true partners, established authors wouldn’t be leaving to self-publish.

    Even some agents now are as abusive as the publishers have become.

    It would be truly lovely if all those who make their money off our creative effort realized they should be gardeners tending a rose garden of creators and creations, not rose maggots and bugs destroying everything in their path.

    For anyone who wants to read about what some of us are alluding to, I suggest Kristine Rusch’s business section articles at

  11. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I hope Random House doesn’t make things too difficult to negotiate. Is there anything you can share about the way they’re hamstringing authors, so we know yet more things to watch out for if/when we all get our own contracts someday?

    And thanks for doing this on behalf of the authors you currently represent!

  12. LynNerd said:

    Thank you for this post. Very much appreciated.

    Marilynn, thanks for referring us to that link. I’ll read it, but I’ve already heard plenty of other things and have to agree with Joseph, David, and Anonymous, that publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with this kind of stuff.

    I’m taking it all in and weighing my options. This all makes me wonder how long will traditional publishing remain traditional?

  13. Dragon said:

    Are publishers more tempted to see what they can get away with when they’re dealing with new writers?

    Do agents really have to hack through the same garbage every time they negotiate a contract? It seems like it would get exhausting.

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