Pub Rants

Agenting 101: Part Seven: Bonus

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STATUS: Spent a lot of time on the phone talking with editors today. That’s always fun. In fact, chatted via email with fellow Blogger and Random House editor Jason Pinter.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? FUNKY COLD MEDINA by Tone-Loc

Finally, a controversial topic! Bonuses are controversial? How so you say.

Well, there are two schools of thought where bonuses are concerned and I have to say that I fall somewhere in the middle between the two points of view.

Side 1
This side perceives bonuses as ghost money. A carrot in front of the author for performance but the actual bonus clause isn’t tied to a result the author can control.

Therefore, it becomes unlikely for the author ever to reach said bonus stipulation and makes the money included in the bonus a moot point.

Side 2
This side perceives bonuses as a failsafe. In the event a novel (or project) does extremely well out of nowhere, excellent sales numbers (or whatever—depending on how the clause is structured) can trigger bonus clauses which would result in additional advance money for the author before a project has earned out.

As I mentioned, I walk the line. I do believe that bonus clauses are ghost money. I NEVER figure them as value when negotiating for the advance.

I include them only when it’s very clear to me that the deal points aren’t moving anywhere else and I might as well include a back-end fail safe in the event a book does well.

On the other hand, included bonus clauses can be a detriment in later rounds of negotiations for future projects. Publishers might want to play the game of weighting the advance monies toward these bonus clauses that may or may not ever be triggered.

As an agent, you really have to stand tough against that.

And, if the author has a strong opinion about whether to include them or not, I always acquiesce to the author’s wishes because I can see the value of both sides.

Bonus clauses can come in all sizes or shapes. Common ones include these:
Net copies sold
Copies shipped
Bestseller list appearances
Hardcover bonus

And every bonus clause has different aspects to them such as what would be a reasonable amount for net copies sold in 12 months, or the amount of copies shipped, or a time frame for when the movie is in production, or what position on the NYT or USA Today bestseller list and which award. Does being a finalist count?

Oh yes, a loaded question those bonus clauses.

11 Responses

  1. ChapterKat said:

    I don’t know how to use my DVD player. I don’t know how to use my cell phone other than to punch in a number and hit send. After reading Agenting 101 thus far, I sure as heck know I couldn’t negotiate a book contract by myself!

    Thanks a bunch for reminding us of the value of a good agent.

  2. quiche said:

    This is off-topic but how do you manage Chutney’s, um, energy level? My sister has a 3 yr old Jack Russell who is always hyper, he never slows down and would never sit still long enough to be photographed. I think Chutney is a handsome dog.

  3. Allison Brennan said:

    I never queried editors directly. I only queried agents, I knew I wanted an agent before navigating the waters, and I knew I wanted a top agent. I spent two years writing five books before landing an agent, but I got who I wanted and a great deal and couldn’t be happier with my editor.

    Agents are for more than negotiating contracts–though that is where they are absolutely essential (we recently went through the same RH boilerplate changes that Kristin mentioned in her post) . . . agents are also for hand holding (assuring me in negotiations that nothing is personal, which is hard for us neurotic writer types to handle) and for long-term career planning. I value and listen to my agent’s advice because she’s been in the business a long time AND she knows where I want to be and what I want to do. Likewise, she listens to me and my goals and evaluates my ideas objectively.

    So, 2read, you definitely need an agent 🙂 . . . a good agent.

  4. farrout said:

    Thank YOU for sharing this valuable information, Kristin. Agenting is not only a must read, but a re-read. (Rather serendipitous as well since i just received my first request for manuscript.)

    And Ryan. . .from the last post. . .there is more than one agent. After a few rejections, the intensity of feeling rejected abates. You’ll be able to think more clearly. Perhaps you’ll rewrite your query. Keep at it. I’m convinced that persistence is the key.

  5. RyanBruner said:

    Hmm. I’m here going, “Uh, I don’t even know what a bonus is, so whether they are good or bad is rather moot.”

    I’ve never heard of a bonus in relation to a publishing contract. I’m I alone in this?

    Regardless…this has been a terrific series of posts, Kristin! While I never once considered being my own agent…all of this does give great insight into just how much an agent does for us, the authors.

  6. Maprilynne said:

    I think this kind of information is great for people who DO want to go the agent route because then their agent doesn’t have to spend forever explaining everything to you. That way they can spend more time selling your book and you can look like a very professional author. Whoo-hoo.:) Thanks so much . . . oh, and I still don’t understand just what a bonus is. Boy I wouldn’t want to have to try to negotiate that on my own.

  7. Termagant 2 said:

    Allison, if you read this, I’d like to know HOW you ever got past the agent-query before you’d completed a MS. The first thing any agent I’ve ever pitched wants to know is, “Is the book done?”

    I showed my (ex) agent five completed books before he agreed to represent me.

    Or maybe you just write totally terrific query letters while mine languish in the slush pile…who knows? (G)