Pub Rants

Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement—Part Three

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STATUS: TGIF and all I can say is that I need it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BITTERSWEET by Big Head Todd & The Monsters

Commissions/Agency Clause
Just as the heading suggests, this is where I outline my commission structure. It’s pretty standard in the industry to use 15% (rather than 10) but subrights commissions can vary from agency to agency. Some do 20% for film and translation. Some do 15% for film. and some do 25% for translation rights.

All of these structures are within the norm.

This clause also highlights that the agency will remit payments within one business week of receipt of publisher payment. (Peace of mind for the author so they’ll know that payment is prompt.)

There are some protection features for the agency as well. For example, if an author reneges on a publishing contract stipulation and they are completely at fault (by let’s say not delivering the manuscript—ever—because they’ve gone bonkers and are now living in a non-tech commune or something), then the author is responsible for refunding the full advance to the publisher. Since I did my job and the agency is not at fault, I get to keep the 15% paid to me and the author will have to make up the difference from his/her own pocket.

This has never happened by the way but it’s important for writers to know that they need to be fully responsible for their agreement if they sign a publisher contract.

I also have this clause in the paragraph:
“There will be an Agency clause in the Author-publisher contract stating the terms of this agency agreement and it is understood that the agency clause will be for the full term of that contract only and not in perpetuity.”

And that’s there for obvious reasons. No surprises when the publisher contract arrives.

18 Responses

  1. marieconley3 said:

    Is it 15% of all profits or just what the author makes. If it is only what the author makes how in the world do agents make any money. I have looked into usual advancements and found they are not much more than 5,000 dollars. At 15% this would mean they would only make 750. There is no way that a business would be able to operate at these prices.

  2. Anonymous said:


    Those advances are probably not with an agent making the deal. You’re right – an agent wouldn’t make much if the advances are only 5K. That’s why agents generally market to the large houses that can afford to pay advances larger than 5K. Also keep in mind that the 15% is not only on the advance, but on all subsequent payments, like royalties and sub-rights deals (at least on the sub-rights you retain and the agent sells). And unless she has Rowling as a client, the agent usually needs many clients to run successfully.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Small question – does your 15% also apply to awards a book might win (and attached prize money) or just the royalties and rights payments?

  4. Anonymous said:

    You are correct. Most first books advance is about $5000. Some romance houses pay as little as $1000. And that’s with an agent. Which is why agents have to be damn sure a writer has potential to earn more, because they’re not going to make much on you at first.
    Agents need either to have big-advance clients, or LOTS of lower advance paying books. This is why a lot of new agents don’t survive. They can’t afford to stick with their clients long enough to where they can afford to live. Figure out how much 15% of a number comes out to a living wage in New York City!

    Agents are valuable for more than just the advance. The terms of the deal are significant as well, and even if you’re making small advances, you might have better terms with an agent.

  5. Bella Stander said:

    The 15% commission applies only to monies earned through licensing rights to the book via the agent. An award has nothing to do with that. (However, the IRS may consider an award to be income.)

  6. Anonymous said:

    I love your blog! Thanks for the helpful info!

    Can you elaborate about pseudonyms in your contracts? Is it specified? I’m unsure whether to use a pseudonym. I’ve heard if I do, then the publisher “owns” that name.

    Any info regarding clients using pseudonyms with your agency is appreciated. Keep blogging!


  7. Becky Levine said:


    Is this last section also where the agent would put any incidental fees the writer must pay–i.e., copying or fed-ex-type charges? Or is that separate?

    Thanks! And thanks for this wonderful series of posts–I’ve sent it around to all my writing friends!

  8. Diana Peterfreund said:

    An agent makes 15% of what the AUTHOR gets out of any deal the agent brokers: book, film, subsidiary rights, etc. That means advances, bonuses, and royalties. Awards are not a deal the agent brokers. Thus, no cut of that money.

    I’d like to see stats that back up this “first book advances are $5k” claim that anonymous made. That’s about half what I understood before I sold my books (which was at auction, so it was a slightly different situation), and from what I know of my friends’ debut deals (both agented and unagented), it was more like a $10k average. So yeah, a few 5-6k per book if you sell to a smaller house or with some YA paperbacks, but some of 15k per book as well.

    That sounds more like a category romance advance to me. Check out Brenda Hiatt’s “Show Me the Money” for a more complete look (keeping in mind that a lot of people don’t report there).

    Also, remember that each author only has one debut deal. It’s more likely that an agent is making multiple-book deals for established authors. Look at Kristin. Most of her authors are multi-published with several houses and some have big deals on the table and a few have movie rights and all… all of that money keeps coming. If the books stay in print, that money KEEPS coming. The longer time an agent is in business, the more she sees books earning out and keep delivering money. Even if a client leaves an agent, they still get their percentage of the royalties from the deals they brokered in the past.

    I think pseudonym issues are something you work out with the publisher. I imagine all the agent has to do with it is negotiating its use with the publisher. And no, the publisher doesn’t necessarily own it. That’s part of the negotiation, if they try to own it, but I don’t think that’s as common these days.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Okay I know this is off the subject, but I read a blog that was very disparging to young writers. How do you guys feel? Can a 19 year old write?

  10. ~Nancy said:

    Okay I know this is off the subject, but I read a blog that was very disparging to young writers. How do you guys feel? Can a 19 year old write?

    What does age have to do with it? Write the very best story you can and find an agent/publisher who goes ga-ga over the story…doesn’t matter if you’re 19 or 79.

    Don’t be put down by what one specific blog or website might say. (And don’t believe what any blog or website might say against agents not taking on first timers; all those best selling authors were first timers once.)

    Don’t give up, and good luck!!


  11. ~Nancy said:

    BTW, anonymous 6:20, go over to the Absolute Write water cooler. You’ll find plenty of first timers of all ages.

    If it can happen to them, why not you?


  12. Lynn Price said:

    Through a circuitous route, I found your blog. Great site. I take my hat off to agents – you’re what makes my life worth living.

  13. Anonymous said:

    When did 15% become an industry standard? In the film world, lit agents take 10%. And it used to be that way in publishing as well. Most writers I know hesitate if they’re about to sign with an agency that takes more than 10%.

  14. Havlen said:

    I’m curious on the wording about foreign rights. Most agents set commissions at 15% domestic and 20% foreign.

    As I understand it, this is to cover the use of a sub-agent that will charge 5% commission.

    Does the contract deal with this by saying 20% foreign or 20% for contracts going through a sub-agent? (Which could be an important distinction if an agent was able to get a deal done with a foreign publisher without going through a sub-agent).