Pub Rants

The Great Contract Delay?

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Status: Freakish. It’s going to be 60 degrees tomorrow in Denver. Uh, winter, what is that?

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? ALWAYS ON MY MIND by Willie Nelson

In the last 6 months, there has been a radical shift in the amount of time it will take to complete a publishing contract. At first, I chalked it up to the new contract boilerplates publishing houses are feeling the need to implement. Any time an agent has to pretty much negotiate from scratch, it’s going to take a lot more time to establish a new agency boilerplate that is fair and reasonable for the author.

But that’s not always the case. For example, for one recent deal, it took (literally) three months to get the first draft of the contract—and the publisher had not changed the boilerplate. Having recently done 4 or 5 contracts with this house, I rather assumed this latest one was going to be a quick process. It took 6 months before the author signed the final contract.

And it’s not like I’m snoozing at my desk. This is after repeated calls, emails, follow up, and constant nagging on my part to prod the process along.

Agent job description: Nag.

Trust me, I didn’t know that was part of the job qualifications when I got into this biz.

For another contract from a publishing house that has always been very prompt in the past, I was stunned to have to wait 4 weeks between responses. (By the way, I responded within 3 days from any communication from the publisher; it was not languishing on my desk.)

It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s me! So I started bringing it up in conversations with other agents I chat with. Lo and behold, they had the same complaint!

So I don’t know what’s up. Are the contracts departments besieged? Understaffed? Combination of of things? Is this the great contract delay conspiracy? If you’ve recently sold a novel, get ready to hurry up and wait in order to sign on the dotted line.

22 Responses

  1. Remilda Graystone said:

    Yikes. I hope the problem doesn’t become a usual thing, and gets fixed real soon. I can’t imagine waiting that long. It makes my stomach twist in knots just thinking about it!

  2. Ebony McKenna. said:

    Your post has reassured me – I’m waiting to hear back from a publisher about a future project and it feels very slow. And there I was thinking it was only me being impatient, as usual.

  3. Phil said:

    Do you think this could be indicative of a slow-down in the industry? Are the publishers maybe applying the breaks?

  4. Oliver Yeh said:

    It may be lack of resource (from cutbacks — over-shrinkage). Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s also more caution being placed on deal-making. More second-guessing.

  5. Caitie F said:

    My guess is there are just fewer people doing the job, so it is slower for everyone. You can’t really have the cheap labor (undergrad interns) doing it, so it is slowing down.

  6. Elizabeth Poole said:

    I laughed so hard at “Agent job description: nag.”

    Now I will spend all day wondering what the single word job description along the same lines for a writer would be.

    As for the Great Contract Conspiracy, my overabundant imagination is very quick to give you several Dan Brown-esqe scenarios:

    *There is a tiny rip in the time-space continuum, the Bermuda Triangle of Publishing. The publishing companies send the contracts out, but they fall into the past and have amazing untold adventures before reaching their final destination of your desk.

    The next time you open a contract via email or snail mail, sniff it. Perhaps the scent of it’s journeys into the past still lingers…

    *Birds. Birds are secretly stealing paper all over the world for their nests. But birds, being animals of wisdom, love books, so when they discover that they have pilfered a publishing contract, they fly off to give it to the rightful owner. Sometimes on these journeys, birds will bestow their wisdom upon a select few by pooping on their car, or if the individual is very lucky, their head.

    *The setting is Prague. An ancient evil threatens to awaken from it’s slumber after eons of rest. A rag tag group of heroes have discovered the monster’s one weakness: impatience. Acting quickly, they infiltrate the publishing industry, disguised as editors, interns, and yes, even CEOs. They drag out the process of publication for as long as they possibly can, in hopes of keeping the monster at bay.

    So the next time you find yourself ready to rip out your hair in frustration, realize that you are doing your part in the fight against evil.

    *Or you know, it could be like other people have suggested and it’s just that publishing companies are understaffed and overworked. Frankly, that seems a little far fetched though.

  7. Anonymous said:

    It has been nine months since my book deal and I have yet to see a contract. (And this is with constant emails and phonecalls to the publisher from my agent.) It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  8. Giles Hash said:

    It’s weird to see how much the world is changing, and in little but obvious ways. I work for a live Audio/Video company, and it’s turning into the same thing with us. Sometimes I have to nag clients once every half hour to get them to give us information or equipment that we need.

    It didn’t used to be that way, but so many of us are understaffed these days. I wonder if that’s what’s going on at the publishing houses. Are there fewer people in the contracts department?

  9. Anonymous said:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I feel vindicated now! Even worse, I’m unagented so I have no idea if I have any right to nag or not.

  10. Robin said:

    Now we know who the publishers have let go, people in aquisitions and contracts!I can’t see how it helps the publishing industry to make themselves worse to deal with. We live in exciting times and I guess this is the price.

  11. Constance said:

    Elizabeth Poole,
    I laughed. And laughed some more. And laughed even harder after reading the last paragraph(especially the last sentence).
    Thanks for that.

  12. Richard Mabry said:

    Waited four months to sign one of my contracts, and was complaining about it. Now I know it was apparently a “rush” job. Thanks for letting us know that we are not alone in this.

  13. Lara T. said:

    Hello Agent Kristin! 🙂
    I couldn’t find anyplace to email you! You probably didn’t want to get swamped with emails! lol I just wanted to make sure it was ok, but I wanted to showcase your blog on mine, since you have so much info, I didn’t want to just add it to my blog list! 🙂 I hope you don’t mind but you can check it out at Tea & Ink, and email me with any objections you may have! lol

  14. Natalie Aguirre said:

    I had no idea it would take so long to negotiate a contract once the decision was made to offer the contract. Let us know if you figure out why it’s happening.

  15. Karen Duvall said:

    *nods* Yep, same happened to me. It was 5 months before i finally had the publishing contract to sign after my agent went back & forth with the publisher. Yeah, they held onto it for a long time, then there were changes, then there was more holding on to it, rinse & repeat.

    Now we’re waiting for the advance check… *taps foot*

  16. Angela said:

    I agree, I feel the advance check is going to take just as much time. It will be like waiting for your first social security disability check. By the time you receive it, you will qualify for retirement benefits instead.

    Does this mean there will be a boom in Tylenol and Advil sales?

    “Tylenol, when you need relief from all your publisher aches and pains.” I like it.

    Thank you for the heads up and all the great info!


  17. Anonymous said:

    More uncertainty in the pub houses I would guess — and it’s only going to get worse.

    I can’t see why any author with reasonable net skills would NOT try self ebook publishing and promotion at this time.

    What is there to lose?

  18. Elizabeth Poole said:

    @ Anonymous at 11:55 am. Excellent choices. I am going with…storyteller. It sounds more dignified than liar.

    @Constance: Yay! It brings joy to the cockles of my heart that I made you laugh. 😀

  19. Christina Auret said:

    Could it have something to do with delaying payments on a portion of the advance?

    In my admittedly very limited experience, large companies consider it a terrible thing to spend money today if there is any method available to delay the spending until tomorrow.

    Or maybe I’m just a cynic venturing into conspiracy country.

  20. Robin Sullivan said:

    My husband and his agent agreed to terms on his Riyria Revelations fantasy series on 11/10/2010. It is now Mid-Feburary and we’ve yet to see the first draft of the contract. I realize that the time between Thanksgiving and New Years is “dead time” in the pubishing industry but we’ve been on either side of that window and are still in limbo.

    The good news…the lack of contract has not stopped other departments as the first editors comments have come back a few weeks ago and covers are expected later this week. But if we decide not to sign….they did a lot of work for nothing.

    Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan’s Writings