Beware of Bad Clauses in Literary Agent Contracts

Recently, a literary agent was criticized online for including this clause in his contract:

“Please note: in the event that the agent sells the work to a publisher who provides no cash advance payment, the author agrees to pay $500 to the Agency in advance of signing the contract – an amount that will be reimbursed through future royalties.”

Obviously this clause causes concern because money should flow to the writer, not from the writer to their agent.The clause could also cause a serious conflict of interest for the agent, who might be willing to make a deal not in the author’s best interest because the agent would still be paid by the author.

I tracked down the agent who had included the clause and asked him about it. The agent said he included it because “I have recently sold two books to publishers who do not offer a cash advance but, instead, have slightly higher royalties. The $500 clause simply assures that we are paid for our time and if the book does receive royalties – the author gets paid back in full.”

To the agent’s credit, he decided shortly after we spoke to remove the clause from all his contracts. However, I’ve heard of similar clauses being included on a few occasions in other agency contracts.

Authors should always push back on clauses like this. While publishing is continually changing, with more publishers offering deals that do not carry up-front cash advances, that doesn’t mean authors should pay their agents in such cases. Paying your agent is a slippery slope our genre’s authors do not want to find themselves sliding down.

Pyr Sale

Prometheus Books has sold its two genre imprints, including Pyr, to Start Publishing. Start Publishing is a decade-old press which got its start by licensing Warren Lapine’s digital backlist and also by purchasing many of the assets ofNightshade Books when they went under. The company has since grown quickly by purchasing other imprints, a process Start calls “strategic acquisitions.”

Some authors are not happy with the deal. One author (who wished to not be named publicly) complained on Facebook about their publishing rights being subject to this secondary sale. However, it appears that there’s nothing authors can do to stop their books from being taken over by Start Publishing.

Beyond how this deal affects authors, I’m curious about Start Publishing’s long-term plans. The press appears to be running their business by essentially buying up SF/F works from other publishers, while also releasing a limited number of new books. So far this appears to be working for them, but what their long-term publishing goal is remains to be seen.

What Do the Recent Changes at Tor Mean?

Tor Books has seen a lot of changes this year, with Devi Pillai being named vice president and publisher while Patrick Nielsen Hayden was named vice president and editor-in-chief. In addition, Tor founder Tom Doherty stepped down from his role running the overall company in charge of the publisher.

With Tor being one of the science fiction and fantasy genre’s most influential and important book publishers,these changes raise the question: is Tor changing course on what they publish?

In general, the answer appears to be ‘no’. However, it does look like that Tor has reworked how they consider and accept books, with editors having to make more detailed commercial cases for the books they want to accept. Authors should definitely make note of this.

For more details on what all this means and the process by which Tor now considers the books they accept, read this in-depth report.

Book Smugglers Publishing Shifts Focus

In sad news, starting December 31st, Book Smugglers Publishing will shift their business away from selling short stories,novellas, and novels. Run by Thea James and Ana Grilo, Book Smugglers was founded in 2014 and had released a number of highly regarded books over the years. According to the statement released by James and Grilo — who essentially do all the work at Book Smugglers, including reading submissions, editing manuscripts,and publishing and promoting their books — they have decided to focus instead on Book Smuggler’s strengths as a website and as a publisher of short fiction.

Jason Sanford

Jason Sanford is a two-time finalist for the Nebula Award and has published more than a dozen stories in the British SF magazine Interzone, which also devoted a special issue to his fiction. In addition he has published numerous stories in magazines such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other places, along with appearances in multiple "year's best" anthologies and other collections. His fiction has been translated into nearly a dozen languages including Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian, Polish, and Czech. Jason's website is www.jasonsanford.com and he publishes a weekly Genre Grapevine column on his Patreon at www.patreon.com/jasonsanford.

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