Monday, June 14, 2010

The importance of reading your contract

by Jane

Over the past months, we have spoken of the many reasons an author needs an agent, and this week, once again one of them became crystal clear.

On Thursday, June 10th, The Authors Guild sent out an alert to its membership that former Bloomberg Press authors should not sign a letter they had received from John Wiley & Sons which is actually a contract amendment that The Authors Guild maintains will make their contracts with their publisher less favorable to them in numerous ways, which Wiley disputed.

Clearly, if an author didn’t read the letter carefully and understand what it was and what effect it would ultimately have if signed, he or she would most likely have been giving up something unintentionally.

This has happened time and again recently with publishers sending authors letters trying to add electronic royalty rates or alter those that are currently in their contracts. In an age of enormous change in our business, I know this kind of thing will only continue to happen.

Which is why it is all the more important for the author to have his or her agent carefully review all of this correspondence and analyze its effect before the documents/letters are signed and sent back to publishers. Even many lawyers often don’t pick up the nuances of publishing contracts and amendments—another reason having a literary agent is necessary.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these contractual shenanigans and whether you think you have been duped in the past.


  1. Any change requires written approval of both parties and all correspondence is addressed to me care of my agent. If my checks go to my agent, why would I not trust her to read my mail?

  2. This is absolutely a time when having an agent is critical. And it makes me wonder, too, and worry about, those poor authors with less-than-stellar agents, those who hang a shingle with the word "agent" slung across it but maybe have not much better idea or experience than the writer him/herself. I hope every author with a contract with that publisher has an agent doing their work for them--and definitely, again as always, earning every penny of that commission I hope to someday pay.

    Thanks for being an advocate for your writers. This job is hard enough. Thank goodness there are agents to handle the business for us.

  3. It makes me feel so relieved to know that agents are looking out for their clients (both on a business level and, obviously, because you seem to genuinely care about your writers and their careers). I don't have an agent, but I know that I would be so reluctant to accept any kind of publishing offer without one; I know there's so much I don't have a clue about when it comes to contracts, so I wouldn't dare trust myself (or a lawyer) with something so important to me.


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