You can never make a bad deal good.
Once you sign the contract, you’re stuck. Maybe you can jump through some legal hoops to change X, Y and Z if the terms are illegally egregious. But I doubt it and it’s damn expensive.
But more importantly, why SHOULD you? And why WOULD you enter a contractual relationship with someone who would even OFFER you a bad deal?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot these days. Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself saying No to a few different agents. Nice people, I’m sure, but if I find them hesitating when faced with (what I believe to be) simple questions about publishing and publishers and contracts, I know right away they’re not the one for me.
And if they even begin to suggest that I should accept a publishing contract that offers no advance, shifts the costs of publishing to the author (including “set-up costs” and “printing and binding”), takes away my Subsidiary Rights without Reversion, and then offers me 50% of “net profits” — aka due to clever accounting on the publisher’s side, I won’t see a dime for a year or so –, then they’re definitely not the agent for me … or ANYONE.
I consider myself somewhat smart. Have taken the time to learn about the business side of the various businesses I’m in. I find it interesting and incredibly useful coming to the table not as a neophyte, but as someone who can ask good, strong, wise, pertinent questions that lead negotiations to the next step or, more importantly, can recognize a clusterfcuk waiting to happen.
I’m also proud that I respect myself enough to say Thanks, but No Thanks, stand up, and walk away empty-handed. Nothing wrong with that. Like I said, you can never make a bad deal good. And my work is strong enough to wait for, at the very least, a good deal.
These days there are unfortunately a lot of agents preying on self-published authors, their interest more in the money currently being made than in the totality of one’s career.
When I sign with someone — and these shockingly were deal breakers with one of the agents I said Thanks, but No Thanks to –, I want to know at least three things:
1) there’s the potential for a long-lasting relationship
2) their interest in the health and longevity of my career outweighs their desire to make a deal, especially a bad one at my expense
3) they’re willing to stand up and leave the table with me if a deal is obviously bad
You see, I don’t want someone who’s going to ride the gravy train when the money’s coming in and then suggest I find another agent when the money stops.
Yeah, I know, I know. I’m asking for the moon here.
But a career isn’t just one success after another. There are successes and disappointments.
Any agent worth his or her salt is going to know that and be prepared for it. An agent who loses interest during the lows and is happy only when the money is coming in is an agent I don’t want. Because those lows are inevitable. No matter how many books you’re selling or how many Best Seller Lists you’re on, the sales stop. They just do. Period.
I’ve seen friends picked up by agents and publishers when times were good only to find themselves basically orphaned and thrown into the bargain bin when the sales stop. And, still, they’re locked into a contract. Possibly even a contract with a publisher. A bad, bad, bad contract.
That’s the kind of relationship I’m avoiding. To be trapped in a legal relationship with someone who’s lost interest in you, lost interest in your work, no longer believes in you or what you can accomplish, and has discounted what you can bring to the table because the numbers on your last book were disappointing is a completely avoidable headache.
It may take me awhile to find the right fit. But this is my business we’re talking about. My career. I cherish it and anything that becomes a part of it, is destined to strengthen its foundation and support its growth, is worth taking time with.
I’m a writer. Agents need me. Publishers need me. Without me and others like me, their industry doesn’t exist. You work with me, I’m definitely going to work with you. My success is OUR success. You work against me, I’m leaving the table. Life is too short and I have too much to do.
At the end of the day, though, it’s important my fellow writers remember that agents and publishers need us. Ironically, with the growing strength of self-publishing, I’m not sure we necessarily need them.
Perhaps it’s time they started realizing that.