The Business Rusch: Addendums, Rights Grabs & Agents (Yet Again)
Recently, I got e-mail from another career writer, talking about a rights grab from a traditional publisher. I saw the document in question; it’s egregious. I do not have permission to talk about this particular document nor would I, since it’s proprietary, but it’s the kind of document I’ve seen at least six times in the last two years.
These documents are addendums to publishing contracts. Since the rise of e-books, publishers have issued the addendums frequently and often en masse.
Before I go further, let me remind you that I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV (or in internet videos, for that matter). I have opinions about legal matters as they pertain to publishing, based on thirty-some years in the business on almost all sides of the business, but I am not an authority on this topic nor does anything in this blog substitute for legal advice.
Once signed, addendums to contracts become part of the contract. All well-written addendums have language that explains the addendum’s relationship to the contract. For example, the addendum might say something like “nothing in this addendum will supersede the terms previously granted in the contract.”
Or, as I’m seeing in all these publishing addendums, they’ll have clauses that say things like “if there is a conflict between a term that is specifically defined in this addendum and a definition of the same term is in the contract, then the definition specified in the addendum governs.”
In other words, the addendum will not only become part of the contract; it will make parts of the contract null and void.
Some addendums I’m seeing are pretty straightforward. They grant e-rights to contracts so old that ebooks did not exist when the contract was signed. Those addendums generally add the ebook information, how the royalties will be calculated, how ebooks are defined—basically the same stuff that would be in a contract if it were signed in 2013 instead of 1983. I know a lot of you traditionally published career writers have signed addendums like these—and many of you have refused, keeping the e-rights for yourself.
That’s all well and good, and is typical business.
But the addendums I’m writing about today are rights grabs. The publisher wants more than the writer has given before, and wants a larger percentage of that right. These addendums change the terms of the existing contract to benefit the publisher and (accidentally) to benefit the agent. The writer loses money and licenses even more of her copyright than she ever has before.
Contracts are the product of a negotiation. Addendums, as part of a contract, are also subject to negotiation.
I know many writers who believe that when they receive an addendum to their contract, they must sign the addendum because it is already a part of their contract. That is wrong. Do not sign until you understand the document before you, what that document changes in the contract, and why the document even exists.
Because contracts are the product of a negotiation, that means both sides need to negotiate. The best way to negotiate is to go into the negotiation calmly, with full understanding of what the opposite party (in this case the publisher) wants, and with strong knowledge of what, if anything, you will agree to.
These rights-grabs addendums are not coming to writers because publishers are evil. Let me do my best to explain how the parties involved with these documents—publishers, agents, and writers—think about these addendums. Then I’ll end with an explanation of what writers should do when they receive one of these documents.
From the perspective of a publishing company, these addendums make sense. Here’s what the big traditional publishers are facing.
They have hundreds of thousands of active contracts, all with different terms. Most of those terms are standard and can fit into a chart or computer program of some kind. It goes like this: If the contract says X, then the publisher must use this calculation to pay the writer Y. It’s really a very simple, very old, system.
Generally speaking, print publishing contracts pay writers a percentage of the cover price of a book, no matter what price the book actually gets sold at. As chain bookstores came into being, and traditional publishers found that they were selling most of their books at a big discount, the big publishers started adding a discount schedule, reducing the rate of the royalty if the book initially sold at less than half of cover price. Everything was based on cover price. Everything.
Pretty simple. If a book had a cover price of $20 and the writer had a 10% royalty, she would get $2 on every copy sold. Heck, I can do that math, and so can you. And so could the accountants in traditional publishing houses in the days before computers.
In the days before computers, which was when some contracts that are still in effect, were signed, no one except those weird science fiction writers (ahem!) imagined books in electronic form. Certainly, no one believed in 1980 that electronic books would become big selling items in 2013.
Right now, publishers and others are involved in lawsuits trying to change the definition of the word “book”—not for a dictionary, but in the legal sense. If they succeed, “book” will be the content, not the format. And then all of those contracts signed in the mid-to-late 20th century will cover ebooks. Some of these lawsuits have already been adjudicated—finding against the publishers. But there’s a lot of money at stake, so expect litigation of this kind to continue.
Contracts written after ebooks became a possibility but before they became a force in the industry, generally defined ebook rights like all other subsidiary rights. Some of my earlier contracts gave me 50% of the rights to a flat-out ebook sale (splitting the profits with the publisher), with royalties being defined as a 50/50 split with the publisher. (In other words, if the publisher sold the book to ebook company EB, and EB paid a $10,000 advance, the publisher would get $5000, and I would get $5000. We would then split the royalties, which would, presumably, have been identical to book royalties.)
Once some publishers started doing their own ebooks, about ten years ago, they changed the ebook clause to work like paper books. The writer would get a percent of the cover price, and that percentage would increase as sales increased.
The clauses looked something like this: The writer would get 8% of cover price up to 10,000 ebook copies sold, 10% of cover price up to 25,000 copies sold, 12% of cover up to 50,000 copies sold, and so on.
Contracts devised after 2009 either paid the author 15% of gross or 25% of net (with net undefined). Most dumb writers believed the 25% was a better deal, and that became industry standard about two years ago.
Now, publishers are faced with an accounting mess. There was no standard for the fifteen years or so that ebooks were a blip on the contractual radar. In order to pay a writer, the publisher has to go deep into the contracts system, figure out how the writer gets paid, and then do the royalty statements.
No chart, no computer program, no easy way to compute this stuff.
The blanket addendums are a way for publishers to streamline their accounting practices—and, added bonus to them, make a shitload more money.
Let me give you one example, and then I’ll quit.
On that $20 hardcover, the author got $2 even if the book sold for $10, because the cover price was $20. If the book was “deep-discounted,” which probably meant it was sold for less than one-quarter of the cover price, the author probably got $1 or 50 cents—even if the book only sold for $3.
So when that $20 hardcover sold 100,000 copies, the writer made $200,000 minimum, more if the royalty rate went up as sales increased.
However, with 25% of net, with net defined as “the amount actually collected by the publishers” minus “taxes, insurance, shipping, mailing, freight, duties, customs clearances or other similar charges,” “commissions and fees,” “charges for digital delivery services” and—okay, I quit. I’m going over three of these addendums and four 2013 contracts as I write this, and I’m finding even more exclusions than I want to think about.
So even defined, “net” is “the amount received” by the publisher. How does the writer know what that amount is? The writer has to trust the publisher to report the amount accurately—or pay for an audit of the publisher’s books. None of these addendums allow for an audit.
But let’s look at 25% of net, and assume the publisher is honest, and is taking reasonable fees. That would be on a $20 ebook (which none of us would buy, I know, but for the sake of argument) about 55% of the cover price (factoring in all the different distributors, all their differing fees and licensing agreements, etc). So the publisher would actually receive $11, and the writer would get 25% of that, which is $2.75. Sounds great, right? Better than above.
Only most ebooks don’t sell for “cover.” They sell for a percentage of cover. So if the ebook sells for $10, the writer will now get $1.30—a loss of $1.45 from the $20 cover royalty (for an ebook). And that’s if there are no fees, commissions, manufacturing costs (which I found in one of these addendums), and so on, attached to the ebook payment structure.
Ten years ago, a writer could expect that $200,000 from 100,000 sales of that $20 cover price. But now? If those 100,000 sales are ebooks discounted to $9.99? The writer might get $130,000. She might get less. But the publisher will get more, because it’s cheaper to produce an e-book than it is to produce a paper book. By a significant margin. That’s why you’re seeing so many articles about ebook profits helping traditional publishers’ bottom lines. That increase is because of the contract terms with the writers and the low cost in producing an ebook—which some of these addendums then charge back to the author’s account.
Corporations are about profit, ultimately, and they will profit from these changes. Streamlining accounting will help, and so will having an industry standard.
Does that mean writers should sign these addendums? No, they shouldn’t, not if the addendum’s terms are not in the writer’s best interest. Understand, though, that there’s huge momentum in the publishing house to get all writers to sign these addendums. It helps everywhere inside the corporation.
But it might not be good for you, the writer.
Before we get to that, let’s add one more party to these agreements:
The role of agents has changed in this new world. Their business model is evolving of necessity. Once, writers needed the contacts and knowledge that an agent had, particularly in dealing with the dozens of New York publishers. Now there are only five major publishing houses, and a handful of small ones. Publishers do not participated in auctions much any more, and they rarely bid against each other, even for a hot property.
Plus, with all the power on their side, most publishers won’t negotiate any but the smallest of contract terms. Agents rarely have clout any longer, and with few exceptions, can’t tell a so-called Big Five Publisher to take a flying leap because that would mean that a hundred clients might not be with that publisher any longer.
Think of the consequences.
Agents make 15% of what they sell to Big Publishers. Some agents have become publishers in their own right, which violates agent law (according to all I’ve read). By this, I mean, the laws that govern anyone who identifies himself as an “agent,” like real estate agents and insurance agents as well as literary agents. Unlike insurance or real estate, literary agents aren’t licensed and very few states have laws on the books protecting the clients of literary agents—other than the over all laws that govern those general creatures called “agents.”
Even so, with the rise of DIY and the consolidation of traditional publishing markets, traditional agents have very little to offer authors. While these agents are redefining their own businesses, they need to continue to earn a living.
Agents are a party to traditional book publishing contracts in one way: they have convinced publishers to include a clause in the contract that stipulates the agent will receive payment as the designated “agent” of the author, which then fulfills the payment terms of the contract. Some agents add all kinds of other things to that clause, most of which have not been litigated. Almost all agent clauses in contracts also stipulate that the agent will receive both payment and their commission for the life of the contract. (We’ve discussed agent clauses in contracts before. Here’s a link if you don’t understand what I’m discussing.)
Agents have a vested interest to remain on current contracts. Right now, a lot of writers are trying to cancel those contracts and get the rights back so the writer can publish books herself. If it becomes hard to revert the rights in the contract, then the agent remains on the book contract and continues to earn the 15% commission.
Well, all of these addendums that I’ve seen have changed the reversion clause in the contract. To get the rights reverted on a book becomes almost impossible.
One addendum in front of me states that the rights will revert in the contract if the book title is not listed on the publisher’s website; if the title is not available for sale by any retailer (or on the publisher’s website) and if the basic data about the book is not updated periodically by the publisher.
This particular addendum does not give the publisher a chance to “cure,” meaning fix the problem, but one of the other addendums I’m looking at gives the publisher six months to fix any problems arising from the contract.
Think about this, though. All the publisher has to do to keep a book in print is to list it for sale on the publisher’s website. That’s all.
If the contract can’t be effectively terminated, then the agent remains the “agent of record” as long as the contract is in existence. Even if the writer fires the agent, and decides to split payments with the agent, the agent would still—according to cases that have gone to court—be entitled to that 15%, usually paid directly from the publisher.
One agency—a very big agency with names you’ll recognize, constant #1 New York Times bestsellers—sent addendums to publishing contracts from one of the so-called Big Six (in those days) to everyone in the agency. These addendums, issued by Big Publisher A, were simply photocopies with blank lines in them.
The addendum said things like this: “Addendum to the Agreement for ____________ (Title) dated _______________ between Big Publisher A and _____________(Author) represented by Big Nasty Agency…”
And it went from there. Big Nasty Agency sent out the addendum with the information filled in by hand by some in-house minion. It was obvious no one in Big Nasty Agency even looked at the contracts in question to see if the addendums they were recommending their clients sign were an improvement over the existing contract.
What happened was that Big Nasty Agency caught Big Publisher A in a major legal/accounting error and negotiated a settlement in favor of the #1 New York Times bestselling authors. However, in order for Big Publisher A to pay out those millions of dollars, Big Publisher A also wanted some concessions. So Big Nasty Agency offered up the e-rights of its non-bestselling clients, saying that it could get all of these smaller clients to sign an agreement that would give Big Publisher A 25% of net (undefined) and more favorable reversion terms.
And guess what? It happened. Most clients signed.
I compared some contracts to the addendum at the request of friends. In each case, the addendum was worse than the contract.
(Those writers didn’t sign. And to a person, they either had already fired Big Nasty Agency or did so after the addendum debacle.)
But the fact that the addendum was worse than the contract really didn’t matter. Because the breach of duty on the part of the agency occurred when that agency traded its lower-earning clients’ well being for the millions of dollars in settlement for the Big Name Writers.
So, when an agent brings an addendum like this to the writer and says that the addendum is good, then the agent might be correct. The addendum might be an improvement in the contract for the agent.
Because, at the moment, agents have a very different agenda than their clients. Agents are trying to save their jobs, and, unfortunately, many of them are willing to do so on the back of the writers they “represent.”
So many writers have no idea what to do when faced with an addendum to their contract. As I stated above, many writers believe they’re required to sign it, and publishers and agents don’t dissuade them of this idea.
For some writers, these addendums might actually be an improvement in their contracts. All publishers have different levels of contract, and if the writer had signed a low level contract, with a lot of rights grabs in it already, the addendum could be an improvement.
I got a major addendum for one of my tie-in novels from a Big Publisher last year. This addendum was clearly going to all of the writers who had not signed an ebook agreement with the publisher. If I had had an original novel with Big Publisher A, I would never have signed that addendum.
But no one at Big Publisher had vetted the contracts. And my tie-in contract did not give me ebook royalties or overseas royalties. The book sold really well overseas. The addendum gave me 25% of net, just like everyone else—on rights that previously, the publisher had kept for itself. (Or maybe the licensor had; I don’t know, and don’t care). Including all foreign rights. Oops.
In other words, for me and the contract I had, the addendum was a great improvement.
For most writers, it was not an improvement at all.
If you’re a traditionally published writer, you will get one of these addendums at some point, guaranteed. Here’s what you do if you get one.
1. Read The Addendum.
I know, it sounds silly to tell you this, but so many writers don’t read the legal material they get. Start now. This is your career and/or your book baby that we’re talking about. Protect it legally.
2. Figure Out What the Addendum Means.
Part of figuring out what the addendum means is understanding how it relates to the existing contract. So…
3. Read the Addendum Along With the Existing Contract.
Compare the clauses in the contract with the clauses in the addendum. See what has been changed and how drastic the change is. Do the math, if there are changes in royalty rates. See if net is undefined or if more things are counted against your royalty payment. Make sure that if the royalty rates are changed that you have an audit clause in your contract. (Make sure of that anyway.)
4. Hire An IP Attorney, Not An Agent.
If you need help understanding the addendum and/or how it relates to the contract, you cannot ask your publisher/editor, and you shouldn’t rely on your agent. Even if your agent is as honest as the day is long, your agent is probably not a lawyer. In fact, most agents have no legal training at all. If they’re with a really big firm, they can ask their in-house lawyer, and then the agent will try to explain this all to you.
Best to cut out all the middlemen, and hire a lawyer yourself. This is your career and/or your book baby, remember. Also remember that the publisher has a whole legal department to rely on, and they believed it was important to draw up this new document. The document will have traps for the unwary in it. Don’t you get trapped by it.
The IP attorney doesn’t have to negotiate anything for you, if you don’t want her to. What you want from this attorney is an explanation of the terms and how they will impact you and your work in the future.
Then you can negotiate—and you can do so through your agent if you want. If your agent refuses to negotiate some of the clauses you and your lawyer believe need to be changed, then you have clear proof that your agent is no longer working for you (if he ever did). Time to fire him.
In that instance, either negotiate yourself or hire the attorney. In most cases, you won’t need the attorney because what you’re going to be saying is no anyway.
5. Do Not Sign Anything Unless You Understand It.
6. Do Not Sign Anything Unless It Benefits You.
In other words, you can…
7. Refuse to Sign Anything That Changes An Already Existing Contract.
It’s allowed. Really. You’re a party to a contract that you theoretically already negotiated and that contract has served you well for years. If you see no reason to tamper with it, then don’t let anyone tamper with it.
These addendums have no force without your signature. So do not let anyone force you to sign something that does not benefit you.
The addendums I’ve seen are nasty business. Very few help the writer, especially a writer who wants to remain a hybrid writer. Tread carefully when you get one of these documents.
And good luck!
I write this business blog for all career writers, whether they’re hybrid writers, new writers, indie writers, or strictly traditionally published writers. We all need to share knowledge, especially since things are changing so fast in this industry. I appreciate the folks who contact me with information and links. I also appreciate folks who forward or share the information published here (with proper attribution, of course!).
However, the blog does take time from my bread-and-butter writing, my fiction, so please help support the blog by leaving a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: Addendums, Rights Grabs, And Agents, Yet Again” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
[…] Addendums, Rights Grabs, and Agents by Kristine Rusch (@KristineRusch) […]
The addenda I received for two of my books from one publishing house, back in 2009 (I think) was a letter, and it said something to the effect that the letter was enough and no signatures were needed. I had to politely point out that the original contract stated that any changes/additions/etc. had to be agreed upon and signed by both parties.
And the letters didn’t include any sunset clause for ebooks at all (the original contract did for number of hardcover and paperback sold, even though the line didn’t do hardbacks, but whatever), so I had to point that out as well and negotiate it.
This was right before the indie publishing boom started, so about a year later, I looked at my royalty statements (with Dean’s assistance), saw that clearly we weren’t meeting the sales I’d negotiated in the addenda, and boom, I got my rights back to both books.
So, thank you both for all your advice over the years, because that’s how I knew what to do every step of the way!
“was a letter, and it said something to the effect that the letter was enough and no signatures were needed.”
I want to get one of those letters! So I can write back and include my OWN addendum, about which I will ALSO state that the other party’s signature is not required for my demands to be immediately and effectively enforced as part of the original contract.
By those lights, I will thereafter be entitled to a 90% royalty on every book, as well as a lifetime supply of free ice cream.
Don’t forget the pony and tiara. Oh, and a trip to Disneyland. 😀
Such a letter is obviously not binding legally. But I have to wonder if a percentage of writers who receive such a letter would simply accept it without question. You’ve written extensively about the lack of “business smarts” many writers have, as well as an aversion to learning such stuff. Even if only 10 percent of writers meekly accept the letter without complaint or contesting it, the publisher still comes out ahead.
I seem to remember someone did exactly that with a credit card contract: 0% interest rate, no fees, no credit limit, & the bank had to pay a fee to cancel the contract. The bank accepted the counter-offer (obviously without reading the letter), & when they discovered what they agreed to later & sued, said bank lost in court.
O yeah, here’s a story about it:
Oh wait, this happened in Russia, so it might as well be a fairy tale. We have a rational & just legal system here in the US, & unfair contracts are never enforced here.
I got one of those letters too. I was sitting tight waiting for the big bad addendum. I had all sorts of angry responses ready for a company that wanted to unilaterally change my contract, and not for the better.
A letter, though. They wanted to take my money and not even negotiate for it. I was so pissed about that letter altering how ebook payments were going to be handled that I worked on getting all my rights reverted. Author 1, Publisher 0.
Publishers should not piss off an author who has wised up to the business. Most of my fellow writers (for that publisher) debated it in online loops, but ultimately swallowed it whole. Ah, damn, it still pisses me off.
Your article makes me glad I never could find an agent for my novel. Thanks. You’ve done us all a good service.
This blog has been mirrored on The Passive Voice with extensive comments by Passive Guy (who is a lawyer). Lots of good comments over on TPV, as well as here. 🙂
Wow. This is so good I’ve printed it out to read a couple more times and then put it where I’ll find it again if/when something like this happens to me. It hasn’t yet, but this has the feel of inevitability to it. Love the comments, too. Thanks.
Thanks, Ilsa. I hope you don’t get one, but I think you’re right; it’ll happen eventually.
You may have seen this, but The Passive Voice has mentioned your article and also commented on it. The Passive Guy does not play a lawyer on TV, but is actually one in real life! So he speaks from experience
Worth a visit for those who don’t usually frequent his blog:
Thanks, Jane. 🙂
I am constantly impressed by the quality of your content and the expertise you display in your articles. You give a strong and critical voice to the business side of publishing… and that is very much needed in this new self-publishing world. I share your work regularly and appreciate the solid and informative material. Thank You!
“These addendums have no force without your signature. So do not let anyone force you to sign something that does not benefit you.”
This seems to me to be so obvious as to not need to be said…
And yet I had an ultimately unsuccessful conversation about this with an author presented such an addendum. So unsuccessful that not only did she sign it but told me I didn’t know what I was talking about…
Frustrating, isn’t it? I’ve had writers tell me this couldn’t happen to them because their agent/editor/publisher loves them. Okay. Fine. But check the contract anyway, okay? They never do. [sigh]
I want to gently correct one detail in Our Gracious Hostess’s otherwise-exemplary advice above, and then expand on the implications of that detail. She stated that:
I only wish that deep-discount clauses had historically been that reasonable. Instead — and this was pretty uniform across commercial trade fiction and commercial trade nonfiction until 2008 or so — the deep-discount clause kicked in at 50% off of list, dropping the author’s royalty percentage by half. One Major Online Vendor has been demanding — and obtaining — long trade discounts well in excess of 50% since 2002. Indeed, now they all do so.
There are two ugly implications of this practice that are also being covered in addenda (sorry, classical education, I can’t help it).
(1) On bookstore-type sales, that leads to some really strange math on royalty statements. Not that that’s a surprise or anything. Consider this example (real current dispute, rounded numbers, serial numbers filed off to protect the guilty) on a book that had met its escalators:
Sales of $15 list edition (contract: 15% royalty): 12,000
full price: 2,000, * $15 * 15% = $4,500
deep discount: 10,000, * $15 * 15% * 50% = $11,250
Interestingly, those deep discount sales were to A Major Online Vendor at exactly 50%… all in one royalty period. And they were followed up by other similar numbers in later periods with remarkably few returns. The disadvantage to the author for that royalty period was a decent chunk of change. The contract triggered “deep discount” at exactly 50%.
But it gets better…
(2) Many contemporary contracts basing royalties on net (for some value of net) continue to include a deep-discount clause. That is, the publisher gets two ways to avoid paying the author: The payment is based on net… and then, when the gross (not net) drops below a certain level, the author’s share of the net is cut further.
My key point is this:
When someone presents you with an addendum, don’t read it alone. Read it against the entire contract. And don’t be afraid to point out tiny little logic problems like a deep-discount royalty reduction when the basis for royalties is net.
You caught me, CE. I didn’t want to do the math or check some old contracts on the deep discounts. Thanks for the clarification. And I love how you ended this. Thanks!
The “law” you are referring to with respect to agents representing their best interests v. the author’s best interests is a concept called conflict of interest. If an author relies on the agent’s advice and signs a contract (or addendum) where there is a conflict, it may not be enforceable as against the agent. But it would be a sticky legal mess to get out of.
It constantly amazes me that authors, individuals who pride themselves on their skill with the written word, do not take the time to read contracts they intend to sign. READ THE CONTRACT. If you do not understand the contract (or addendum) DO NOT SIGN IT. You said everything else, perfectly.
There’s one more point I’d like to add, 2013 is the first year of rights reversion under the Copyright Act of 1976. Authors who granted rights beginning in 1978 can start getting them back after 35 years. It’s 35 years after the grant, not after creation of the work. If these addenda are considered grants of new rights, the clock might start running again. I suspect the Big Five have plotted that consequence.
BTW, I like the disclaimer, I have to give disclaimers all the time as in, “Your situation may differ based on the facts of your case . . . .”
Thank you for the clarifications, Kathryn. Much appreciated. And yeah, the disclaimer. I don’t want folks to think I’m something I’m not. I’m just an opinionated cuss who hates what she sees happening right now. 🙂
I just realized I didn’t say anything about your 35-year point. It’s really valid.
Folks, if you’re hoping to get your rights back under the 35-year rule in the copyright law, then please look at Kathryn’s comment. It’s really important.
Yep, it is important because there is a narrow window as well. Since this provision in the law only now began to accrue we have no caselaw and little guidance on its operation.
Great point. I’m watching what’s happening in the music industry, because artists there are really banding together to work on this. We’ll see what happens in publishing too.
There’s no words for this other than what a big mess. I never was trad pubbed so I’ve dodged it. But then I think that what you & Dean have been saying about hiring an IP attorney is really coming to roost. (I just told a newbie, a possible indie, that if she ultimately decided to go the trad route to make sure she got an IP attorney. And I also directed her to Dean’s and your sites for further education.)
And WTF is up with Big Nasty Agency? Selling out the “small fries” so the “big fries” can continue to grease Big Nasty Agency’s coffers? Disgusting.
What’s happening with Big Nasty Agency, Nancy, is that they got caught. Doing business like this–favoring the clients who make them millions over the clients who make them thousands–is pretty normal in literary agencies.
That’s just terrible – didn’t know that was normal. 🙁
Kris, isn’t that a criminal violation of their duties to their clients? Malfeasance or fiduciary duty, perhaps?
I would think so. But they’re not regulated and they rarely get sued. [double sigh]
Chong Go, you question (understandably) implies accountability. An enormous flaw throughout the agent-author business model is that (bizarrely) there IS no accountability. Short of proving embezzlement to the satisfaction of a judge (by which time, the money’s gone), a writer’s only recourse against a literary agent is to terminate the association. That’s IT. (And even after doing so, in virtually all instances, the agency continues collecting 15% commission from the writer’s existing deals for years or decades to come, and in too many instances, the agency remains in control of YOUR fiscal paperwork and YOUR share of the money.) It’s a system for which there are virtually no consequences for malfeasance on the part of the agent. Which has a lot to do with why, as a full-time self-supporting novelist with a mortgage to pay, I can’t afford to work with a literary agent. I need to earn income, have a well run writing business, and make annual profits.
Well said, Laura. Thank you.
I hope you won’t mind my puttng a link to that blog post I wrote a few years ago : http://readingandraytracing.blogspot.fr/2011/01/unequal-rights-for-digital-books_26.html
This post is a translation top English of an open-letter by 5 French writers to their publishers, who had sent contract adendums for them to sign… Clearly your post’s subject.
Please pardon any translation fault, the original writing style is really good, my own english version not so much…
Thank you for this! Take a look, folks. It’s happening everywhere.
O! TheSFReader — that letter was such a pleasure to read, with the genteel skewering of those gauche Americans, the Steinbeck copyright-holder heirs, who would abandon an historical connection for feelthy lucre.
Ahh! But not between us friends, My Publisher, Mon Ami! No, no! (quietly testing the point of his epee) :>)
Steinbeck happens to be the author of one of my favorite SFF stories, “The Affair at 7 Rue de M— ” with a French setting. How à propos.
Glad you like it 🙂
I got one of those, and it was the worst barrel of fish hooks I’ve ever seen. It only had eight clauses, and every single one of them seemed to have a nasty surprise. It was all framed in the context of needing the addendum so the publisher could produce license parts of the book for textbooks, etc, and produce an ebook. But all of that was in the orginal contract. The disguised function of the addendum was to lower the ebook royalties to 25% from 50%, and to give the publisher all the rights in every langauge, forever. Even though the original contract was for German rights only, for a ten year period!
I’m kind of proud of myself that I managed to politely say, “It looks like the original contract already addresses all of your concerns.” I never heard back from them!
Thanks for mentioning that you got one too. A lot of the writers I’ve been dealing with feel like it’s just them. (Except for those from Big Nasty Agency, who knew this was a blanket form.) You handled it perfectly.
These addendums are really shocking when you get them, aren’t they?