As most of you know, writing fiction is not my only a career. I also maintain a boutique (code word for small) legal practice that specializes in representing entrepreneurs, authors, publishers, film producers, directors, and screenplay writers. Basically I work with people who create things for a living. Some create new businesses, fashion lines, clothes, books, films, and TV shows, but the one thing they all have in common is that they create! They are creative people who have the talent and force of will, perseverance, and discipline, to bring forth something from an idea that once only inhabited their mind.
Truly, I am blessed. I have clients that I love working with. And because my practice is small, I can be selective with regards to the people with which I choose to work. I understand my clients’ goals and needs based not only from my perspective as a creative individual, but also by working as an agent in film and TV and negotiating subsidiary book rights for film and TV as well as contract negotiations. My practice grew organically from my experience in both publishing and entertainment as well as business law. I feel a deep responsibility to my clients. Often times I am the person they turn to so that I can negotiate their deal, and also to explain to them what is going on with regards to contracts they are considering with regards to their work.
When working on a publishing contract for a client, I spend hours going over client contracts. I redline the document and I then spend a minimum of one hour on the phone with my clients going over what I think are deal breakers, challenges, pit falls, areas that need to be changed. Please keep in mind I never charge my clients to speak to me. I took this away from agenting. I want my clients to feel like they can be on the phone asking me questions without the pressure of thinking, ‘oh my god I just spent 75.00 on a phone call.’ Nope, my clients can speak to me as long as they need and ask me as many questions as they want and they won’t see those conversations on their bill.
Back to my point.
I spend a great deal of time going through publishing contracts for and with my clients, so imagine my SURPRISE and HORROR when I discovered from a publisher that they have NEVER gotten a thorough red-lined contract from any agent with which they’ve worked. And this included some MAJOR heavy-hitting New York agents.
What? Never? What????
In fact, the only time they’d even heard of an agent red-lining a contract was my very own agent Kristin Nelson (Oh my goodness, thank you Kristin!)
How can this be? Is it possible big New York agents aren’t red-lining contracts? They aren’t asking for what their clients want and need? They aren’t negotiating for their clients? Are they trying to get reversions, new definitions on OOP? Limiting the term? Is it possible that agents aren’t reading their clients contracts? Are they simply skimming the contract offered, telling their client to sign, and then handing the contract back to the publisher?
I don’t know the answer to my question, but I do know that I was recently told by a publisher that they’ve never had an agent request changes to their standard contract. I do know that I always request changes on every contract because I’ve yet to see one that benefits my client in EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. I do know that there are publishers who will not negotiate their standard contract, but I still must go over that contract with my client, and publishers who choose to have completely non-negotiable contracts are not standard. I do know, that I believe, it would be a breach of my fiduciary duty NOT to redline a contract and NOT to go over the pitfalls of the contract with my client. I believe strongly that a good agent, in publishing, should do the same and if they can’t or won’t, then you, the author must find someone who can and will. You have a duty to yourself, your work, and your career to make certain that you understand every contract you sign. Ask every question you want and get all the answers you need. Do not accept, dear author, anything less.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I am a lawyer, but nothing you will read here is legal advice. You obtain legal advice by hiring a lawyer.