Today, we continue the Wednesday series on literary agency contracts (meaning the contracts authors sign with literary agents). The series started last week, with an overview of some of the common terms appearing in agency contracts – if you missed it, you can find the information here: http://bit.ly/1KK5vcE
This installment takes a closer look at the idea of “Covered Works” – meaning the novels and other creative works the literary agent’s contract covers.
As an initial matter: professional literary agents have written contracts with their clients. If an agent doesn’t have a contract, it’s wise to look elsewhere.
Before signing an agency agreement, make sure you understand the scope of the representation the agent intends to give you. Pay particular attention to the parts of the contract which define “Covered Works” (under that or another name). The “Covered Works” provision will explain whether the agent is representing you for a single work, novels only, all creative works, or something else entirely.
Some agents represent all of a client’s creative works. Others offer representation on a project-by-project basis. Sometimes, agents will even offer representation for a single project, and later offer to represent more works. All of these are “industry-standard” forms of representation, and agents decide among them based on personal preference.
Industry standard contract language will state, clearly, which and how many of the author’s works the agent will represent. Contracts are often written in “legalese” – so if you don’t understand the covered works section, get the help of a lawyer.
Here are some examples of “covered works” language:
All works covered: “Covered Works” means and includes all literary works created by the author during the term of this agreement.”
One work covered: “Covered Works” means that certain creative work written by author and currently titled [title].”
Sometimes, an agency contract which covers only one work also contains language allowing the agent and author to expand the coverage to additional works by mutual consent. This gives the agent time to represent a single work, and for the author and agent to “test run” the relationship before making a longer commitment.
Literary agents work in different ways. Some prefer to represent a client on a career-basis, while others prefer to take things one book at a time. Either method is acceptable, as long as it works for the author as well as the agent.
Whenever possible, try to learn about an agent’s preferences and practices before you query, to ensure a proper match. It’s not always possible to learn everything about an agent in advance, but learning as much as you can is a good idea. The better the author-agent fit, the more successful the business relationship tends to be.
Have questions about this or other publishing legal or business topics? Feel free to tweet me (@SusanSpann) or email me through my website. You can always ask in the comments too!