Literary Agency Contracts, Part 2: “Covered Works”

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:

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!

One thought on “Literary Agency Contracts, Part 2: “Covered Works”

  • February 14, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Susan!

    I’m friends with the WITS ladies and read all your blogs over there. It never occurred to me to check and see if you had your own blog. D’oh! I’ll start reading them here, too. Thanks for the information on agency contracts. I self-publish right now, but have some works I’d like to submit to agents and editors at a conference in March. It’s good to know what to look for regarding contracts for representation. 🙂

    You also said we can ask more questions, so this is why I sought you out. Do you know anything about the new EU VAT rules as applied to Americans selling goods and services on their own web sites and who may find that some of their customers are from the EU? I sell autographed books on my web site, and I also teach online classes via my web site. I’ve been searching for a *clear* explanation of how/if the EU VAT rules will affect me. Can you address this?

    Thanks a million! I’ll go find the button to subscribe to your blog. I actually love learning about all the legal parts of this business! Haha!

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