The Importance of Agency Contracts

Today’s post takes a look at agency contracts, and why it’s best for the author-agent relationship to be documented in writing.

There are many reasons why it’s important to have a written contract with your literary agent. We can’t cover all of them in one day, but let’s take a look at some of the most important ones:

As a matter of law, some contracts must be in writing to be valid.

The “statute of frauds” is a type of law which requires some contracts to be made in writing. Both the statute of frauds and agency laws often require a literary agency contract to be in writing. If this is the case in your state, or in the state where your agent is located, then your agency contract must be in writing.

Contracts clarify the parties’ rights, duties, and obligations, and avoid ambiguity.

Without a contract, certain critical aspects of the agency relationship may remain unclear or subject to dispute. Among other things, the agency contract should specify:

1. The length of the contract term, and which of the author’s works it covers.

2. The amount of the agent’s commission, and what rights the agent is authorized to sell.

3. The author’s right to approve all contracts before acceptance–and to reject contract offers the author does not want to approve.

4. How and when the agency may be terminated. Each party (author and agent) should have unilateral termination rights, meaning the right to terminate the contract without the other party’s consent or approval.

5. What, if any, commissions the agent is entitled to receive after termination of the contract. (It’s normal for agents to receive commissions on projects sold during the agency term even after termination of the contract.)

Without a written contract, some or all of these terms remain ambiguous, which means that in the event of disputes, the author is not well protected. Also: the agent is unprotected. A solid contract protects both the author and the agent.

People often underestimate the importance of contracts when starting a business relationship, because everyone gets along at the beginning. Don’t make that mistake.

In many states, agency contracts must be in writing to be valid–but every agency contract should be in writing to protect the author and the agent.

Also: if you have an agent, but no written contract, it’s never too late to put the agreement in writing. Talk with your agent about putting a written contract in place to protect you both.

Do you have a literary agent (or agency)? Is your contract in writing?