A recent experience, weirdly unrelated to a recent rant on Twitter, reminded me of how many times authors undervalue themselves.
I see it especially with nonfiction authors. As experts in the field, they are often approached directly by publishers to write a book. In some cases, the publisher has worked with them previously and never thought to contact the agent first. And in some cases the publisher is probably looking to get a cheap deal. Agents don’t like cheap deals.
This happened recently with a client of mine. For six months we were discussing and working on a book proposal. Things had been quiet and I assumed she was thinking of how to approach the project in other ways. Instead, come to find out, she was negotiating a back table deal with a small publisher.
I’d like to say I’m thrilled for her, but before I can feel that I’m going to need to let go of the feelings I have about all the time wasted working with her on this book.
The fact is, I don’t get paid until a book sells. Six months of ideas, edits, and my thoughts were wasted because this author felt that bringing me into the deal would scare the publisher away. Keep in mind that in 20 years I’ve never seen an agent scare a reputable publisher away from a deal.
I suspect there are some authors feeling great glee that an author screwed another “blood-sucking agent”. And sure, I feel like I got screwed. On top of that though, I suspect the author likely screwed herself.
What Authors Stand to Lose
There are a lot of reasons authors will accept a deal without involving an agent. You probably know more than I. In this case, the author claimed she feared the publisher would walk if I was brought in. My question to you is, would you want to sign a deal if the publisher refused to negotiate with agents? That to me sounds like a red flag. In this
I suspect the second most common reason for signing without using an agent is to save 15%. I get it. I’m always looking to save money myself. That being said, any agent worth half her salt will earn back her 15% in negotiations. It might not be straight off the advance, but it will be, at the very least, in better contract terms, including held rights and royalties.
Yeah. I’m tweaked about this. I’m annoyed the author ignored the author/agent agreement we have in place and I’m upset that I wasted so much time improving her work only to be cut out of the deal.
I’m also upset that this gives me a little less trust in other authors. Will it happen again? Probably. It’s happened before. Will I be tweaked? Yep. But I’ll move on, I’ll find another fabulous nonfiction author, and I’ll find those with whom I build long-lasting and trusting relationships with.
It’s a business and I look forward, always, to working with people who respect and value what I bring to the table.