At What Point Is a Work No Longer Under Submission

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 26 2007

I have an agent who I’ve been with for about 2 years. I am considering leaving this agency. I read the contract (and your posts on this subject) and noticed that she retains the right to receive her cut of any manuscripts I might sell that are still in “negotiation,” even if we have parted ways. “In negotiation” in the contract is defined as “on submission.”

There is one house which expressed strong interest in my work. Ultimately, the editor wasn’t able to get the support of other editors—she’s still somewhat junior—and the manuscript was rejected. However, the door was left open for me to revise and submit again.

The editor and I have plans to talk and discuss ways to revise the work.

Now for the question: in the event that I do revise and resubmit, is this still part of the original “negotiation” or is it a new submission? If I have a new agent, can the new agent handle this “negotiation,” or will it legally be in the hands of the old agent?

The author goes on to explain her reasoning for leaving her agent, which was nice, but she didn’t need to do it. When making the decision to leave an agent you shouldn’t ever feel the need to justify your actions. If you no longer feel the agent you’re with is doing the job you need her to do, that’s enough reason to leave. Be that as it may, I don’t think she’s trying to pull something over on her agent. She doesn’t feel she’s the right person for the job anymore and wants to seek other representation.

This is a tricky question, since I assume there’s no end date to the amount of time the agent has to finalize any deals. For example, the BookEnds contract gives us four months to finalize any outstanding submissions, at which time everything reverts back to the author and we no longer have a right to those sales. I think it’s fair to both us and the author and gives a final end date at which we can all move on. It also gives us sufficient time to wrap anything up, without limiting the author.

My belief is if you don’t have anything physically sitting on an editor’s desk you don’t have anything under submission. When ending your relationship you should say as much in a letter. In other words, send that certified letter saying that you are ending the relationship and since you have no outstanding submissions together you will be moving forward effective immediately, etc., etc. Make sure you are very clear that the old agent has no more rights to your work.

Another thing to consider. Presumably when you resubmit this work, if the editor still wants to see it, it will be an entirely new work and not the same book your agent submitted.

I’m sure advice would be welcome from anyone else who has ever found him/herself in this situation.


7 responses to “At What Point Is a Work No Longer Under Submission”

  1. Oh, that’s one thing I hadn’t thought about. Thank you, Jessica.

  2. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Great question and answer! I’m saving this one to file.

  3. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    I’ve wondered about it a lot. Thank you.

  4. Jessica,

    Great blog. I remember several years back needing this information and not having the resource to find the answer. Or at least not from a source that I trusted knew the real ins and outs of a contract. Your blogs are so useful.


  5. Avatar Erik says:

    This is more of a lawyer-ly situation than anything. If you can’t afford to hire an attorney (which is to say, if you don’t have a friend who is one), I would say that you can do what you want assuming that you are protected should they decide to sue you.

    I would send them a letter by registered return mail that states that as far as you are concerned the previous contract (enclosed) is null and void for lack of activity, and that they have 30 days in which to respond to you. Cite whatever parts of the original contract appear to favor your position, if any. They will likely ignore it, meaning that you can do what you want in 30 days.

    Now, they will never sue you unless the book is a smash hit, in which case they probably will. That’s when the return receipt comes in handy.

    Naturally, as I am not an attorney, this is only my own supposition and statement as to how I would operate. However, I think that notification of the other party would give you at least some indemnification, and there are only a small number of circumstances under which they would likely care in the first place.

  6. Avatar pablo says:

    Wouldn’t an email to the agent with a specific question clear the matter up sufficiently?

  7. Avatar Bastet says:

    Wow, I just fired my agent and I’m happy to say he only has a month’s grace period. I’d hate to think that he’d have four months to mess things up further.
    He wouldn’t even tell me what what out on submission, so I really don’t know what he did if anything.
    Sounds like I did the right thing with the certified letter and all.

    This was a timely topic for me!