From Contract to Production with Your Agent

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Publisher mistakes happen. Oversights occur. Disagreements with your editor may happen. A terrible cover. Any one of these can have a detrimental, sometimes devastating, effect on the production schedule. It is so important to keep your agent in the loop throughout the process. And often, it is best to let your agent do the communicating when a problem arises.

Be Diligent.

Publishing houses want your book to be a success as much as you do. But upheavals like staff changes, corporate reorganizations, and staff reductions present the potential for things to fall through the cracks. That’s why it’s increasingly important for authors to be enthusiastic, cooperative, gracious, prompt with your due dates . . . and quietly diligent. publishing-contract

An author’s diligence is key because once the contract is signed, the communication shifts from publisher-and-agent to publisher-and-author. Your agent, who can’t be everywhere at all times for every client, relies on you to keep him or her in the loop at certain stages in the production process and at the first hint of trouble. For simplicity, I’m going to use the pronoun she when referring to the agent in the following examples.

Example 1. Your agent knows when your full manuscript is due to the publisher because the agreed-upon date is specified in the contract. Copying her on the email when you send it to the editor is a simple way to keep her in the loop at that step in the process.

However, the date your manuscript is approved by the publisher isn’t set in stone. Often the editor will want you to make revisions. Your contract gives a time frame for that too, but your agent won’t know the exact date your manuscript is finally accepted by the publisher unless you tell her. Why is that information important? Because an incremental payment of your advance is triggered at manuscript acceptance. Your agent needs this date in order to follow up if the publisher is late in sending your check.

Example 2. One of my clients planned to order promotional materials once the cover was approved. However, when the acquisitions editor sent a copy of their approved cover to the author, he forgot to send it to the agent too. Fortunately, my client was diligent to forward the cover file to me and request my intervention because there were obvious problems. She let me take the lead in communicating with the editor and designer, and we ended up with a final cover everyone was excited about.

Let your agent do the talking.

Author issues over covers can be sticky situations. Covers are within the publisher’s realm of responsibility. However, a good agent will negotiate wording in the contract, providing a client the right to give input on the book-production2design. Sometimes, as in the above example, they overlook that stipulation. Sometimes designers are resistant to perceived criticism of their work, too, and the extra time involved in a redo can wreak havoc with their schedules. Agents are experienced at negotiating these situations delicately toward a win-win solution. This allows you, the author, to retain your positive, warm and friendly relationships with your publishing team, which is of prime importance for your future with that publisher.

Keep your agent informed so that she can step in on your behalf when necessary.

Do you know a story in which an author neglected to keep the agent informed? What happened? How do these examples influence the way you will partner with your agent? How well do you understand your publishing contract?

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