With Contracts -- Agent or Lawyer
Like most of these questions in publishing, the answer begins with “It depends…” Each situation is different so it’s hard to make generalities but here are some basics to understand. An agent may know contract law and in a few cases, the literary agent is also an attorney. In the majority of cases, the literary agent is not a lawyer.
While many agents are excellent in their negotiations, understand the agent can only push the negotiations so far—then they back off. These agents have multiple clients and fully expect to negotiate with the publisher (and editor) many times for multiple clients. Everyone (the publisher, the agent and the author) are looking for a fair agreement.
As I often say when I teach workshops on this topic, authors need to remember that the agent’s name is not at the bottom of the book contract—it’s the author’s name. If an agent is involved, it doesn’t necessarily exclude the involvement of an attorney. Now, you want to make sure you get a literary attorney to check your contract and give you some feedback about it. There are many specialties of lawyers only a literary lawyer knows the details related to publishing contract law.
Where do you find a literary attorney? One of the best resources is the Author’s Guild. They regularly review contracts for their members and will help you understand the details of a book contract. As an editor, I’ve explained the contract to authors. But in those cases, I’m negotiating and representing the publisher. As the author, you can find a party to represent your interests.
Whenever you get to this point in the process, don’t forget to celebrate. As an editor, I understand that I’ve gone through a great deal of effort to get to the place where I can offer a book contract. I’ve talked in other places in these entries about how book publishing is a consensus building process. A number of publishing executives have to be convinced about a project before a contract can be issued. The negotiations include some give and take and back and forth. Some times the deal falls apart—called a “deal breaker.” But normally the author, the agent and the publisher are negotiating with the idea of coming to a fair compromise for everyone involved. It’s an exciting part of the process to be offered a book contract—no matter how many books you have published.