deals for which I either didn’t want their involvement at all, or for which I had gotten an offer on the table myself and wanted them to negotiate the deal for a fee that reflected their reduced effort or involvement (particularly if, for example, the deal was for a project that the agent had refused to send out).
I estimate that during the years I worked with literary agents, I thus paid nearly $20,000 in commissions that, in retrospect, I should not have paid at all. That’s a lot of money to throw away—especially since the agents didn’t get me more money or better contract terms on those deals. Worst of all, this is a mistake that I made multiple times. I did this again even after telling my next agent, during the hiring process, that I wouldn’t do it again. And then, with the agent after that... yet again!
I am the poster-child of village idiots.
Then one day my final agent (who, like the others, was prone to declining to send out my work, thus leaving me with no reasonable choice but to market it myself) announced that I had to pay her 15 percent of any deal I made, whether or not she was involved in it. Since the perceived value of her services to me had already fallen to a level somewhere below “non-violent mugger,” this blanket statement made it easy for me—finally!—to break my enduringly stupid habit of giving in to this demand, and I fired her.
And if I can learn, then there’s hope for us all.
Meanwhile, one of the reasons I so often emphasize the need for writers to read, understand, and negotiate the contracts they sign is that one of my most enduring business problems arose from failing to be thorough enough in that respect.
One day I fired a literary agent—who promptly stopped sending my royalty statements to me. We went through multiple rounds of me asking for my statements over and over before finally getting them weeks or months late. This was a serious problem because the agent refused to consent to split-payments, and the publisher declined to split our payments without the agent’s consent. I couldn’t even get a duplicate copy of my royalty statements from the publisher when the agent wasn’t providing them to me, because (wait for it!) the publisher insisted that it could only report my sales to the agent-of-record, not to me. So I was stuck with my fiscal statements and, when there were payments, also my money being sent to this agent. And this went on for years.
Then one day, when reviewing the relevant publishing contracts prior to sending them to the fourth lawyer whom I consulted in my attempts to get this literary agent’s hands off my money... I finally noticed that one of the crossed-out-and-replaced clauses was the publisher’s original agency clause. And that clause—the stricken clause, the publisher’s own boilerplate clause—had guaranteed that if I left the agency, the publisher would automatically split our payments.
[See Resnick bang her head against her desk until she nearly passes out.]
I could have prevented this problem! If only I had reviewed the stricken clauses before signing the contract, rather than ignoring them, I could have said to the agent, “Hang on. Let’s use the publisher’s agency clause, not yours. This makes more sense for me.” And we could have discussed it (and had a relationshipending argument when he explained that he intended to maintain control of my money if I ever fired him) at a time when I still had a choice in the matter... Rather than unnecessarily allowing this agent to spend years disruptively messing with me (and costing me legal bills) after I fired him.
Give me the dunce cap. I have earned it.
(Fortunately, the rights to those books recently reverted to me, at long last eliminating that literary agent—as well as that publisher—from the life of those titles.)
The only time I was ever placed with an editor by an agent, it turned out to be the worst editorial relationship of my career. And the agent repeatedly refused my request to be reassigned, claiming it “wasn’t possible...” even though, years earlier, as a brand-new unagented writer, I had requested and gotten a smooth reassignment away from a bad editor. Yet, even knowing there was something inherently wrong with my bigshot agent being unable to solve a problem identical to one which I had solved as an absolute beginner, I put up with this disastrous situation.
Until I later reached my breaking point, so afflicted by this mess that I was very depressed and suffering from chronic stress illnesses. I finally informed the agent that I was prepared to torch my career rather than endure this editorial relationship any longer. At which point the agent casually admitted he had lied to