Poets & Writers

Negotiating Your Contract

FOR many writers, an agent agreement or publishing contract can be an elusive thing. As with four-leaf clovers, having one in your hand can feel like a matter of luck as much as hard work and perseverance. Because of the dismaying odds and long years of effort these achievements usually require, the relief of finally landing a representative or publisher can override all other instincts—including any doubts concerning the legal contract.

The literary agency that sold my debut book, Calamity and Other Stories, to Doubleday, a trade imprint of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, was a “boutique” agency, meaning it was small and specialized, serving a select group of clients with generally modest sales. Likewise the contract I had with the agency was short and simple—straightforward enough that I understood the terms clearly without the need for counsel. It was when I moved to a much larger agency and received a much longer, wordier agent agreement that I thought twice about signing.

I understood the basics of agency agreements—that the author

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