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Literary agency contract for idiots – that’s how I’m describing the contract below. One of my 1-on-1 coaching clients was recently offered this contract from a supposedly legitimate literary agency.

No, she didn’t sign it.

That’s because she’s not stupid (and, even if she was, I wouldn’t have let her sign this literary agency contract). That’s one of the many advantages of having me in your corner as a consultant.

Now, I’m not going to reveal the name of the agent that created this literary agency contract, so he can’t attack me. And, for the sake of space, I’m not going to print the entire literary agency contract. However, I am going to reveal all of the “stupid clauses” that only the most desperate author would agree to.

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Literary Agency Contract – Important

The reason I’m writing this article is to prevent you from signing a literary agency contract for idiots. Not because I think you’re stupid, but because you’re probably not a lawyer. And, even if you are, some of the things you’re going to see below are subtle.

Now, before I share all the idiot clauses in this particular literary agency contract, I should explain why a literary agency would want to take advantage of an author.

It’s sad and simple.

Publishing is a business, no different than any other. There are ethical book agents who want to be fair and create win-win situations. Then there are predator agents only interested in their bottom-line.


Literary agent contract sharks

I know, you’re supposed to be able to trust your agent. After all, a popular synonym for literary agent is “author representative.” The word representative means someone standing, or acting for, another and his or her best interests.

Okay, enough introductory banter.

Here are the clauses…

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #1

Any product that results from negotiations, promotions or representations conducted by the Agent or anyone else during this period of this Agreement, shall be included within the definition of the Work. 

So… what if, after the book is published, the author independently creates and produces a related workbook, t-shirt, card deck, board game, etc.? If you were that author, would you want to give 15% of all your income from that to your agent?

I don’t think so…

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #2

As used herein, the Work shall include any and all derivatives resulting from or about the basic concept of the Work. 


This literary agent contract clause says you’re obligated to give your agent 15% of absolutely anything related to your book. That could include appearance fees, workshop fees, speaking fees, etc. Even if you’re the one responsible for making it all happen.

The word “derivative” would also include any sequels to your book. Or, what if you decided to write a new book series, using one of the minor characters from your first book as a new lead character?

Oops, derivative.

Time to whip out your checkbook…

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #3

In general, the Work as used herein, shall be broadly construed to encompass all economic benefits, however described, which result from or because of the Work.


Could this literary agent contract clause be any broader? They even use the word “broadly.” So let’s say that a TV show producer reads your book and contacts you directly to offer you a spot as a host on TV that has nothing to do with your book.

Literary agency contract idiots

You’ll be paying your book agent for that, too.

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #4

The Agent is hereby assigned Fifteen Percent (15%) of all economic benefit which the Author receives from the Work, including advances, royalties, licensing fees, percentage payments, contingent payments, acquisition fees, product endorsements, syndications, residuals or any other monetary and/or economic benefit whatsoever. 

Talking about product endorsements in a literary agent contract?


So if you’re asked to be a spokesperson for xyz company, and you get paid, you’re expected to give your literary agent a piece of that action also?


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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #5

Any entity owing Author any economic benefit as described herein shall make the payment assigned Agent directly to Agent and the contract shall so provide.

Are you starting to see that this might not be the best literary agent contract for you?

Not only are you expected to give 15% of your speaking fees, etc., to your agent… you’re also now expected to ask the organization paying you to make the check out to your agent, then wait for them to pay you.

That’s absurd.

If your literary agency also runs a speakers’ bureau and you’re interested in them representing you as a speaker (and getting you gigs), sign a separate agreement for that.

It doesn’t belong in your literary agency contract.

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #6

The Agent shall be responsible for the Agent’s own costs in connection therewith, including, but not limited to, travel, entertainment, telephone, and other similar out-of-pocket charges. However, once a contract is signed, the purchaser of the Work or the Author shall be liable for all of Agent’s travel and other expenses in connection therewith. 

That’s rich… for your agent.

Sure, you’re going to agree to reimburse your literary agent for any travel and entertainment expenses that they see fit.

Idiot clause extraordinaire.

Literary agency contract money

Don’t approve this clause in your literary agency contract.

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #7

The Author will be liable for payment of all attorney fees incurred for negotiating all contracts with any entity involving the Work and the Author, should an attorney be required. 

Scratching my head…

Um, I always thought that one of the main reasons you hire a literary agency is because they have the knowledge and experience to negotiate your publishing contract for you.

If your book agent needs to hire an attorney to figure out your contract(s), they probably aren’t qualified to be an agent.

And you shouldn’t be signing their literary agency contract.

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #8

The Author agrees that without the prior written consent of the Agent, the Author will not prepare, write, publish or collaborate in the preparation, writing, printing or publishing, or  allow his name to be used in connection with any Work on the same general subject as the Work that will compete with and interfere with the sales of the Work. 

Common clause, but…

It doesn’t belong in an author/agent agreement. This clause belongs in the contract you’ll be signing with your publisher.

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #9

For a period of two (2) years from the date of this Agreement, Author agrees to be represented exclusively by the Agent regarding the Work (“Exclusivity Period”).

One year or less is standard.

Literary agency contract term

If your book agent wants to represent you for more than a year, he or she needs to earn it… by making a real effort to try and sell your book during year one. If your literary agent does that, you might want to sign a new literary agency contract for a second year.

But it should be your choice.

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #10

In no event shall the Author or Collaborator communicate directly with the Publisher or other third party purchasing the Work. Instead, except with the Agent’s express written permission, all communication, including transmittal of drafts of the Work, shall be transmitted through the Agent to the Publisher or third party purchaser of the Work.

This literary agent is a control freak.


You’re expected not to have any communication with your editor or anyone else at the publishing house… without mommy or daddy agent saying it’s okay or looking over your shoulder?

Get a grip.

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Literary Agency Contract – Idiot Clause #11

The Author agrees and understands that the Author, rather than the Agent or Publisher, shall be responsible for the publicity and marketing of the book.


You probably know that authors share the responsibility of promoting books. But this clause just makes the literary agent look like an idiot. Plus, it makes me feel like the agent doesn’t want to be held responsible, in any way, for whether the book is successful after a deal is done.

This clause has no business in a literary agency contract.

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Literary Agency Contract – Conclusion

Would YOU sign a contract that had all of those clauses in it? Have you ever been offered one? What do you think about literary agencies that have these types of contracts?

Tell me in the comment section below…

Literary agency contract clauses

Not all literary agents are idiots, so don’t lose hope. Don’t be naïve, either. Although most literary agents are reputable and trustworthy, some of them aren’t. Publishing is a business and you can’t blindly commit to the first literary agent that offers you representation. If you do, it can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more.

Like this article?

Leave a comment below… AND click on the following link to learn about the clauses that SHOULD be in your literary agent contract.

For more information on choosing the best literary agent, click here to read my free 15-part Guide to Finding a Literary Agent. Click here to read my free 8-part Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent. Then click here to learn about 3 different ways that you can get 1-on-1 help from me (free to fee) as your Book Marketing Coach. You can ask me questions on my blog, schedule an introductory consulting call with me, or join one of my longer-term coaching programs.

– Mark
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Mark Malatesta
Your “Undercover” Agent
How do I get published comments

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