Margie Lawson

Make your writing soar


4 Things to Understand Before Signing that Literary Agent Agreement

The day has finally arrived! After slogging through manuscripts, enduring the seemingly unending cycle of query and rejection, you did it—your dream agent has tendered an offer of representation. Celebrate!

There are plenty of articles and blog posts out there that tell you what kinds of questions to ask your agent to determine if you and they will be able to work together. What did you like about my book? How many books have you sold? How often do you touch base with your authors? Etc., etc. But once those questions are answered to your satisfaction and you’re staring at that author-agent agreement with all its legalese, what should you do?

Before you post that video on Instagram of you signing that contract with a flourish, stop for a minute. Read the agreement. Yeah, yeah, but no one reads the fine print, right? Maybe, but this time, you need to. Seriously, READ it.

Easy for me to say, but I also know author-agent agreements can be overwhelming. So instead of giving up and just signing it anyway, focus on these four things:

stack of books
  1. Understand what work the agreement gives the agent the right to represent. One particular book or series? All your book-length works? All your book-length works written after the date of your agreement? Everything you ever have and ever will write?
stacks of coins
  1. Understand how much you will be paying the agent, and how those payments will be made. How much commission does the agent get from sales of your book (10%, 15%, more?)? Does the publisher pay the agent directly, or do you have to write the agent a check? If the publisher pays the agent, how, and how quickly, does the agent pay you?
  1. Understand how long the agreement is valid. A year? Five years? Does it renew automatically unless it’s terminated?
breakup - silhouettes playing tug of war
  1. And speaking of termination, how do you do that? Before you get together, it’s important to understand how you break up. If you feel your agent isn’t doing their job, or you just don’t like each other, at what point can you terminate the agreement—after six months, a year, longer? Once you’ve reached that point, do you have to terminate in writing? Will an email do, or do you need to send a letter by certified mail? How can the agent dump you? Is it easier for them to dump you than for you to dump them, or are the terms the same? Do either of you need to have a specific reason to end the agreement, or is simply wanting to end it enough?

I’m not going to tell you what the correct answers to any of these questions should be. That’s for you to decide, preferably in consultation with a knowledgeable adviser, whether it be a lawyer or an experienced writer friend. You also shouldn’t hesitate to ask the agent these questions, and any other questions you can think of—your agent is there is help you, and you need to be able to trust each other. But when you understand and you’re okay with the terms of the agreement, you are setting the stage for a long and mutually successful relationship with your agent.


Marin McGinnis

A lawyer by day, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing romance and mystery. She's spent more than half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She lives with her husband and two standard poodles.

Marin has dabbled in writing since she was in her 20s, but she didn’t finish anything until she hit her 40s. While her very first completed manuscript will forever languish under the bed, Marin subsequently published four Victorian-era romances. She is currently working on a stand-alone historical romance, a historical mystery series set in the English Lake District, and a contemporary cozy mystery series (because why write one thing when you can write three at once?). 

When she’s not writing, editing, teaching, networking, or lawyering, she’s cooking for family and friends, learning how (and how not) to bake bread, and spending far too much time watching superhero movies.

Social media links:




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment on “4 Things to Understand Before Signing that Literary Agent Agreement”

© 2024 Margie Lawson, all rights reserved.

Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram