Sunday, June 15, 2008

What if my agent dies?

Amidst the turmoil that's been my life the last few weeks, I recently offered someone representation. I thought they were talented, and that I'd like to work with them; they took the time to think about the offer, and in the end, decided to go with the other agent who wanted to represent them. (This is why you submit to multiple agents, people.)

Now I'm not mad or annoyed or even really very disappointed. This has happened to me before, and it will happen again; it's part of being an agent. But I did want to share with you one of the more interesting questions that was asked me by the prospective client: What happens to my representation upon your death?

Well, basically, at that point, I'm dead. =) I could represent you from the grave, if you'd like. I suppose there has to be a market for ghostly literary agents--I mean think of the potential book deals you could make with Beethoven's ghost or the remains of Mary, Queen of Scots. But in all seriousness, if I was your agent and I suddenly died (knock on wood!), I wouldn't be representing you anymore.

What would happen is that you would then have a choice, after sending a condolence card to my family upon my untimely passing, of course. You could choose to stay with the L. Perkins Agency and be represented by either Lori Perkins or Spencer Ellsworth, or you could choose to find a new literary agent.

This actually happens all the time; people switch careers or they get very, very ill, or they do die. I've gotten query letters saying that people's previous agents have done all of those things (although not all at once). And so you go out and you do the same thing you'd do if your doctor died or your lawyer died or your accountant died. You'd go find someone that's alive to do the work you need done for you. =)

Do I think this needs to be written into an author-agent agreement? No, I don't. But that's merely because it's such an obvious question to me that I don't think it needs to be twisted into legalese. But just so you all know, this is the official L. Perkins Agency Death Policy.

And may I and Lori and Spencer all live very, very long lives. =)

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm sure this person asked because it's a question which many books about dealing with agents suggest an author ask before accepting an offer of representation. Yes, obviously if the agent dies, that agent won't be representing the author anymore. But for works the agent has already shopped, sold, whatever, depending on the agency contract the author has signed, I think this is a very legitimate question.

Elissa M said...

I, too, wish you all long, fruitful lives. The subject of agent death makes me wonder though, is it standard practice for others in an agency to take over? If books are in print and royalties are being earned, who gets the deceased agent's cut? The agent's heirs? The agency? No one? This is just idle curiosity, as I've never before thought about an agent dying. The whole writing business is stressful enough without throwing in extra things to worry about.

Jenny Rappaport said...

anonymous, it is a perfectly valid question to ask, except for this thing...

Any deal made by an agent is made on behalf of the *agency*. So if the agent dies, the L. Perkins Agency is still going to be named as the agent of record in the publishing contract. That means that even if I'm dead, as long as the L. Perkins Agency continues to exist as a business entity, they're still going to be able to take a 15% cut of the royalties, etc.

This actually applies also if you make a book deal with me and then you leave me. I'm the agent of record and I am entitled to receive my commission on that book deal, as long as it is in print and with that publisher, no matter whether you get a new agent or not.

This is why each and every publishing contract we make has an agenting clause, saying these very same things, essentially.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Elissa M, I'm going to say that probably an agent's heirs get the agent's commission, but that it varies widely depending on the compensation deal that the agent has with their agency. Each agency offers agents different terms of compensation, etc.

I can't tell you what it is in my case, because I don't think it ever came up. So in the extremely unlikely event that my estate (husband, most likely) and the L. Perkins Agency couldn't reach a joint settlement, it would go to arbitration under the laws of the state of NY. This is roughly what I think will happen in the event of my death; don't take it as gospel.

Kristine Overbrook said...

I don't think there is an except to anonymous's question.

An unsigned writer is not likely to know that the deal is made on the behalf of the agency.

As much as we research, quite obviously one of the things we need from an agent is assistance learning the business. You can't take for granted that a writer will know everything they need to know, just as a writer can't take for granted that an agent has an "in" with every publisher.

Getting rejected stings, no matter who you are, or what your profession. *shoulder squeeze*

You've had a rough couple of weeks. Here's hoping things quiet down for you now.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Point taken, Kristine Overbrook.

Apologies if I come across as a know-it-all. =)

Ryan Field said...

Let's hope for long and happy lives. This is one of those areas where I'd just rather deal with when it happens.

Karen Duvall said...

Mystery writer CJ Box hadn't heard from his agent in a year and finally called the agency to talk to him. Which is when he learned his agent had died about 6 months prior.

This was before CJ's career took off, but I thought it odd that someone else in the agency hadn't contacted him to let him know. Granted, CJ shouldn't have waited so long to call, but still...

Kiersten said...

Oddly timed question after you were so sick. Here's echoing the sentiments of your last statement!

I have another technical question for you then. Let's say you were to leave L. Perkins and start the Jenny Rappaport Literary Agency of Awesomeness. Or you could pick a different title. Regardless, what happens to the deals you made while part of the old agency? Do they retain rights to royalties, or do you hold those? Does it split?

I find contracts fascinating. Probably because I don't have one.

Roberta said...

Karen, your comment made my jaw drop. Wow!

Jenny Rappaport said...

kiersten, the agency holds the rights to the deals I've made, but not to my clients (as in, I can take the clients with me to the new agency and make *new* deals for them). In my case, it would probably split for a certain number of years, after I left. But once again, that varies widely from agency to agency. In a different agency, I might leave, and they'd automatically get to keep everything.

But I don't plan on leaving the L. Perkins Agency, so this is all hypothetical. =)

Sarah said...

"Well, basically, at that point, I'm dead. =) " You had me cracking up at that comment! My husband looked at me like I was insane and rolled over (Back to sleep for him). Thanks for the giggle!

But in all, good question that I'd not seen before! Thanks for the info!

Kiersten said...

Of course! I was just curious, since there does seem to be a lot of movement between agencies, agents starting their own agencies, agents becoming editors, editors becoming agents, etc.

Amazing how much goes on in different aspects of publishing.

siebendach said...

If the literary agency happens to be a partnership, with lots of partners (say, six), then that question might be more legitimate. But this agency isn't a partnership --- in this case, the "LLC" at the end of the name makes it kind of obvious. In fact, not many businesses are partnerships these days, and this is one of the reasons.

Jenny Rae Rappaport said...

siebendach, you are obviously not familiar with NJ state law. LLCs in NJ can be either single owner or multi-owner business. If it's a multi-owner business, it is treated exactly like a partnership, but with better liability.

Please know your facts, before making assumptions.