Sunday, July 12, 2015

Proper Expertise

Would you go to an electrician for advice about your leaky toilet?  Would you ask a cop to put out the fire that was engulfing your home?  While these professionals may have some knowledge of these activities through association, they possess neither the experience nor the training to handle these situations.  Therefore, why do you entrust a person who got a degree in English Literature to represent you on a legal contract for getting published?

I've read through a lot of agent bios, and the next one I see that shows a legal or financial background will be the first.  Most of what I've come across are folks with MFAs(Masters in Fine Arts) or people who once wrote for a living and now want to represent for a living(the same way, I guess, that an actor decides he or she wants to direct).  I'm sure such a crowd would make fine editors, but I don't understand why you think they would have the working legal knowledge to negotiate a contract beneficial to you.

The only advantage most literary agents seem to bring is that they have an "in" with traditional publishers, but doesn't that seem more like an advantage for the publisher than it does for you?  After all, they schmooze with the folks who control your paycheck and distribution, and since that publisher is a path to greater financial success for the agent, wouldn't it make sense for the agent to keep the best interests of the publisher in mind rather than the supposed client?

Yes, some will tell me I'm nuts, or bitter, or some other such write-off, but that's simple deflection.  When you are in legal negotiations - and make no mistake, that's what this is - why wouldn't you want a copyright law or intellectual property attorney to represent you at the bargaining table?  Such an attorney isn't chummy with the publisher, so they have no friendly relationship - aka, a way to keep cashing in - on the table.  What's more, they know what the language of a contract means, so they can help sift through some of the more shady parts and get you the best deal?

The narrative today is that you must have an agent to get published, and that agent needs to "know the business."  Bullshit.  That agent may get you an initial in, but their advice becomes about as qualified as mine at that point, if not less so(I have a Masters in Business).  Once in, they go with what they know, which isn't encoded in tomes of law.  This is how authors end up with crappy deals; use a legal neophyte at your own peril.

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