What would you change in this industry?


You use QueryTracker.net which has a comprehensive and up to date list of agents. It also allows you to filter by genre and track your query stats. Being outside the US is only an obstacle if you make it into one.


The ability to be open to new ideas, new writing, new writers and be willing to work with them on a whole host of issues and concerns–rather than shut them out of the planning process and everything else.

Oh, and not forcing authors to break the bank trying to pony up money themselves for their advertising campaigns. Or tell them: “Hey! It’s all on you now. Good (bleeping) luck!”

Oh, and my publishing house would be the first to ditch word count limitations.


reasonably complete list of UK lit agents https://jerichowriters.com/uk-literary-agents-list/


There are so many things in contracts that need to change. Here are some of my top picks.

  1. Elimination of the “life of copyright” as a term for the contract. All contracts should be 5 - 7 years. If the book hasn’t earned well in that time, it never will. And if it has earned well, then the publisher should have to “woo” the author to keep the title - which may mean a higher royalty rate, or another advance.

  2. Elimination of non-compete clauses (except in some non-fiction works that need it to prevent essentially the same book being sold to two publishers). Non-compete clauses have NO place in fiction.

  3. Reversion of rights that aren’t exercised. If the publisher takes a right (say for Graphic Novel) they need to produce a version (or sign a subsidiary licensing agreement) for that right within a year or two. If they don’t, that right should revert.

  4. Reversion of rights no longer sold by the publisher. If the publisher has put the hardcover “out of print” then that right should revert to the author so they can publish that format on their own. Likewise, if no print version (hardcover, paperback, trade paperback) is available for sale, then those rights should revert to the author.

  5. Audio rights SHOULD NOT be a required format to get a contract. I realize it’s the most profitable format right now, but a publisher can do just fine with print and ebook, they don’t need to “rights grab” audio - especially when they provide no “value add” to that format.

  6. Higher ebook royalty rates. Given the lack of “additional expenses” for ebooks (no returns, shipping, or warehousing fees) the author/publisher share should at a minimum be 50/50 and probably more like 60 to author and 40 to publisher given the relative amount of work each party has to put into the title.

  7. Fair option clauses on next works. Giving an existing publisher “first look” at a new property is fine. But it should have the following stipulations (a) they should have a short period of time to read and make an offer 4 - 6 weeks tops (b) they can’t just “claim” the new book at the same contract terms of the existing contract (and the period of time to reach agreement on terms should be limited 1 - 2 weeks). In other words, if the author has become popular the new contract should come with a higher advance © there should be no "quick claim’ on options…such that a publisher can “match” a competing publisher’s offer and if they do, they get the book. After all, if you are shopping the title to others, then the relationship has already started to break down.

  8. Elimination of clauses that significantly reduce the royalty to authors (deep discounts and premiums). As currently implemented a publisher could earn MORE per book by giving a larger retail discount because a 10% - 15% of list royalty would change to 5% - 10% of net income - which essentially steals from Peter (the author) to give higher incomes to Paul (publisher and retailer).

  9. Out of print designations need to be adjusted. For many contracts, a book is determined to be “in print” if it sells just a few copies a month. Any book that isn’t producing at least $2,000 in annual income to the author is essentially “not moving” and the author should have the ability to revert the publication rights on this poor performer.

  10. Transparency in the calculation of “return reserve” and its elimination after one year’s publication. If the publisher’s return reserve is 10% higher than actual returns, then the publisher should have to pay interest to the author for the amount of “excess” that was withheld.

  11. Split checks – where the publishers cut one check to the agent (for their 15%) and one to the author for their (85%). Industry standard is 100% to agent, and then the author has to worry whether they will get their 85%.


The “low relative pay” for authors isn’t due to a marginalization of “soft skills.” It’s a matter of supply and demand. There are only so many “slots” each year for traditional published authors and since there are more people clamoring for those spots, the publishers can pay authors pennies on the dollar.

The second reason for the low income to authors is a cartel-like business model where all the big-five publishers walk in lock-step. All of them have virtually the same royalty rates:

  • 25% of net for ebooks
  • 10% - 15% of list for hardcovers (10% first 5,000 | 12.5% next 5,000 | 15% all above that)
  • 6 - 8% of list for paperbacks

Because the publishers all “hold the line” they have 100% of the leverage and the authors have no ability to negotiate higher incomes.


No legitimate publisher is going to require authors to “pony up” money for advertising campaigns. Now, that said, they may not throw marketing dollars THEMSELVES…and the author may TAKE ON the responsibility of doing their own ads. But that’s not the same thing.


I’m sorry, what is the industry doing now that’s helping the author succeed? Hardly anything. They expect the author to do everything. From social networking to advertising–on whatever pittance of an advance they give them.

And you’re right about thing: They don’t spend lavishly on their authors either–which compounds the problem of ever becoming successful in such a short window of time.

Which puts more pressure on the author to try and make a mark on the world due to limited exposure, financial resources, and tech support–by their own publisher.

If I did that to my authors, I wouldn’t even have a fucking publishing business. If my store manager started treating his employees like garbage, he wouldn’t have a profitable bottom line or a happy go lucky crew of over nighters.

We’d be going on strike for better working conditions.

Why people think the mainstream is their panacea towards fame and fortune when they get so little of everything and have to work a goddamned miracle is just beyond me.


They don’t make as much based on their royalties either–even if the average sales receipt is a little higher than indies. I personally don’t wish to live in poverty for the rest of my life. Y’know?


Look, I have PLENTY of complaints about traditional publishing. See my prior post about various contract terms that need changing. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. I gained tremendously from my traditionally published deals including:

  • A much accelerated growth in my readership
  • Several hundred-thousand dollars in foreign rights acquisitions
  • Audiobook versions, which I wouldn’t have dabbled in when just self-published, which again has brought in more than half a million.
  • Expansion into libraries
  • Exposure in bookstores
  • Gaining the attention of Hollywood (I have several books optioned).

Now, all that said, I probably won’t do any MORE traditional deals (mainly because they are now requiring audio rights and I make a lot of money by selling them direct)…but that’s not to say that there aren’t some times when traditional makes sense. Bottom line…it’s not all or nothing. BOTH self AND traditional can be worthwhile but there are tradeoffs to both and pluses and minuses to both. There are too many factors that come into play where it may make sense to go the traditional route.


I would add one more thing to your list of contract changes:

Agent and author should be paid separately – meaning the publishing company cuts two checks.

The standard is that that the publishing company cuts one check, which goes to the agent. The agent takes his 15% and cuts a check to the author for the remaining 85%.

Or that’s how it’s supposed to work.

As has been demonstrated several times over the past year, the current system is rife with abuse – abuse that could be stopped by something as simple as writing two checks up front. (That won’t, of course, ensure that the publishing company pays on time or pays the right amount, but it will prevent the agent from hiding payments, paying less than earned, etc.)


Agreed! I have 2 contracts that aren’t that way (which I hate) but all my most recent contracts have split payments. I added it to my list.


I love this idea! How are they even able to take more than their 15% and hide it from the author they are contracted to work with? I haven’t heard of this happening personally but with folks like *ark Gottlieb around I suppose anything is possible.


There were several stories in this past year.

The agent doctors the sales report – or says the check was lost or the company is late paying or money was held back in returns, etc. The writer believes the agent, because he TRUSTS him. And since when you have several books out (and various subsidiary rights sold on top of the print rights), money doesn’t come at predictable intervals or for a specific amount, it’s easy for the writer to lose track of what’s owed.

The agent counts on his clients not discussing this sort of thing with each other, so the pattern doesn’t emerge.


I see, do you think publishers having an actual payment schedule can clear things up or at least be a step in that direction? I would think so, but I’m no expert in the industry.


They do… but it takes time between generating a statement and getting a check cut. Sometimes months.

On top of that, there’s no standardization. Take Michael. He has books with, probably, 4 or 5 different publishers. But he ALSO has books paying out advances (which are cut into multiple payments), audio deals, multiple foreign rights deals, movie options, etc. Every single one of them has a schedule, but each one’s schedule is different than everyone else’s. There’s no guarantee that he’s owed money from each one each time they pay out, and if he is owed money, there’s no way to estimate how much.

Part of the reason – probably the primary reason – that agents are sent the whole check is because part of their job is to keep track of all those schedules, audit the statements they receive, and ensure monies are being paid correctly.

Self publishers have to do all that themselves. Traditionally published writers SHOULD do it themselves. Any time you delegate that aspect of business, you leave yourself open for being scammed.


Also for education sake, are publishers equppied to handle shady agents who take more than their share? What about associations like AAR?

True they should. Also Publisher pay outs are a mess they need to create a better system that is a lot more transparent


How would the publishers know an agent was skimming (or not paying)? As evidenced by the stories that came to light in 2018, these abuses can go on for YEARS before they’re discovered. Once they are, it’s a criminal matter – and it’s a bloody nightmare for the agent’s clients and the various entities who have licensed rights from them.

I expect AAR would sanction the agent (and remove him from their ranks), but that some of these agents are in AAR means that designation in and of itself isn’t protection.

I agree with you about the publisher payouts. They ARE a mess!


Here’s one of the big stories:

Anybody know any updates about this?


I had the impression (correct me if I’m wrong) that the AAR and similar bodies in other countries are quite toothless. Anyone can set themselves up in business as a literary agent, with no particular qualifications or experience required, and they don’t have to join any professional body or trade association. Would a publisher refuse to deal with an agent who wasn’t an AAR member, or who’d been expelled from the AAR?


And the author wouldn’t have a clue unless they were really looking closely at their accounts and even then it doesn’t guarantee you being able to prevent it.

More reasons two checks is a better idea.

Though some would argue it could mean agents having a conflict of interest as they may say the agent is then working for the publisher (swore I saw this argument on twitter) but I think it would be a greater incentive to authors. Lots of folks already have small payouts to have it even more minimized and with the chance of being robbed it’s not a good look.


Definitely not the former, since I don’t think an agent is even eligible for AAR for the first five years. (Did I make that up? I think I remember that.)

The latter is probably irrelevant too, though I expect they’d think twice before working with an agent who has a criminal case against him for cheating his clients.

Maybe anyway. If THEY aren’t getting cheated, then they may not care, honestly.