A Sticky Contract Situation

Here’s a sticky publishing-contract situation you writers might want to be aware of:

A publisher just mailed us our agency and author copies of a fully executed contract. (The finalized contracts were first signed by our author, who then mailed them to the publisher for countersignatures, who then retained their copies and mailed the remaining copies to us. We then retain our copies and send the author copies to the author.)

I took the staples out of the contracts and was flipping through the pages before slipping them into the scanner when I saw that the publisher had made several handwritten changes…AFTER the author had signed.


I called this to Agent K’s attention. Because Agent K keeps extremely detailed and meticulous notes at every stage of every contract negotiation she does (and plenty of these negotiations take weeks, if not months, to finalize), she was able to quickly reference that these changes had not been mutually agreed upon.

Now in the grand scheme, these were not egregious, earth-shattering changes and would in any way hurt the author. But on principle, this is super sketch on the publisher’s part, and we’re going to call them out on it.

Takeaways for you contract-signing authors out there:

1. If you’re the first signer, scan a copy of what you’re signing.

2. When you get your countersigned copies back, make sure all the pages match the copy you scanned.

Hopefully your agent is watching out for you on this stuff, but add your own eyeballs to the mix, and things like this will be a lot less likely to slip by you.

There Are No Shortcuts

So. Agent Kristin recently updated her bio on our Nelson Literary Agency website. It now opens with “My goal as an agent is simple: I want every client of mine to make a living solely from writing.”

Guess what this means for the query inbox?

It means dozens of queries each week that say, “Awesome! I’ve always wanted to be a Published Writer—I mean a Published Author—and I can’t wait to quit my day job! I want to make a living solely as a writer! And you want to make that happen for me! Woo-hoo! This is my first novel ever and it’s not even done yet, but sign me up! Let’s do this!”


Your ability to make a living solely as a writer depends on you:

  • How much do you write?
  • How well do you write?
  • How consistently well do you write?
  • How many books can you write in a year?
  • How long have you been honing your craft, asking people who aren’t related to you for feedback, and really, truly, honestly, open-mindedly listening when they offer it…and then revising your work accordingly?
  • How much have you read/do you read in your genre?
  • How much have you read/do you read in other genres?
  • How solid is your grasp on grammar, syntax, mechanics, description, dialogue, point-of-view, structure, plotting, character development, emotion, scene craft, and pacing?
  • How confident are you in your ability to deliver on the expectations of readers of your genre?
  • How willing are you to bend and shift in the ever-changing publishing marketplace? To rebrand yourself once in a while? To keep writing when your reviews are bad and your publisher cancels the second book on your contract or your agent drops you?
  • Can you point at the hardest working writer or creative professional you know and honestly say, “I work even longer and harder than they do” or “I want this more than they do and I’m willing to sacrifice my time, sleep, social life, and ego to get it”?

Where an agent comes in is getting you the best possible deal, for the most money; protecting your legal interests so you don’t have to worry about who might be taking advantage of you, thereby freeing you up to write more; retaining and selling subsidiary rights that you didn’t even know existed; and positioning and guiding your career based on your individual strengths as a writer in relation to shifts in the publishing marketplace.

But making a living as a writer starts with actually BEING a writer. And being a writer is damn hard work.

Do the work.