I consider myself relatively knowledgeable about the business of writing, which is why Kritine Kathryn Rusch's post this week shocked me. I used to think of an agent as a writer's advocate, someone who would, among other things, help the writer negotiate her contract with a publisher, someone who would have the writer's best interests at heart.
In Advocates, Addendums, and Sneaks, oh my! Kristine writes that, for the most part, this is no longer true. For example:
I hadn’t realized until a few months ago that the adversarial relationship that sometimes existed between writer and publisher had moved into the agent/author relationship.
My first glimmer came when I looked at a former student’s agency agreement. Honestly, when the student contacted me to look over a contract clause, I thought the clause was in a publishing contract—at least that’s how it read in the e-mail. Then I saw the entire agreement and realized who had issued it.
The agreement called for the agent to have the right to represent the writer’s work in all forms for the duration of the copyright of the work, even if the relationship between the agent and the writer was terminated. I blinked, damn near swallowed my tongue, and told the writer not to sign the agreement. Even though the agency was a reputable one, this clause was horrible.
Too late, though. The writer had signed the agreement a year before I looked at it, and something had happened between writer and agent to call that clause into question.
I would urge anyone who is considering getting an agent to read Kristine's article. As I understand it, she isn't saying, "Don't get an agent," as much as she is saying that writers need to learn how to read contracts and then read them. She gives several examples of clauses to watch out for, as well as some rather nasty tricks that might fool even an experienced writer.