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Agent Peter Cox offers 'impartial' review of author contracts

Literary agent Peter Cox has offered to review "any" contract given to an author by an agent for free in order to ensure that the author has "impartial advice". The move is a response to agents setting up their own publishing imprints, which Cox sees as a fundamental conflict of interest between the principal and the agent.

“The author whose agent becomes their publisher effectively loses an agent”, said Cox.

The service, called Project FreeAgent, will be run out of his Redhammer agency, whose clients include Michelle Paver, Martin Bell and David Yelland. The service is aimed specifically at authors whose agent proposes to digitally publish the author's work himself or herself, but Cox said he would also encourage publishers to send their authors to his firm in order to have their contracts assessed, if the author is tempted to appoint their agent as publisher.

Cox said Redhammer expected no compensation, nor any commission on the deal. "There are zero strings attached", says Cox. "We feel this is simply the right thing to do. For authors, it's like getting a second opinion - a confidential check to make sure the advice they've received is sound... and not heavily biased in the publisher-agent's favour."

"I'm sure we'll lose money providing this free service," added Cox. "But if we succeed in jolting a few agents into realizing that they can't just plunder their authors' publishing rights willy nilly - it will be worth it."

The provocative gesture is certain to rile rival agents, and follows a strongly-worded blog written by Cox on the Redhammer website, which condemns agents who have begun to publish their clients' work. Cox wrote that the development was "mostly about lining their own pocket" and was "both ethically wrong and legally very dangerous".

In the blog Cox added: "Agency law makes it clear that an agent must not engage in self-dealing, or otherwise unduly enrich himself from the agency. Nor must an agent usurp an opportunity from the principal [i.e. author] by taking it for himself. I really doubt whether any agent can legitimately claim that it is in the author's best interests to be published by their literary agent."

Agents have claimed that they will only publish their clients' work when a publishing deal isn't on the table. One agent, speaking to The Bookseller ahead of this story breaking, said: "I think we'd all prefer it if we could just sell books to publishers but given their acquisitions policy and e-book royalties there are times when it does not makes sense: the best interests of the author outweighs the conflict of interest."

But in his blog Cox dismissed this argument. "The fact is, the internet is full of digital publishers, both large and small. Digital publishers are everywhere, and they are keen for our business."

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I'm sure all the craved-for celebrity clients are knocking on Redhammer's door screaming, 'Poach me!', as I speak.

I think Peter will find that the society of authors already provides this service. Possibly - who is to say - with even greater impartiality than he.

He has a point, but not the best way of providing a solution. Society of Authors is a better bet...

The Society of Authors is certainly a great alternative. However, not every author is a member. And what's to stop an author getting two opinions?

The industry is undergoing massive changes. The author is more vulnerable than ever. I know Peter to have both strong principles and the courage to challenge those who would abuse authors or bring the industry into disrepute. I hope he can cope with the tidal wave of requests.

Well done, Peter. There are many of us behind you on this.

So many opportunists, so few with integrity. I think Peter is showing true integrity here. I don't know where this is going to go, but it is interesting to see the opportunists comments, already trying to knock holes in what is an admirable stance.
We should all support Peter on this.

A free service - no strings - what isn't there to like?

Thanks for this, Peter. Hopefully more agents will line up behind you instead of against you.

More than anything else, I think he's just trying to bring light to the shady dealings going on with some agents these days. I respect that. Writers as a whole are generally so very glad someone likes their work enough that they want to represent them, they don't question much (or at all). People are being horribly taken advantage of in some of these new agreements. I personally wouldn't sign a new agency contract without my own IP lawyer checking it over.

At least in the UK there's some regulation. In the US, literary agents roam free and wild, with only the chiding bloggers keeping them in check.

This is an amazingly brave stand and illustrates how strongly you feel about this worrying development. Well done Peter. Keep championing the authors. We need a hero.

I'm actually not an "opportunist" but an author who has worked for a literary agency, and who now has an agent of my own.

So I know a bit about both sides, and more than a little about contracts. I gather that Redhammer has six clients and I can't find anything on the site about his experience with contracts. Is it worth sending a contract to him rather than the Society of Authors?

If any of Peter Cox's clients would like me to check their terms of business, their publishing contracts or the spelling of any emails he has ever sent them please be in touch. Happy to be impartial and am always happy to reach out and be massively helpful to authors out there.

I'm sure all the craved-for celebrity clients are knocking on Redhammer's door screaming, 'Poach me!', as I speak.

I think Peter will find that the society of authors already provides this service. Possibly - who is to say - with even greater impartiality than he.

He has a point, but not the best way of providing a solution. Society of Authors is a better bet...

The Society of Authors is certainly a great alternative. However, not every author is a member. And what's to stop an author getting two opinions?

The industry is undergoing massive changes. The author is more vulnerable than ever. I know Peter to have both strong principles and the courage to challenge those who would abuse authors or bring the industry into disrepute. I hope he can cope with the tidal wave of requests.

Well done, Peter. There are many of us behind you on this.

So many opportunists, so few with integrity. I think Peter is showing true integrity here. I don't know where this is going to go, but it is interesting to see the opportunists comments, already trying to knock holes in what is an admirable stance.
We should all support Peter on this.

I'm actually not an "opportunist" but an author who has worked for a literary agency, and who now has an agent of my own.

So I know a bit about both sides, and more than a little about contracts. I gather that Redhammer has six clients and I can't find anything on the site about his experience with contracts. Is it worth sending a contract to him rather than the Society of Authors?

A free service - no strings - what isn't there to like?

Thanks for this, Peter. Hopefully more agents will line up behind you instead of against you.

More than anything else, I think he's just trying to bring light to the shady dealings going on with some agents these days. I respect that. Writers as a whole are generally so very glad someone likes their work enough that they want to represent them, they don't question much (or at all). People are being horribly taken advantage of in some of these new agreements. I personally wouldn't sign a new agency contract without my own IP lawyer checking it over.

At least in the UK there's some regulation. In the US, literary agents roam free and wild, with only the chiding bloggers keeping them in check.

This is an amazingly brave stand and illustrates how strongly you feel about this worrying development. Well done Peter. Keep championing the authors. We need a hero.

If any of Peter Cox's clients would like me to check their terms of business, their publishing contracts or the spelling of any emails he has ever sent them please be in touch. Happy to be impartial and am always happy to reach out and be massively helpful to authors out there.