Ties that bind

<p>Agents are in the news. Many things have been said and printed over the past few weeks which might benefit from discussion; in particular much that is misleading has been said about backlist and commission.</p>
<p>While agents have tended in the past not to move from one agency to another, authors do change agents from time to time. The usual arrangement (inculcated in the code of conduct for members of the Association of Authors' Agents) is that the first agency continues to have a right to their commission on all contracts which they negotiated, but &quot;care&rdquo; of the backlist would be likely to move to the new agent who will be looking after the entirety of an author's oeuvre. Authors do not leave their backlist &quot;behind&rdquo; and the new agent follows up on backlist regardless of who gets commission.</p>
<p>Over time agents often sort out a deal, splitting commission in a way that feels fair; I know of cases where an author has actually offered to pay an additional small commission to the new agent. If there is a change of publisher or a new agreement encompassing backlist with new titles, the old contract becomes obsolete and commission will in any event tend to move to the new agent.</p>
<p>While an author's behaviour may be modified according to their client agreement with their agent, some authors can be more ruthless. An agent is not a signatory to an author/publisher agreement and therefore, should an author and publisher agree to vary the terms, it is actually difficult for an agent to defend their commission in law.&nbsp; Some agents who specialise in tempting authors away from other agents have managed very successfully to parlay anyone else's right to commission by cutting new agreements which include frontlist and backlist titles.</p>
<p>Whereas acquisition by a publisher is largely a commercial arrangement, an author's relationship with their agent does not involve an exchange of money. Authors and agents come together in all sorts of ways: authors who are much in demand can pick and chose, but most typically authors pitch their work and, if they are lucky, an agent somewhere will like it and will agree to represent them. It is an exchange of trust, and a bond which can deepen over the years, especially for those who have worked successfully together to build a career. It is often a surprisingly profound relationship which can only be broken&mdash;usually painfully&mdash;if an author feels the agent is not doing a good enough job. But when the relationship works well, it is not easily severed.</p>