Q & A with Elaine English, Intellectual Property Rights Attorney - Behind the Scenes
This month we're fortunate to have Elaine English, intellectual property rights attorney and literary agent, take time from her hectic schedule to answer a few questions.
Elaine, you wear two hats as an intellectual property rights attorney and as an agent? Do you ever run up against a conflict of interest?
No, I work very hard to make sure that doesn't happen. I keep the work I do for my authors separate from my legal work. If I've helped an author to get out of a publishing contract or agency agreement, I would not then turn around and sign that person to represent those projects as an agent. Thus far in my career (which spans more than a dozen years with these dual roles), I've never had a publisher with whom I've negotiated as an attorney hold that against me when I approach them with a project as an agent.
What is the number one thing authors need to watch out for/avoid when signing a contract with a publisher?
There are so many possible problems that it’s hard to pick one out as number one. Basically any time an author signs a publishing agreement without understanding the implications of what they are signing, they are opening themselves up to potential problems.
What are the pitfalls for authors (without an agent) who read and sign their own contracts without consulting a literary attorney?
See my answer above. It’s very important to read the contract and make every effort to understand what it says. A publishing contract is likely to govern your relationship with that entity for many years to come and it’s important to understand what are the obligations and limitations you've agreed to. Once it’s signed, it just can’t be easily modified or thrown out by only one party.
What is the best thing an author can do to protect herself when entering into a contract with a publisher?
I’m starting to sound like a broken record. But it’s read and understand any and all agreements. It can start with an agency agreement or with a collaboration agreement with any co-authors, or a publishing agreement. But it’s important to understand what you're signing. Read it for yourself, and get help understanding it if it’s not clear. Don’t just take someone else’s word that it’s standard and you just need to sign.
Do the changes in the publishing world of today affect agents?
Absolutely. Whenever authors face shrinking markets to sell their work (whether that’s number of publishers or number of bookstores), agents suffer as well. Also, self-publishing is still a phenomena that I think agents are working to try to fit into.
Do you think agents who aren't willing to think outside the box will survive in publishing?
Basically, I'm not sure that anyone who isn't willing to remain open to new opportunities and challenges is likely to survive in any business, much less the publishing biz, these days.
The recent purchase of Harlequin has social media hopping. Do you think the sale of another independent is good or bad for publishing?
On this one, I think it’s too early to tell what the real effects will be. But if the net result is to shrink the number of available publishers to whom agents and authors can sell their work, then I’d say it’s a bad thing. I see competition as an essential component to getting the best deal for an author and in the past when markets have dwindled, it’s only made things more difficult. Although I do think some of the consolidations have led to the rise of more smaller, independent publishers and perhaps even the notion of self-publishing itself. So perhaps there will always be something to fill those voids.
Thank you, Elaine, for taking time from your busy schedule to answer questions. I’m sure Night Owl Reviews readers will find your answers interesting and helpful. To discover more about Elaine English, check out her website. http://www.elaineenglish.com
Columnist Lizzie T. Leaf: Award winning author, Lizzie T. Leaf started life in Kansas, continued her growing in North Carolina, and currently shivers through the winters in Colorado.
Since discovering the fun of writing paranormal, she plays with creating vampires, faeries and other immortals. When she needs a touch of reality, her Contemporary Erotic Romances come into play. Her most recent release is Nordic Heat, available at http://amzn.to/1owng5k
If she’s not creating mischief for paranormal beings, or getting under the covers with her erotic heroes, she can be found exploring the other genres she wants to write. She also served as the 2012 President for the Heart of Denver Romance Writers and is the 2014 VP of Programs.
Lizzie loves to read, spend time with her family and travel with her best friend husband during her free time.