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If two authors collaborate, and each of them already has an agent - then who handles the collaborative work?

Do the authors decide to be jointly represented under one of their two agents? If that's the case, doesn't that "cut out" the other agent - barring them from a major project of an author they represent? Or is their some type of agreement which will let both agents in on the project? Alternatively, should the two consider finding a third agent to handle their collaborative work?

And finally, what if one of the authors has an agent, and the other doesn't? Should the unagented author accept their co-writer's agent, or not necessarily?

Obviously, different cases should be handled differently, and choosing an agent is a joint decision the two authors make like any other - with consideration and cooperation. However, I would like to understand both common practice and important considerations for the choice.

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you ask tough questions lol! – Amin Mohamed Ajani Jun 18 '12 at 2:56
I suspect the agent probably has quite a strong say in the matter as well. – David Aldridge Apr 30 '13 at 20:16
up vote 3 down vote accepted

When your authors began working with their respective agents, they would have had to sign a contract explaining the bounds of the agency. That contract will explain the ins and outs for common situations such as dual representation, entering markets outside the agent's bailiwick, and so forth. I would be surprised if 'Collaborative Works' wasn't mentioned in one (or both) contracts.

If the contracts are not exclusive and each author is permitted to use Agent B while still being represented by Agent A (and vice versa), then there is nothing to legally bind them. From here, the standard rules for choosing any agent would apply. Who has the best knowledge of the subject matter and the target market? Who has historically been the most reliable? Do the authors want to stick with one of their own agents or do they want to go to a third party?

If the contract with A is binding but the contract with B is not, then the choice is clear, at least from a legal standpoint.

You should discuss the matter with BOTH agents, even if you don't think you are bound. It may be that you are restricted in your right to use outside agency by a provision you overlooked or misunderstood and it would be best to find that out now instead of later. Even if you are not bound, using Agent B without at least giving Agent A a heads up will almost certainly damage your relationship (possibly with both agents after B finds out).

If you are both bound, then you definitely need to speak to both agents. It isn't in anyone's best interest for the work to NOT get published so there has to be a solution that is beneficial for everyone.

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Terrific answer :) – Standback Apr 30 '13 at 18:16

It's a very good and interesting question.

However, you appear to be approaching it from the viewpoint that literary agents are literally going to fall over themselves to represent the two authors in question. Unless they're both relatively well known and have a successful track record in the book publishing industry, in my experience this simply isn't going to happen.

Even if they are, I believe the best practice here is to approach the selection of a literary agent in the same way that you would approach one if you had never been published. That is, you draw up a shortlist of agents who either specialise in the particular book subject matter or are likely to be interested in selling and representing that kind of work. From there you can submit a manuscript to the shortlist of agents for consideration.

The correct process for a single author selecting an agent is the same process for a collaborative effort. It's the book itself and the subject matter that's the key here rather than the authors themselves.

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I'm asking specifically about the case where one or both authors already has an agent. Obviously, if no agents are involved, then the pair can look for an agent, and should do so wisely. But if existing agents are already in the mix, then the question of how a collaboration deals with them becomes trickier. As such, I don't think this answers the question much. – Standback Dec 14 '12 at 9:31
And, finding a new agent when at least one of the authors already has an agent seems odd to offer as blanket advice. I'd hope that at least the represented author is reasonably pleased with his existing agent, and wouldn't be in a hurry to start over from scratch... – Standback Dec 14 '12 at 9:31
@Standback You're missing the point of my answer completely. I stated quite clearly you select an agent based on the nature and subject matter of the book. Just because an author already has an agent does not mean that agent will be the best one to represent a book on a different subject matter collaborated with a second author. The process of selecting an agent is exactly the same regardless of whether one of both authors already have an agent. This is the way it works - regardless of whether you like the answer or not! – spiceyokooko Dec 14 '12 at 14:10

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