I'm about to sign with an agent and we've been discussing a timing issue I could use some guidance on. Here's the scoop:
- I'm signing with her to represent a debut novel
- I have two short story collections I've been entering in various contests that result in publication for the winning entry, typically by a university or indie press like Penn or Sarabande.
- The collections have done pretty well in prior submissions - finalist and semifinalist in a couple desirable competitions - and all other things being equal I'd keep pursuing that route to publication, especially since commercial publishers almost never publish a collection as a debut book.
- The collections are currently out in four competitions, the last of which will announce about Feb 1.
Now the dilemma. The agent's proposed clause would have me halt any further submissions for the duration of her contract (pretty much a year, depending on how various exit conditions play out), while allowing the currently in-flight submissions to come to conclusion. Her rationale is that if she indeed finds a deal for my novel, the publisher's contract would likely require that book to be my next book in print. Because a university or indie press would likely bring a book to print faster than a commercial press, it's entirely possible that a winning story collection would get printed first and would therefore violate that provision in the novel's contract.
I'm more than willing to specify that I'd withdraw story collections from competitions if she made a deal for the novel that includes an option on the stories - obviously - but the timing could well work in the opposite direction.
So, my questions:
- Is a first-in-print clause really standard in a publication contract?
- Is there a strategy that might try to negotiate that down to first-NOVEL-in-print, or would a publisher walk away?
- Is this kind of restriction typical in an agent contract?
- Given that a prizewinning story collection would enhance both her pitch for the novel and potentially the publisher's advertising for the novel, how would that be a bad thing?
I certainly don't want to lock up my two story collections for a year or more just because she's pitching the novel, but if she's right about that publication condition I do see her point.
Any thoughts or guidance? The hope is to sign the contract in the next day or two and this is the last real gotcha I'm struggling with. Any help would be so appreciated!