Quill and Quire

Writing Life

« Back to Omni

Agony Editor: Getting paid for your work isn’t always easy


(Evan Munday)

Dear Agony Editor,

My novel sold in a number of territories. One of the publishers hasn’t paid me. It’s been close to a year and still no response. My agent says she’s trying. It’s a large sum of money and I don’t know what to do. Aside from going through my agent, are there any other options available to me?


Show Me the Money

Dear Show Me,

The writing life is tough. Especially when it comes to making money. Or not making money, as in your case. While many authors aspire toward multiple
territory deals like yours, it can be challenging to work with publishers in other countries. To get some answers, I spoke to John Degen, executive director at the Writers’ Union of Canada. As a first step, Degen recommends you go back and read your contract carefully, especially the payment terms and schedule. (The Writers’ Union has resources about contracts available for sale at writersunion.ca.) “Make sure you understand fully what you agreed to when you signed your name to that document,” he says. Since you have an agent who negotiated the deal on your behalf, there’s not much you can do on your own. It’s her responsibility to get the money. Hopefully, she’s working in collaboration with your original publisher to resolve the issue.

Having said that, if she’s not able to get blood from a stone (and if she is, can you have her call me?), Degen says the two of you will need to figure out the next steps. “They may have recourse to arts-funding bodies or publishing associations within the foreign territory, as a way of applying pressure,” he says. “They may wish to demand reversion of the rights from that territory, based on reversion wording around non-payment. They may also wish to look into court action.”

I hope it doesn’t come to that, Show Me, because the only time a writer should be in a courtroom is when they’re researching their next crime thriller.