The press had a field day reporting on the many defections of agents from PFD, which had been one of Britain’s biggest and most successful literary agencies. The steady stream of news has made entertaining copy for readers, but the civil war which has been tearing the agency apart has been – and remains – profoundly unsettling for its clients.
The story goes back a few years. The agency, which was owned by its directors, was sold to CSS Stellar and became part of a group of media companies. Many of the agents became increasingly dissatisfied with the style of CSS Stellar and tried to negotiate a management buy-out. Those discussions collapsed, whereupon many of the leading agents gave in their notice. Some were subsequently fired while working out their notice.
Most of the leading agents formerly with PFD have established a new agency, United Agents (130 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 5EU; tel: 020 7166 5266; email: email@example.com). Meanwhile, the relatively new Managing Director of PFD, Caroline Michel, is filling some of the many gaps left by the departures.
The agents forming United Agents have been encouraging their former clients at PFD to move to the new agency, by giving PFD the requisite one month’s notice. Our impression is that most authors have moved with their agents, not least because an author’s primary loyalty is to his or her agent and not to the agency.
Members with particular concerns – or wanting to talk things over – are most welcome to email or phone the General Secretary, Mark Le Fanu.
We publish below some general notes on what happens when an author decides to change agencies.
General information about changing agents
If you are represented by an agent, the chances are that you will have signed a letter of agreement with the agency, your legal relationship being with the agency rather than your agent.
The contract is usually subject to termination by either party on written notice, the notice period often being one month, sometimes longer. When an agency agreement comes to an end, the agency generally continues to service (and take commission on) contracts already negotiated or in the process of being negotiated.
Some authors move agencies in order to follow their agent elsewhere. Others want to abandon their agent for what they hope will be more alluring pastures. Either way, the procedure is much the same. You give the requisite notice and can start with the new agency once the notice period has expired.
Your old agency will continue to be responsible for collecting – and, if necessary, chasing – payments, checking that they are correct and passing the money on to you promptly.
Rights in existing books that have not been sold are usually handled by the new agency. It is obviously important for all concerned to be clear about which rights have been sold, which have not and who is to handle the unsold rights.
In theory, you could, by arrangement, leave unsold rights in existing books with the old agency, with new works being handled by the new, but that is not the norm.