Many questions regarding my post yesterday. One of them is important enough to post about. Several of you asked whether this clause came from one of those agents helping an author self-publish.
These particular agents have no hand in any self-published material. They don't read and provide feedback on manuscripts, format or typeset them, or provide cover art. They don't write jacket copy or arrange blurbs. They don't upload anything, and they don't download anything, and they don't provide networking assistance.
They do nothing. It could easily come to pass that you would self-publish a work without them even seeing it or being aware of it. And yet you would owe them a commission on it. It could even come to pass that you would have This Book with them, and while they shop it, you upload That Novella as a self-published work. They fail to make the sale on This Book, and yet they are still entitled to a commission on That Novella. (One of you argued that this would never happen in the real world. Maybe not -- certainly it should not -- but the language I saw would allow this exact possibility.)
I could draw lots of analogies here to help you understand how damaging this is. Imagine you bank at Big Horrible Bank With Protesters Out Front. And every time you make a transaction at this bank, they charge you a quarter. You don't mind paying the fees because you figure they've earned them. It's fairsies. But then you open another savings account at another bank, and the Big Horrible Bank With Protesters Out Front is now claiming that you owe them a quarter on every transaction made at the new savings account, whether they ever touched the money or not. So when you find a ten dollar bill in the grass and decide to deposit it in the new bank, BHBWPOF wants a commission on that. And when your grannie writes you a birthday check from a bank other than BHBWPOF and you deposit it into your new account, you owe BHBWPOF a commission on that. And so on. "It's only fair," they say, "because by using our banking services, you learned some things about using banking services." Yes, and they were paid for it, a quarter every time you made a transaction at BHBWPOF.
Just remember what you own and what you pay for. You own your brand. You own your skills and knowledge. You might pay someone to help you improve those things, the same as a soft drink company pays ad agencies to craft memorable, brand-building commercials. But that doesn't mean your ownership is suddenly converted to co-ownership. It means you paid for a service.
One of my friends said, roughly paraphrased, "It used to be my trad pub that made my house bills and insurance payments each month. Now they can only make the house bills, but my self-published books are covering my insurance. Just barely, but they're covering it. If I have to give that up or split it, I would have to get a day job again. I can't take any more cuts to my income."
To that, many industry professionals would respond with a shrug. If this one drops out of writing, ten others are waiting in the wings to take her place.
That attitude and reality has scared authors into accepting bad terms in the past. But the difference then was that there was only one path to publication, and that path ran through the people offering the bad terms. Now there are other options. Is self-publishing the savior of everything? No. It changes some rules of the game, but we're all still playing the same basic game. Nevertheless, it's an important change because of the way it empowers writers. Don't give away that power. Don't even give away 15% of it.