Advice to authors whose agents wish to publish their clients' works

Agents who wish to publish their clients’ work must offer them a detailed explanation of what they will personally gain from the arrangement and obtain their full and written agreement, the president of the Association of Authors Agents has said.

Anthony Goff said: “Certain members of our community came out strongly and said it was ­illegal for an agent to publish their own clients. The association is very well aware of potential conflicts of interest and while it is definitely not illegal for an agent to publish their own client, there are hazards or risks. We’ve taken steps to find out exactly where they are and to give advice to members who wish to go down this path.”

Goff said agents were duty bound to give their authors “the very best advice” and had a primary duty “to make it absolutely clear to the author what you stand to gain from it as the publisher and exactly what the alternatives are”. Agents must also get “full and written agreement” from authors, he added. “This is the right way to protect the author and to protect yourself from any comeback against the charge that you’ve set up an arrangement from which you are profiting in a way you wouldn’t usually.”

But agent Peter Cox, an outspoken critic of the development, said for an agent to publish their client’s work came under the heading of “self-dealing” in civil law. “The big problem is that when an agent becomes a principal in a transaction, you are no longer an agent,” he said. “You are wearing two hats and how can you advise an author on what is a good deal?”