Even with this time off, I spend more time on finding work than on writing fiction.
The I.T. industry has changed so there are more contractor opportunities than ever, and some can turn into a permanent hire. Contracting is not ideal, but affords some flexibility - though I prefer stability over flexibility.
There are many contracting firms so I receive frequent calls from companies I haven't heard of before. That's OK though, because they'll tell me about the job, their client, what they'll pay, and how they'll pay it. If I like what I hear, I'll say 'yes' in some way. Then they'll send me an email asking me to respond back with my acceptance and giving them the right to exclusively represent me for that single position at that rate at that location. Some end clients have so many similar job postings that there may even be a position number included - like Verizon Wireless begins their positions with VZW. If someone else calls me about a job at Verizon Wireless, I need to compare the job numbers so I don't have two different companies represent me for the same position. That's breaking the rules, but it's alright to have another company represent me on a second job at Verizon or wherever.
So while I was on the phone with my daughter last week, I received a voice mail that Vonage transcribed into text as -
"Hi son, it's him put technologies. I'm just calling to message I will bring them up a plan for the rest of them will and Ashley. I just was in the kitchen. The assistant in New Jersey. If you understood for this person please contact him. My number is 856-.... My extension is 107 I repeat 856-.... My extension is 17. I'm sending regarding this please go through that and get back to me. Think we"
I then was forced to listen to the wav attachment myself to see if I could figure out the correct extension or the caller's name. Vonage did the better job.
The guy called again, and his conversation skills hadn't improved. I was able to get a rate and town, and said send me over the email and I'll confirm. Some firms will suggest wording, and his did, along with the rate without benefits and the job description. No name of an end client.
He requested I reply -
'I give' - Company X - 'the right to exclusively represent me.'
What could this mean if I responded with that? That from this point forward Company X is the only consulting company that can represent me. If I find my own job even, I could be held liable. The rate is not in the phrase, so what if they find me a job bussing tables at a diner for minimum wage? What if it's far away, where I wouldn't want to commute? Anyway, the email I sent back was not what he expected to receive.
This also applies to author agent contracts. Agents are in the business of selling. That's good, because they're supposed to represent you as the author. They sell your work, that's how they get paid. An agent also has a relationship with publishers (or at least you hope they do). That business relationship is also important to them, and you as the author are expecting it to remain professional with regards that the agent is working for you in an ethical manner with their connections.
However, sometimes the contract can be loose either through a reluctance to keep updating them for every client, or due to the unknown amount of time it takes to 'sell' your work. Unlike my contractor situation, your agent should remain your sole agent to all publishers for a period of time to sell either all your work, or a specific work. Agent Joe is not limited to pitching you to Penguin, so don't worry about getting Agent John to represent you to McGraw-Hill.
What you do want is some escape clauses that are not draconian sounding. What if Agent Joe has a life-changing event, and no longer actively represents you to publishers? Wording such as if a publishing contract has not been signed one year from this date, you have the option to dissolve your relationship with Agent Joe with a notification such as you or Joe mail the other a certified letter. You don't even have to go into whose fault that is - your work may be a difficult sell, Agent Joe may not be presenting it properly, or Agent Joe's publisher relationships are not the right publishers for your work. Give Agent Joe some benefit of doubt because he's not paid until you're sold, so doing nothing except getting you to initially sign is bad for his business too.
Authors can't just write - they need to read too.