Mike Fleming

Bestselling author Daniel Silva has left his longtime reps at ICM to sign with Robert Barnett, the D.C-based attorney at Williams & Connolly. The word in publishing circles is that this is a first step toward Silva shopping for a new publishing deal, one that might lead to his exit from Putnam.

Silva had been with ICM since he transitioned from journalism to spy thrillers with the 1997 debut The Unlikely Spy. He is best known for the series he writes on art restorer/Israeli secret agent Gabriel Allon. Silva routinely lands on the bestseller lists, most recently for The Rembrandt Affair, which Putnam published last month.

I’m told that Barnett is shopping to publishers and that Silva’s wife, NBC Today Show correspondent Jamie Gangel, will play a large role in making his next deal. ICM’s Sloan Harris and Esther Newberg had repped Silva. While he’s not on the sales level of Janet Evanovich, Siva’s situation sounds somewhat familiar. Evanovich’s son, Peter, took over as her agent after she left Trident Media. After St. Martin’s Press declined an offer to renew her deal at $50 million for 4 books earlier this summer, Evanovich made a deal at Random House’s Ballantine Bantam Dell imprint. Price was never disclosed, but sources tell me it was for far less than the original ask.

What’s driving all of this is the growing realization by authors that their next deal probably won’t be as good as their last. Dealmakers say publishers aren’t stepping up for auctions the way they once did, and nobody wants to overpay. Silva’s exit from ICM to Barnett is an interesting development that is creating a lot of discussion in publishing circles. Barnett charges by the hour—estimates are that clients in the range of $975 per—instead of the standard 15% that most major agencies and management firms charge.  He’s a less expensive option: if Silva is getting $3 million per book, an agency would commission $450,000; Barnett’s hourly bill might be half that.

Charging hourly, Barnett has built a stellar client list comprised mostly of politicians that range from President Barack Obama to ex-President George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Tony Blair, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bob Woodward. Fiction hasn’t been a big part of his business, but he did sign James Patterson after he left WME, and last fall Barnett negotiated a 17-book deal with Hachette Book Group that covers the prolific author through 2012—six books per year. The commission on such a deal would have been enormous, and it’s likely that Patterson saved a lot of money.

Dealmakers said that Barnett’s hourly fee formula has a downside. He usually makes one deal for world rights, I’m told. When the deal’s done, he’s done. Agents said that if an author has a following in countries outside the U.S., it’s often more lucrative to make separate deals for each territories. If an author gets a $3 million advance for world rights, subsequent territorial sales made by that publisher are applied against that advance. Agents making separate deals come away with advances that go right to the author,  less 20% commission, half of which goes to a foreign co-rep. Agents also pester publishers about the fine details from cover design to publicity and distribution, and there is also a psychological aspect. A $3 million deal is divided in 25% payments that come upon signing, acceptance of manuscript, publication of hardcover and then paperback. Commissioning agents wait for those payments before subtracting commissions. Barnett sends a bill when he makes the deal. Some authors find it easier to look at a check that has been lightened by commission fees, rather than having to write a big check themselves before they’ve received their full advances.

But Barnett actually gets very involved in the roll out of big books, which in the next few weeks will include titles from Bush, Blair, Palin and Woodward. The attorney coordinates the serialization deals and TV interviews, still charging by the hour. He also brings in a foreign rights agent named Linda Michaels for clients like Patterson, I’m told.

I reached out to Barnett, who responded by e-mail: “I am pleased to be representing Daniel Silva. We don’t have anything to announce about his future plans at this time.”

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