May 3, 2022
The Association of American Literary Agents has redesigned its membership model and revised its Canon of Ethics as part of a major, overarching push towards creating a more equitable, participatory, diverse, and inclusive publishing community.
In April 2021, AALA conducted a demographic survey of its membership similar to the 2019 Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey and Penguin Random House’s recent author audit. After completing an anti-racism workshop, the Board of Directors held a two-day retreat to consider those survey results, the barriers to entry, and the challenges of making a living as a literary agent. This began a more extensive discussion of AALA’s policies, particularly those regarding membership access and the organization’s goals of creating a more accessible and agent education-focused organization.
Membership Model Update
The previous threshold for full AALA membership required ten sales in eighteen months, as well as two letters of recommendation from current AALA members.
In recognition of the current publishing climate as well as the talent within the support staff of literary agencies, the organization is opening its membership beyond just those involved in the selling of rights and those who meet a specific sales threshold. Instead, any individual employed by a literary agency–including members of contracts departments, accounting departments, and other teams within agencies engaged in the support of author care–will now be invited to apply for membership along with literary agents and assistants. In lieu of letters of recommendation, AALA has redesigned the application process to gather a more holistic view of applicants and the skills they bring to the organization.
The new membership model will also eliminate the previous distinctions between full and associate members, instead welcoming all members as full members. The AALA is also excited to announce a new educational tier of access, allowing those at the start of their careers to benefit from its educational programming and community.
Upon acceptance, all members will continue to be required to adhere to the Canon of Ethics.
Canon of Ethics
In addition to other clarifications and updates focused on modernizing the Canon, AALA has carved out parameters within its Canon of Ethics to allow AALA members to take on paid editorial work for non-client authors while maintaining the organization’s rigorous commitment to the highest standards of ethical representation.
While AALA continues to advocate for a future where commissions on royalties and advances will sustain an agent, many literary agents currently struggle to support themselves by agenting alone.
The Canon was revised in a months-long process and was adopted only after consultation with the full AALA membership as well as with the Authors Guild and Writer Beware. It is not a step that has been made quickly or taken lightly.
AALA is confident that the revised Canon will allow for better retention and support of literary agents without compromising the ethics and integrity of the organization or its individual members. In addition, AALA hopes that the revised Canon will serve as a useful resource for authors navigating the ethics surrounding paid editorial work for non-client authors.
About the Association of American Literary Agents
Since its founding in 1991, the Association of American Literary Agents has been a leading force in furthering the interests of agents, authors and other rights holders. Through regular educational programming, community-building initiatives, and advocating for agents and authors alike, the volunteer-run organization is dedicated to helping our members maintain and broaden their professional skills in a fast-changing publishing environment. Recognizing the historically exclusive nature of publishing, AALA is committed to engendering a more diverse, equitable, participatory and inclusive publishing community. Members of AALA must agree to adhere to its widely-respected Canon of Ethics, thus ensuring that our membership maintains the highest standards of ethics and integrity in dealings with and on behalf of our clients and our publishing colleagues.
Name: Regina Brooks, Vice President, Communications Committee Chair
Name: Gail Hochman, President