Difficulties of various kinds can arise in these relationships. Some will be about performance, others will be the consequence of market conditions. It is not uncommon for there to be a disconnect between market potential and publisher expectations, arising most often from lack of knowledge on the part of the publisher. Involving the partner in your acquisition of market knowledge will help remedy this.

It may be the case that a publisher’s books are not receiving sufficient attention in the context of the range carried by the agent or distributor. If you have this concern, raise it constructively with the partner. After a while you may for good reasons remain dissatisfied, and feel you have no choice but to terminate the agreement. But it is good to bear in mind that publishing and bookselling communities are very connected, and it is not desirable to acquire a reputation for unreasonable demands or expectations, or for disrespectful treatment.

There have been instances where the spectacular success of a particular title has brought a windfall commission to an agent. Publishers have been known in these circumstances to renege on the commission payments. Such dishonourable behaviour always becomes widely known and has redounded to the lasting discredit of the publisher. If that success comes your way, you can afford the commission, and the agent should be allowed to share in your good fortune.

Market collapse or misfortune befalling a distributor may result in a serious decline in sales and an inability to meet payment dates. In these circumstances a degree of understanding and flexibility (extended credit, for example) will mostly produce a better outcome than standing rigidly by the letter of what has been agreed. If an agent is involved, address the problem together. Changes of distributor may be needed, but with the attendant stock valuation, transfer and possible dumping at low prices they are always costly for publishers, and should not be undertaken unadvisedly or in haste. They can also cause ill-will and loss of reputation.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that the international book industry works on medium-to-long-term development of relationships and of market access, based on stability and continuity. Because publishers need their market-partners next year, the year after, and beyond, it is very unwise to take short-term gain that will put partners in difficulty and, particularly, reduce trust.