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Robert Barnett’s Multimillion Dollar Advance Touch

Bloomberg’s Edward Nawotka finally uncovers some answers to questions I’ve wanted to ask for ages: how exactly does Robert Barnett earn his living from the megawatt authors, politicians and celebrities he represents? Not by standard agency commission, that’s for sure, because even though Barnett, a partner at the DC firm Williams & Connolly, functions on behalf of his book clients much as an agent does — negotiating contracts, assisting with the editing process, refereeing between writer and publisher — he firmly rejects the term.

“I’m a lawyer and proud of it,” he told Nawotka. “I bill my clients an hourly rate; I don’t agree with taking a percentage for someone’s creative output.” (An agent typically takes a 15% to 20% commission as payment.) At $900 an hour, Barnett’s attention doesn’t come cheap. But when it’s a question of a multimillion-dollar contract, Barnett’s hourly rate can offer a client a massive savings over an agent’s commission. In an example Barnett cited, he billed a client $150,000 for negotiating a $3-million book contract — a substantial discount from the $450,000 to $600,000 an agent would customarily charge. Discounts for authors – but not for publishers. Knopf Publisher and President Sonny Mehta said to Nawotka that the upside of working with Barnett “is that when he calls about a client, it’s always someone you will want to take a meeting with. The downside is that he’s an expert on valuation, and as such I can never quite negotiate the deal I’d like.” An understatement to say the least…

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