Friday, October 13, 2017

Featured Author: MARCEE CORN

I’ve met so many great writers online that I'm starting a new section of the blog to learn more about their lives and work. Writing can be such a lonely business, it's nice to keep up with what our fellow authors are doing. I'm calling these special posts "Writers In Progress" (a play on Work in Progress) because no matter where we are in our careers - bestsellers or newcomers - all writers are a work in progress. Every single one of us must sit down in front of a computer (or notepad or typewriter) and overcome self-doubt, face our fears, and listen carefully for the voices of our muses.

There's no better example of a talented, determined writer like this than North Carolina author, Marcee Corn. She's had such a successful summer launching her new novel, ALWAYS THADDEUS, that I wanted to learn more about it.

Anyone who's met Marcee knows that she's a boundless source of enthusiasm, energy and support. I met Marcee on Twitter around the time I read her wonderful first book, UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE (all the links are below), a heartfelt memoir about how her family managed to deal with her mother's worsening Alzheimer's Disease. Marcee's second book - and her first venture into the world of fiction - was released earlier this summer by Archway Publishing. ALWAYS THADDEUS is part mystery, part love story, part tragedy, and was an instant bestseller in the literary fiction category on Amazon.

In an interesting take on cover design, Marcee teamed up with talented UK artist James Mackenzie for the striking cover of ALWAYS THADDEUS. Like the novel itself, James' painting - "Sea Storm at Sunset" - is full of tension and beauty, lightness and darkness. To launch the book in the UK and to exhibit more of James' work, four appearances for the dynamic duo were arranged in his picturesque hometown of Chelmsford, Essex. (James' contact info is below too, btw!)
"Sea Storm At Sunset" Original Painting

Having been on book tours myself - in the U.S. and Canada - I was curious what tips Marcee picked up, because there's always lots to learn when you get in front of a crowd. Her appearances with James were a great success and she sold all but a few of the books the publisher ordered. I'll let Marcee describe her events in more detail, and then she can share the rest of her tips! By the way, Marcee mentions her incredible book trailer for ALWAYS THADDEUS. If you haven't seen it, you must! It sets a whole new standard when it comes to book promo. All the links are below! And now, in her own words, Marcee Corn!

Thank you, Sheri, for the opportunity to speak with you. While I'm still very steep on the learning curve, I'm excited to share the few things I learned over the past four years since the publication of my first book, UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE. Although some authors find book signing events, especially book talks, uncomfortable, marketing a book is every bit as important as the writing of the first word.

The first appearance was on September 15 and was a private, by invitation only Book Launch/Art Show at the Ideas Hub in Chelmsford (a non-profit community meeting hall). The event lasted from 6:30- 8:30 PM. Volunteers served wine and appetizers throughout the evening as a jazz guitarist played softly in the corner. There were approximately 65 people coming and going throughout the night. Ann, James’ agent, introduced us and then we showed my book trailer. I set it up by talking about the making of it and who was in it (including my son, Peter, who composed the fabulous soundtrack!). James and I then discussed our collaboration and we were both asked lots of questions afterwards.

For the first time ever, people wanted photos of me with them holding the book…I've had photos taken before, but this time people were lined up to get one! It was so surreal and wonderful at the same time! This was really my favorite of all my book signings/author talks since UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE came out four years ago. I loved all of my appearances, both big and small, but this event was really a dream come true for this indie author!!

The other events were less formal, each about two hours long, with two at the Ideas Hub, and one held at the local library. The last appearance had Vicky Ford, a member of the British Parliament, show up for a signed copy of the book! What an honor!


As well as I know the characters and story in my books, I have learned that I still must prepare. At each book signing event, I have many one-on-one conversations with readers, as well as a question and answer session at the end of my talk. I get asked questions about my book, but also about writing in general, and most of the time some personal questions as well. I've been caught off guard a couple of times!

The last one was recently when I was in Chelmsford and I was asked by a woman who my favorite English author was. I couldn’t think of one. How awful was that! Here I was in England and I couldn’t think of a single English author. It turned out that she was an English teacher and I lost a sale because I was not prepared.
Another time, when I was doing a book talk to a book club about UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE, my memoir about my Mom’s journey through Alzheimer’s, a lady asked me a question about a character in the book named Edith. In UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE, Edith was the name I gave my grandmother. But Edith is not her real name. Since this was one of my initial book talks, I was nervous and couldn’t for the life of me remember who Edith was! My grandmother’s real name is Edna… and I purposefully chose her fictitious name to start with the same letter so it would be easy to remember. However it had been quite a while since I had reread my book, and I should have reviewed all my characters names and situations. Once again, I was caught off guard. I should have prepared better.

(Editor's note: I agree with Marcee here! This can happen to anyone. At a busy appearance where you already might be nervous, the synapses aren't always firing at 100% capacity. I bet Marcee can name ten English authors now! But just in case, try to learn a little bit about the areas you're visiting - historical events, prominent citizens, and local writers in particular. People are proud of local talent - big or small - and you'll feel more confident if you've done a little research.)


When I'm asked to do a reading I've learned to practice reading the section out loud. I have a very wise writer friend that once told me this. And she is so right. While I am not an actor, I have found that it is equally important to portray the emotion you intend for the reading to express. You may feel silly sitting in your house, reading your book, aloud…over and over, but it is extremely important.

3) 'PERFORM!' 

It's important to be animated and to walk around in the front of the room while you're talking, if at all possible. I use my hands a lot when I talk and I think that keeps the audience engaged and a little bit entertained. I always try to keep my ‘talks’ light.

At one of my most recent book talks in North Carolina, I did a reading with my husband. He was Andrew - the love interest of Sandy - I was Sandy. It was a light-hearted funny chapter in ALWAYS THADDEUS. My husband joked with the audience beforehand, saying that they would have to squint their eyes to imagine that he was the handsome, debonair, younger Andrew. Doing this particular reading was fun and the audience loved it. So, my advice here is to pick at least one reading that can be light and get your audience laughing and having fun.

(Editor's note: Absolutely! Unless you're a professor sharing your new textbook with a lecture hall of grad students, remember that most people who go to a reading want to be entertained. Charles Dickens' readings were famously standing room only. He was very involved in all aspects of London theater at the time, and more than a passable actor, so he was able to act out the scenes with much aplomb. His appearance fees made up a good deal of his income. As Marcee says, Have fun! Because if you're having fun, everyone else will, too.


When doing my book talks on UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE, I found the audience loved to hear bits of information or story that was not included in the book. They somehow feel that they've gotten a “glimpse behind the curtain” of the characters' lives and of some hidden information that isn't shared with the general public. I usually start this part of my talk with a phrase like, “I have to tell you something that is not in the book.” This always piques their interest.

Trailer: Always Thaddeus Trailer
Twitter: @marceecorn
James' website:
James' Twitter: @jmackenzieart
The shop:


I do have a little bit of advice for book touring, especially for overseas travel…

-Arrive a few days ahead of the first appearance so you can catch up with the different time zone.

-Carry a few comfortable outfits that are interchangeable.

-Dress comfortably and if possible keep the higher heels at home in your closet. With five days of book signings events, I was on my feet a lot and the new boots with the high heels that I had recently bought, just about killed me.

-Make sure you check currency and know what the exchange rate is on that day, so you can ask the correct amount for your book.

-Have a way to take credit cards…we found out that the square (which I use in the US) does not work in a foreign country. We worked it out once we were there, but it was rather worrying for a bit. Here we had traveled all this way to do a book signing and for a short time we thought that we might not be able to take cards, and in turn sell books. Thank goodness it all worked out!

-Whatever you do, bring a power converter so all your electrical devices can be charged. There is nothing worse than running out of battery on day one of a five -day tour!

- I had my books printed by my publisher in the country that I was visiting to avoid expensive shipping costs. And remember, any books you have left will have to be shipped home.

- Prepare to give away a lot of books. I gave ALWAYS THADDEUS to the event coordinators and all the volunteers who served food and helped set up. A small way for the author to say, thank you to everyone that helped make the event perfect. They were very appreciative and I think felt special.

-Traveling to a book signing can be expensive, but it can also be written off as an expense…so keep all receipts for food, lodging, gas, travel, etc…

-The most important advice I can give…Have fun!! Meet all of your readers! Engage with them. I am a touchy person so one thing that works for me is to touch their arm as I talk with them. It makes me seem approachable and people seem to like the slight contact. Thank them for coming and smile a lot…and I mean a lot.

 After all the hard work of writing, editing, and then finally publishing your work, book signings and author talk events are, after all, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the author. Have fun and enjoy yourself. This is your chance to be in the spotlight and more importantly, be able meet and talk with those who love your book!


Thanks so much for giving us this glimpse into successful book launch appearances, Marcee! We know you're hard at work on the sequel to ALWAYS THADDEUS and we can't wait to read it! Good luck and happy writing! Good luck to you, too, James!

By the way, if you have any more questions for Marcee or James, all the contact info is below. Marcee also happens to run a wonderful antiques shop in her hometown of Banner Elk, North Carolina, called The Twisted Twig Antiques. When this busy author isn't writing or making appearances, you can usually find her there! If you're ever in the area, stop in for a chat! Thanks again, Marcee!

Trailer: Always Thaddeus Trailer
Twitter: @marceecorn
James' website:
James' Twitter: @jmackenzieart
The shop:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

September Update!

I've just finished a polished draft of a novel I've wanted to write for years. It's a thriller with multiple POVs that deals with betrayal, murder and infidelity. I was absolutely obsessed with writing this book!

But I've also been tweaking some screenplays I had tucked away. When I optioned the film rights to my first novel DEVIL MAY CARE recently, I had to deal with a film agent. Even though novel writing is my first love, I really enjoy writing screenplays, so I'm taking advantage of it!

But I've been so busy, my sleep patterns are all screwed up (sometimes I'm writing in the middle of the night!). And often, I'm not even sure what day of the week it is. (Thursday, right? Yeah. Thursday.) But I actually enjoy working on different stories. I personally find it gives me more energy and creativity.

But I have lots of plans for the blog this fall, too, including interviewing some of my writer friends who've had some great success recently.

Marcee Corn, the author of the wonderful memoir UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE and the great new thriller ALWAYS THADDEUS, just came back from England where she was feted at some wonderful book-signing events. UK artist James Mackenzie's painting graces the cover of ALWAYS THADDEUS and he appeared with an exhibit of his work, too. (There are some author links below!)

Always Thaddeus

Annelisa Christensen won the Readers' Favorite bronze award for her incredible historical novel THE POPISH MIDWIFE. She'll be traveling to Miami in November to claim her prize and schmooze with all kinds of agents, editors and writers at the Miami Book Fair. So exciting!! Huge congrats, Annelisa!
The Popish Midwife

Theresa Snyder, the prolific author of more than twenty great books, in all genres from memoir to fantasy, has also recently signed an agreement with an L.A. production company to produce an animated film of her acclaimed series, THE FARLOFT CHRONICLES. Farloft is one special dragon and he's gained the most incredible fans over the years. It seems he's about to stretch his wings to reach an even wider audience - on the screen! Big congrats to Theresa, too!
James and the Dragon

I've got lots of other interviews I want to do as well, with talented indie and traditional authors, like M.J. LaBeff, Kerensa Jennings, Ellie Douglas, Linda Abbott, B. Adrian White and others. I'm also launching my Writer's Coach business very soon. I've helped quite a few authors over the years, both clients and colleagues, and I'm excited to expand this part of my career.

And of course, as always, I'll be writing, writing, writing, too! So if I thought I had a busy summer, it's going to be an even crazier fall! Thanks again for stopping by! Subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter: @SLMcInnis.
Annelisa Christensen's Script Alchemy
Kerensa Jennings'
Ellie Douglas'
Linda Abbott's Ten Days In Paradise
B. Adrian White
James Mackenzie's

Monday, June 5, 2017

BOOK DEAL SECRET #1: Take Responsibility for Your Career

Most of us dream about getting a book deal with a major publishing house. I've had two book deals with Simon & Schuster/Atria and MacMillan/St. Martin's Press, and I was really surprised by how different the reality was from my lifelong fantasies. That's why I've shared the whole process, step by step, in BOOK DEAL SECRETS: How To Succeed With New York Publishers, An Insider's Guide For Authors.

Here's the most important  BOOK DEAL SECRET of all:

#1 Take Responsibility For Your Career!

Before I got my first book deal, I thought the process of getting published would be streamlined and simple. You hand your manuscript over to somebody else and presto! A few months later, you get a launch party and your book is plastered across shelves all over the world. But it doesn’t happen that way. 

Remember from the last post the four stages of a book's life from Selection to Promotion. There are a lot of steps involved in each stage of the process. It takes about eighteen months from signing the contract until your book hits the shelves and there are a lot of other people involved along the way. 

Unfortunately, mistakes can happen!
You might make them. Others might make them. But you can’t afford mistakes, because most new authors don’t sign multi-book deals. This means you’re only going to get one chance to make your first book succeed. 

When it works out, a traditional publisher can do so much for your career. But you have to earn that support first. If your first book doesn’t sell, you can’t expect your publisher – no matter how wonderful and established – to stick with you. This is a sink or swim business. So you have to be strong. You have to be smart.

And you have to know how to swim! 

That’s why it’s so important for every writer to take responsibility for his or her own career. The good old days of lounging around waiting for inspiration to strike, while everyone else does the dirty work, are over – if they ever existed at all!

As authors, we must learn to fend for ourselves. The sooner we embrace that fact, the more easily we can settle into productive routines and not be held hostage by our emotions or unrealistic expectations. 

But this isn’t bad news!

I know from experience you’ll be a more successful writer – and a much happier person – if you take responsibility for your own career.


Thanks for stopping by! Subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter! I'd love to hear from you! @SLMcInnis

Monday, May 29, 2017

The 4 Stages of a Book's Life (Free Excerpt!)

I've had two book deals with some of the biggest publishers on the planet: Simon & Schuster/Atria and MacMillan/St. Martin's press. 'Getting published' was nothing like I dreamed it would be. It's probably not what you're dreaming of either. It'll help so much for you to be prepared. That's why I've written BOOK DEAL SECRETS: How to Succeed With New York Publishers, An Insider's Guide for Authors. It's available on Amazon!

If you're a writer, I'm so excited to get this info to you! It's the book I wish I could've read before I signed my first book deal. It'll also help you decide what's best for you: traditional or independent publishing. Being a hybrid author myself, I can tell you they're two very different experiences. btw if you missed the introduction, here it is!
The Four Stages of a Book's Life

Before I move on to the nitty-gritty of your first book deal, I want to talk about the overall life of any book. Regardless of the type of publisher you work with – Big 5 or boutique – there are four stages every book has to go through. These stages may take longer at some houses, and they often overlap, but they’re all vital to the success of your book.

The four stages are:

1. Selection
2. Revision
3. Publication
4. Promotion

Even self-published authors will have to move through these same four stages. The big difference is that as an indie writer, Selection is not about a publisher choosing your book, but your decision what to write about in the first place.

In both cases, Revision refers to editing, one of the most important aspects of creating a great book; Publication also entails the distribution of physical books or e-books; and Promotion includes Marketing and Publicity.

So whether you published with Doubleday in 1917 or are self-publishing with Amazon/KDP in 2017, your book must pass through these four stages. 

Both of my book deals, several years apart with two separate houses, were surprisingly similar. I don’t believe this is simply because publishers are rooted in the past. I think it has more to do with how long it takes to publish a book properly. It’s a lengthy and complicated task to get right. You’ll have a real advantage if you’re prepared for each step, because none of them are easy, even at a big publisher.

The process is so complex, I’m going to take you through it chronologically. I think it’s the easiest way to prepare you for the incredible adventure you’re about to go on. It will also help you ‘visualize’ exactly what it’s like to get a book deal.

You’ve probably heard of the effectiveness of visualization to achieve your goals. From world-class athletes to bestselling self-help gurus, visualizing what you want is a useful tool to materializing your dreams. Even Einstein called imagination the “preview of life’s coming attractions.” So this book will help you feel more confident and in control of the publishing process – rather than lost and confused, as I was most of the time. 

BOOK DEAL SECRETS is chronological, feel free to skip around the chapters. You may be more interested in editing or cover design than submissions or contracting at any given time.

Eventually, however, I’d recommend reading every chapter. A few minutes reviewing the contract process could save you thousands of dollars and help you nab your next book deal. In fact, it could save your whole career.

In the meantime, however, absorb as much as you can. Learn as much as you can. Read each section as many times as you need to. Once you sign that contract, you’re on a real rollercoaster ride and you don’t have any control over it.

A Wild Ride

Even though this is one author’s perspective, I think you’d have a hard time finding a writer who had a wilder ride than I did in the New York publishing world. A lot of great things happened to me – and a lot of terrible things happened to me. So this book will give you a wide spectrum of possible experiences on your book deal. 

However, I’m not going to mention proper names in the book! I want to protect the privacy of the people I worked with as much as I can. I respect – even care a great deal for – all of them. They’re some of the best agents and editors in the business, responsible for some of the biggest hit books of the last twenty years. I was lucky to be able to work with each of them.

And I bet you can ask any of those people and they’d have to agree: “Oh yes, Sheri McInnis … she really did have a wild ride, didn’t she? No wonder she’s writing a book.”


Thanks for checking in! Why not order the complete BOOK DEAL SECRETS today?
Remember, big editors and agents are signing successful independent writers to seven figure book deals! It will help so much if you're prepared! Good luck!

Next time, 'Take Responsibility for Your Career!' ;) Subscribe to the blog to follow along, or check out the e-book now.

Friday, April 21, 2017


I just launched BOOK DEAL SECRETS: How to Succeed With New York Publishers, An Insider's Guide For Authors. I'm so excited about this release! Having had two book deals, I know it's going to be an invaluable resource for any writer, whether you want to go traditional, self-publish - or can't decide! 

Here' a sneak peek at the Introduction ...

If you're reading this book, you belong to a special club. You want to be a published author.

It's not a small club. According to the New York Times, 81% of Americans want to write a book. Only 1% actually get published, and an even smaller number of writers work with one of the so-called 'Big 5' houses: Simon & Schuster, MacMillan, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Hachette Book Group.

I was one of those lucky few. I've had book deals with two of the biggest publishers on the planet. I've gone on book tours, sold my film rights, and been interviewed on radio, TV and in print. I've also worked with some of the most successful agents and editors in the business, including those responsible for hits like Sex and the City, The Nanny Diaries, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

A lot of people think that's pretty cool. But 'getting published' was all I ever focused on. I never saw beyond that goal. I thought all - or at least most - of my problems would go away when I got a book deal. But there was just as much hard work waiting for me after I signed that contract as there was writing the book in the first place.

Unfortunately, editors, agents and their assistants don't have time to walk you through every step of the complicated process of turning your manuscript into a book. Getting published is a long, complex process full of surprising responsibilities for new authors, and nobody hands you a how-to guide after you sign the deal. Maybe that's why only 50% of us go on to write a second book.

More than likely, however, these unlucky authors didn't have a choice. Because if your first book fails, you'll become 'tainted' - as my last agent called it - and most publishers will be leery to take a chance on you again. This is why it's so important to make your first book succeed.

That's where BOOK DEAL SECRETS comes in. It's the quintessential 'guidebook' to the publishing business, as seen through the eyes of an author who's been through the process twice. It's the book I wish I could've read before I signed my first contract. After you finish it, you'll be prepared for every step of working with a publishing house - big or small - and you'll know how to avoid the mistakes I made.

Almost as important, BOOK DEAL SECRETS will help you decide whether or not you want to work with a publisher in the first place. Because when other authors learn I've been traditionally published, the one thing I hear most often is that they're on the fence.

Should they pursue a traditional book deal, query an agent, try to find a publisher?

Or should they self-publish instead?

I understand their confusion. The ease of self-publishing has changed the literary landscape more than any other invention since the printing press. I'm self-publishing titles myself now, officially becoming a 'hybrid author.' Ironically, however, this new technology has actually made things more confusing for writers, because for the first time in history, we have a legitimate option for releasing our books.

One way or another, if you're serious about getting published, you have to make the most of every opportunity you have. Remember, we only hear about the success stories. How J.K. Rowling was rejected by nine publishing houses before hitting it big. How Stephen King tossed Carrie in the trash before his wife fished it out, helping it become his first bestseller. Or recently, how Paula Hawkins rocked the world when an idea occurred to her while commuting to work. Before long, The Girl on the Train was one of the bestselling novels of recent years - not to mention a hit movie.

These success stories are rare, but they're also true. Every year, somebody, somewhere, writes a book that the world loves so much, it changes the author's life forever. Book tours, talk shows, movie deals, financial success, bestseller lists, the whole fantasy we all dream about.
Chances are, that book will be released by one of the Big 5 publishers, one of their many imprints, or by some other established publishing house. So there's no question that at least one author's dream is going to come true this year.

The only question is ... will that author be you? 

To read more: Get BOOK DEAL SECRETS!

"BOOK DEAL SECRETS is a goldmine of information regarding the joys and pitfalls of traditional publishing. Ms. McInnis gives the reader rare insights into navigating this often challenging industry. A must for those considering looking for, and working with, a publisher."
Theresa Snyder
#1 Amazon Bestselling Author

Order BOOK DEAL SECRETS Free on KindleUnlimited! $2.99 special launch price!

Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear from you! Follow me on Twitter @SLMcInnis, leave a comment, or contact me through sherimcinnisbooks.

Good luck! And Happy Writing!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Top 5 Misconceptions About Literary Agents

I've had two book deals with 'Big 5' publishers and I had a lot of unrealistic expectations about what 'getting published' was like. I'm actually launching BOOK DEAL SECRETS: How To Succeed With New York Publishers, An Insider's Guide For Authors which will take you through the process step by step. I've had so much great response to my blog posts about traditional publishers, I've beefed them up for a book. Not only will BOOK DEAL SECRETS prepare you for dealing with a publishing house, if you're on the fence about whether to go traditional or self-publish instead, it will definitely help you decide what's best for you. (More details below btw!)

As a 'hybrid author' - both indie and traditional - I've noticed a lot of misconceptions out there about getting published. Some of them have to do with literary agents. I had a different agent for each of my book deals so I've had a lot of experience dealing with them. It's a tricky, but vital relationship, so it's good to know what to expect.

MISCONCEPTION #1: Agents will call you just to check up on you.
Or to hold your hand, encourage you or tell you what a great writer you are. I know as authors we all want this and need this - and I always suspected this was how the author/agent relationship worked. But good agents are much too busy to stroke your ego all the time. You'll get some back-patting when an agent takes you on. After all, they're representing you. Obviously, they love you - and your manuscript! But after the honeymoon is over, a good agent is always on the phone making deals. Or vetting contracts. Or fielding queries. They don't have time to be your cheerleader.
In fact, I think one of an agent's prime skills is the 'poker voice.' You can't really tell what they're thinking when they talk to you. It's all about managing expectations. Every good agent - everyone in the business in fact, myself included - has seen a sure-fire hit sink without a trace and a supposed dud race to the top of the charts. It can be a heartbreaking business. A good agent gains nothing by trying to build up your ego. They'd rather have you humble and hardworking than overconfident and arrogant. So don't expect to be coddled! It's a professional relationship first.

MISCONCEPTION #2: You pay your agent.
Nope! It's the other way around! The publisher actually sends all your money to the agency first. Then your agent takes his or her standard 15% and cuts you a check for the remaining amount. I guess it's easier for them to do that than chase you around town for their piece of the pie!

MISCONCEPTION #3: Agents only care about your Work In Progress.
Good agents will actually care just as much - maybe more! - about your next book too. Or 'Next Work' as it's called in your contract. Everyone in the business wants to work with a career writer, publishers and editors included. That means someone who can write about a book a year. So make sure you've got some ideas - even a good start - on your Next Work too.
Don't let a day go by when you're not writing. Okay, you can take a weekend! But the prolific James Patterson never takes a day off and Stephen King only allows himself one day off a week. Much longer than that and he says he loses the flow of the story. So if you want to have a successful, long-term career as a writer, you'll always be thinking of your next book too. Very few first-time authors get  multi-book contracts, so your agent will want to close a deal on your Next Work asap.

MISCONCEPTION #4: Agents can't understand publishing agreements.
I'm reading more and more experts say that you should always hire a lawyer to vet your contract because agents don't understand them. I don't buy it! Yes, publishing agreements are long and complex and they're getting worse every year. But negotiating contracts is an agent's job! Of course a good agent can understand them.

Now literary agents don't specialize in film options, that' true. So a reputable agent won't try to negotiate your film deal or even all of your translation rights. They'll have reliable co-agents to do that.
But when it comes to your main publishing agreement, any good agent will know how to navigate the legalese. And they will also have your back! After all, they'll be earning 15% of every dollar your book makes, so they don't want you getting cheated by the publisher either. (A reputable publisher won't try to cheat you in the first place!) So go over the contract yourself. It's not impossible. Film deals are much worse! If you have questions, discuss them with your agent. If he or she seems inexperienced or doesn't clarify things for you, then feel free to hire a literary lawyer to vet the document.

btw new author contracts are very standard anyway. There's not much you can change about them. Both of mine from two different publishers were almost identical in terms of content. So if you've got a reputable agent and publisher, trust them and sign your contract - or you risk having the offer withdrawn. If you have questions that nobody can answer to your satisfaction, of course hire a lawyer to cover your butt. Either that, or find a new agent and publisher! (There's a lot more to cover about contracts in the book btw!)

MISCONCEPTION #5: Your agent will read your manuscript while you sit there.
I love these scenes in movies or on TV: where an agent (or editor) reads a whole manuscript in his or her office while the author sits there waiting for the feedback. This particular fantasy fueled me much of my life from watching movies like Romancing the Stone where Joan Wilder's agent read her latest novel with Joan waiting patiently for the feedback, staring out the window at Manhattan's skyline.  Most recently, it happened to Noel Solloway in HBO's The Affair. Didn't Misery have a similar scene too? With James Caan as author and Lauren Bacall as agent?
At any rate, reading a manuscript is not like scanning a script or a play. If you've ever printed off an average manuscript (90,000-100,000 words in the traditional publishing world), you know they're around 400 pages long. Unless there's an urgent deadline, most agents (and editors) are too busy on the phone during the day to read a whole book thoroughly - and they certainly don't want to do it while you're around to pester them.

This is how it will work with your agent because this is always how it worked with both of mine. You'll have emailed your manuscript as an attachment. If you're submitting it for the first time after an agent has solicited it, you may have a bit of a wait on your hands. The agent will read it in their preferred format, either digitally or as a hard copy. Every good agent is going to have 'notes' for you. These notes may be official and in writing, particularly if you're not working together yet. But once an agent has signed you on, you'll probably get recommended changes over the phone. 
One way or another, the chances that you're in the office while your agent reads your manuscript are incredibly slim. So instead imagine your agent poring through your manuscript at home or in the office after everyone has gone home. Imagine them jotting wonderful comments in the margins, laughing, crying and reading long into the night because they couldn't put your brilliant book down. Fantasize that they'll call you first thing in the morning to tell you that you nailed it and that you've got a seven-figure "offer" from (insert dream publisher here). Because if you're going to fantasize - and as writers we should! - might as well get the details right.

I'm really excited about BOOK DEAL SECRETS: How To Succeed With New York Publishers, An Insider's Guide For Authors! Subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter @SLMcInnis and I'll keep you posted on it! I'm busy editing, but it'll be out very soon! Thanks for stopping by!