Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dean's at it again

I love Dean Wesley Smith's jaundiced blog posts looking back over 40 years in publishing.  He's got one up about agents, and maybe if you read it, come back and let's talk about this question: Are agents still essential? Were they ever? If you have decided to go another route, how does it work without an agent? Will agents be useful in the new publishing climate? How?

I was just in a discussion of "how to use IPads in a writing center," and I thought, "We're trying to come up with a purpose for the hardware!" So tell me if you think delineating "roles of agents in the new publishing climate" is sort of like trying to invent a purpose that isn't really there-- to help agents out, not expecting agents to help writers. I'm wary of that, because as Dean points out, the 90s and later, the industry kind of shifted in order to create roles for agents. Many writers were enriched that way, yes, but many never got past the door too.

Anyway, read the post (and comments-- Laura Resnick's is intriguing) and maybe tell what you're doing, how you've dealt with agents in the past, whether you're looking for or using an agent for your NYC-submissions, and whether if you're going direct or small publishing, whether you're using an agent, etc.



Livia said...

I'm intrigued to see this, because Theresa wrote a blog post that was pretty critical of Dean's point of view a while back.

Have your views changed on the matter?

Jenny said...

His "History" of agenting is about as accurate as a Soviet era history of Russia.

Agents have been playing a major role in selling novels since the late 19th century and certainly throughout the 20th. Maybe not in his genre, or romance--when we are talking about books with tiny advances. But authors who got the kind of advances most newbies are hoping for have always gotten them through agented deals.

alicia said...

Livia, I don't think my opinion on agents have changed much, but my opinion is based on my own (mostly negative) experience, not on empirical fact.

Theresa is kinder and more compassionate than I am... plus the landscape has changed drastically in two years.

Jenny, well, yes, most big deals are agented... but probably more common are deals where the agent hasn't changed much. But, as I said, my experience (like Dean's and Laura's) with agents has mostly been negative, so I'm not really objective. A good agent can make a writer (well, one writer initialed JKR) a billionaire... a bad agent, however...

When I started out (in the 90s), romance at least didn't have many agents. But as soon as there was real money involved....


Edittorrent said...

Livia, my views have not changed, but I don't think Dean wrote the post referenced in my 2009 post on this subject. To be honest, I can't remember who wrote it, but I don't think it was him.

If I have time tomorrow, I'll read the current post Alicia linked and let you know if it changes my mind about anything.


Wes said...

Good morning,

I have NO credentials for evaluating this editorial, because I have no significant experience with agents and none with publishers. But lack of experience has never stopped me from formalizing my ignorance by posting on this blog.

Despite not knowing the business of agents, I do know sales, and aren't agents sales people?

I hypothesize that agents provide a value-added service similar to that of high-level sales people who sell to C-Level executives. One of their valuable attributes is their "book". No, not the MS they are trying to peddle, but a list of contacts in publishing and what the contacts are looking for. Agents do a lot of leg-work for editors by sifting thru MSs, and more importantly, they bypass the gatekeeper; you know, the receptionist or assistant who's job is to deny appointments. From my limited experience with agents, namely several exchanges with an agent who has an author who was a finalist for a Pulitzer last year, she seemed to be taking on part of the role of an editor. She told me certain parts needed to be rewritten, and if I did that well to contact her again. Also a good agent probably knows the market well and has skills in selling and negotiating contracts. So, in my naive mind, an agent has: 1. contacts, 2. knows what the contacts are looking for, 3. gets around the gatekeeper, 4. assumes some editing that editors offload to agents, 5. separates your MS from the sludge pile, and 6. negotiates a favorable contract for you.........and for HER.

Now, as for publishers, WTF are they doing???? Do they not employ editors or someone for minor editing? Editors would be the last people I'd lay off. Like most, if not all of us, I read every day. (I should spend more time writing.) I just fnished LIONS OF THE WEST, the follow-up by the author of a best-selling biography of Daniel Boone, BOONE. BOONE was great, but LIONS OF THE WEST needs some editing. Sentences in places are convoluted, and at times, I had to reread paras to determine who did what to whom. How much did the publisher save by not doing some minor editing compared to the cost of printing, distribution, and returns? Probably not much.

One last comment about agents. What is going to separate your MS from the others in the sludge pile? Probably an agent who can get past the gatekeeper.

But WTF do I know?

j.a. kazimer said...

Interesting. I have an agent, and yet, I sold my debut novel to a big 6 publisher at a conference. My agent had nothing to do with the sale until it came time to do the deal, and then I was never as gald to have an agent. So while in a perfect world agents would be unneeded, today's writer is smart to work with someone firmiliar with contracts.

Edittorrent said...

Okay, I just read his post, and I don't think it really changes anything imo. There were always paths around agents -- indie publishing is more like a path around traditional distribution, and it does affect the gatekeepers, but probably not in the way he means. Editors still use gatekeepers. They've just added a new one to the list.

Authors don't have a newfound right to ignore submissions guidelines. "Paths around agents" doesn't equate to "and therefore I can send my manuscript to any editor I choose at the time and manner of my choosing and expect good things to result from that." There are good, professional ways to do things, some of which I articulated back in that 2009 post. If you want to work with a traditional publisher, then you have to honor their methods. Indie publishing gives you new options for publication, but that's about it. Be careful about buying into hype about direct publishing.

And I think that's all I intend to say about that.