Monday, July 25, 2011

Agents and direct publishing?

There's a discussion (h/t Bethany!) in the comments at the Book Ends (Agency) blog, about what role if any an agent has with direct publishing.  What do you all think?  Do you think an agent can help, and if so, how much do you think an agent's participation is worth? (They mostly get 15% when they make a deal for you with a traditional publisher.)



green_knight said...

This - 'Beyond the Page Publishing' is a publisher. Not an advance-paying publisher, but a publisher: someone who wants a share of the profits and who invites submissions from writers and other agents. How much of the risk they will carry and what they offer in return (and in comparison with other publishers and self-publishing) is something authors must research... but this is a publisher. And when an agent is also a publisher, or working closely with a publisher, there is a conflict of interest: suddenly the agent no longer has an overwhelming interest to sell your book to a publisher and negotiate a contract because they have another way of making money off you.

One of the things I worry about is that this is opening the door wide to scammers, because when reputable agents will tell you that the work is not commercial but they'll help you to publish it, it will be much harder to identify the scammers who are not interested in negotiating publishing deals but instead seek to make money off writers. It's a slippery slope; the only safe spot is well away from it.

I don't want my agent to be my publisher or my publisher to be my agent.

Laura K. Curtis said...

As far as I am concerned, what an agent's participation/help is worth depends on how much she does. There are things I don't want to do and I am more than happy to pay someone else do them for me.

Much of the controversy over at BookEnds seems to focus on 3 things:

1) How can the agent be fair if they have a publishing house themselves? Why would they bother to aggressively sell great books to traditional, NY houses, when they'd make more $$ convincing the author to publish with their own company? And who's going to mediate on behalf of the author if s/he gets into a dispute with the publishing company run by his/her agent?

2) Why should you give an agent 15% in perpetuity if they're just helping you with a one-shot deal?

3) What, precisely, is the "profit sharing deal" that the new publishing house will have with authors?

As far as I am concerned, the easiest of those to answer is the second one. A good agent doesn't help you with a "one shot deal." I've had a bad agent and now I have a good agent and the difference is...well, I can't even describe it. Full disclosure: my good agent is Jessica Faust, and I absolutely trust her. My less competent, less straightforward agent ALSO became associated with a digital publishing company and my feelings were completely different.

You don't give your agent 15% of your profits forever off a traditionally negotiated book b/c of that original negotiation, either. Or at least, I hope you don't. You do it because you're working on a relationship with that agent where the two of you will be working together to advance your career. So to me, that's an easy one. If you trust the person to help guide you in your career and to keep an eye on things for you, you give them money on a regular basis.

On number 3, I suspect each book may be negotiated separately. I don't know that for certain, but the fact that they haven't published an outline indicates for me that there's room for decision-making there depending on how much the author wants to do vs. how much they want the publisher to do. Of course, I could be totally wrong.

Number 1 is a matter of trust. IMHO, authors all too often jump at the first offer that comes along without doing any research. This has been true for YEARS. There are a bunch of small presses, for example, that have ghastly terms. They're vanity presses in disguise. But authors get caught up with them all the same.

E-publishing, whether it's run by an independent ePub house, an agent-associated ePub house or Amazon as publisher and distributor, will have pros and cons, contracts and clauses. It's more important than ever for authors to do their research and figure out what will--and won't--work for them.

And in order to do that, you'll probably have to find someone you trust to help you along the way.

Ian said...

I'm uncomfortable with the notion of agent-as-publisher. As a relatively recent (within 6 months) explorer of self-publishing ebooks (plug: All my short stories and novels are free on Smashwords through July 31:, I can say that it is neither difficult nor time-consuming to produce your own ebooks. To pay an agent 15% for the life of the work to do something you can do yourself in a few hours' time (or pay someone else to do with a flat fee) is ridonculous.

I see agents being useful in one circumstance, and that is when dealing with publishers that will not deal directly with authors (which generally means the Big Six). If you're willing to work with smaller publishers, they're generally willing to work with you directly (or with your IP attorney if you're uncomfortable with contracts yourself).

There is far too much opportunity for abuse when it comes to agent-as-publisher businesses.

Evangeline Holland said...

Laura, I was under the impression that the agent only got 15% off your advances (and 20% off foreign rights and media sales), not any royalties accrued once your books earned out. I could be wrong, but I've never heard of the commission structure working in the manner you've mentioned.

Edittorrent said...

Oh, Evangeline, yes, they most certainly do get 15% of royalties. Advances are really just royalties that are paid up front.


Evangeline Holland said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Theresa. Now I definitely know what to expect.

Edittorrent said...

If you're publishing it yourself, what benefit will an agent bring?

I've always had a limited view of an agent's job: To sell the book and negotiate the contract. Neither of those is really applicable to putting your own book on Kindle (though if I sold 10K copies and a big publisher comes calling, I might bring an agent in then, if I thought he/she would get me a better deal).

But maybe just as we all are taking on new roles with the new media, maybe agents are too? I keep wondering what AAR says about all these somewhat conflicting roles, and if AAR is relevant anymore. What say you all?


Jami Gold said...

I think historical romance author Courtney Milan summed up a lot of author's feelings on this matter with her post yesterday. ( In essence, a) agents need to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest, and b) agents need to make this decision with "how to help their authors" in mind (not just help themselves), because authors will not trust them otherwise.

So if any agent out there wants to get into this arena to help themselves survive, they'd better have a bend-over-backward plan to prevent that appearance, and they'd better take a hard, realistic look at what they can offer above and beyond what authors can do themselves.

Edittorrent said...

I really don't see much role for "agents" here. Part of the purpose of direct publishing is to get rid of the middleman, after all. And many agents have spent the last couple decades positioning themselves not as "author reps" but "industry insiders," and that role is pretty irrelevant if the industry slides away.

That doesn't mean that people who have been called "agents" up to this time might start working with authors in a different capacity. In Hollywood, for example, there's another "rep" called "a manager" who doesn't do the agenting work but has many duties for actors and comedians and directors who need career and personal help (like planning tours, doing PR, making promotional items) which an agent wouldn't be doing.

Maybe agents, if they want to do the more hands-on no-sales stuff, should change their title to "literary manager" or something.

Just don't call it agenting, cuz it's not.

Thomas Sharkey said...

Who needs an agent?

I self-publish on Amazon, it's a lousy place to sell your e-books, they don't have an author list like smashwords. As for SW, they make high demands on an author. They demand he/she provides a book cover with the title and author name and they insist the e-book must have an ISBN.
Unlike a paper pook, an e-book has absolutely no value to the "owner", he/she can't re-sell it, or lend it out without the authors permission. They sell as cheap as 0.99 cents or pence (on Amazon 2.99).
I see that Bookrix, one of those beginner author "slush-piles" is plannining to sell e-books in the not-too distant future.
Amazon and Smashwords have their own slush-piles too, thanks to - "print your own book" (without cost).
So, I'm a mediocre author, should I try my lot with Bookrix?
What do you guys think?