Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Agents Becoming Epublishers

This has probably been beaten to death by everyone around me, so I hesitated to post this, but I feel like I need to get this out. So here it is.

I don't think it's a conflict of interest for an agent to epublish their clients. There. I said it. (Please don't hit me with rotten tomatoes.) I'd like to address some of the arguments I'm seeing.

Agents should be representing the author. If they're publishing the author, who is representing them? - Okay, first of all, the reason we all want to get an agent is because the large publishing houses won't look at your book if you don't have an agent. They're the go-between. They get to read all the slush, find the books they like, and submit them to the large publishing houses. If you don't care about being published in a large house, you can probably submit your book to some smaller publishers all on your own. In fact, I know quite a few authors who have been published without an agent. I don't see anyone up in arms over what the small publishers are doing. They are doing something for the author that they don't want to do for themselves, and that is set up their own publishing company.

That's right, authors. You can set up your own print publishing company and do it all yourself. It's much easier now than it was 30 years ago. But how many authors want to go through that work and expense? A lot of them don't. So they sign with a small press, without an agent, and the press does the work. And guess what, the small press takes a cut of the profit.

But what if an agent selfishly tells you to publish with them instead of someone else? What if there's a deal on the table and they don't even tell you about it? - If you believe your agent is honest and trustworthy, why would starting up an epublishing company change that? And if you don't believe your agent is honest and trustworthy, why did you sign with them in the first place? To me, this comes down to checking with places like preditors and editors to make sure you're signing with someone reputable.

But agents know nothing about publishing. - Bull. How in the world can someone work as a literary agent and not know anything about publishing? Admit it, agents know something about publishing. Do they know everything? Of course not. But I don't know a single indie author who went into self-publishing knowing everything. There is a learning curve, and we're all on it. In fact, I'd guess that the average agent is better equipped to self-publish than most of the indie authors out there were before they took the plunge.

But the authors can do this themselves, for a lot less than 15% over the life of the book! - Sure, an author can self-publish an ebook, just like we've established that an author can start up their own publishing company and publish paper copies. I know some authors who have done this. However, not every author wants to. It's a lot of work, time and money. Well, guess what. It's a lot of work to self-publish an ebook too. Less work than starting up your own paper publishing company, less money, and less time, but still it's not something all authors want to do. In fact I'd venture a guess that some authors don't even have the internet on their computer. Heck, some of them might not even have a computer.

What happens when problems arise? What if your agent isn't being honest with you? - What happens when problems arise with a small publisher? What if they're not being honest with you? What happens when an author has a problem with their agent that isn't epublishing related? Come on, folks. This isn't new. There are problems and issues with all aspects of publishing. This is no different. Be smart. Don't sign anything that you don't understand. If there's a conflict that cannot be resolved with discussions, go get an attorney.

What is an agent going to do for you that you can't do for yourself? - Okay, we know authors can self-publish. We know they can pay for a cover, pay for editing, and pay for formatting. We know they can pay for ads and build a website and market themselves. If an author wants to do all that, they're free to! But some authors don't. And I suspect that having an agent's marketing muscle behind a book would not be a bad thing.

Here's what it all boils down to. If an agent epublishes and the books skyrocket to the top of the charts, I suspect there will be some shifting of opinion on this matter. What indie wouldn't want their book in the top 100 on all the major ebook outlets? If all of the books languish at the bottom of the pool, it's possible some of the authors will be motivated to learn how to self-publish their next book in the hopes of being able to do something different and make that big splash.

In the end, we're all trying to find our way in this new world of publishing. This is my opinion on the matter. Now, don't throw those tomatoes too hard at me, I have sensitive skin.

Vicki

13 comments:

  1. Of all the things I'd be interested in having an e-publisher do, it's the marketing. The cover, the editing, uploading the files . . . I can do that, and if I hit it big, I don't want to be paying 15% forever for a couple of week's worth of work.

    However, if they really can get my book higher on the charts, that is something worth paying for. I's rather have 85% of a big pie, than 100% of a very small one.

    So it would be up to an e-publisher to show me that they can market my book effectively. If they can, and have a good track record, it's something for which I'd sign up.

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  2. From what I have seen with the self published that "made it", there are some commonalities. One is that they have more than one book for sale, another is that it generally takes a year of marketing effort before it takes off.

    The question is: For 15% for the life of an e-book, are they going to spend money and time marketing your work for a year before seeing payoff?

    Or are they going to give it 1-3 months and then let you self market the rest of the time till it takes off and then reap the rewards of your efforts?

    I don't think there is enough information about the success of this type of contract and weather or not it frees up enough time to the authors to be worth it.

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  3. Those are all great points. My agent, who has great integrity, is looking into how she can best serve her clients who want to take the plunge into self-publishing, and as we've talked back and forth, it is definitely marketing that is what we're all interested in.

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  4. I'd like e-publishers to put their money where their mouths are. :) If they really believe in a book, and are confident in their marketing pushes, would any of them guarantee a certain amount of sales? Or be willing to take a percentage of the royalty only if they reach so many sales by a certain date?

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  5. I don't think there is a problem with this at all. What I don't like, or rather think they should change, is that they take royalties for the life of the book. I think they should charge set fees. Although I do see how the cut comes in if they are marketing for year all year long for years to come, however, I'm with SB Jones. I can't see them marketing a novel/author like they should for the long haul.

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  6. Personally, I don't think agents make good publishers -- (which is differnt then saying they shouldn't be because of conflict). Out of all the things I do as a publisher the biggie is marketing and I don't think agents have any particular talent there.

    Theere are "parts" they can do well - for instance I think they can be really good at developmental editing so if you think you suffer in that area it might be worth looking at one. But if what you want is sales...I'd work with a small press who is demonstrating substantial income (not just sales) for their authors.

    That's my 2 cents

    Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

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  7. I totally understand what you're saying, Robin. However, I'm not sure there's something inherent to being an agent that makes them good or not good at marketing. Some agents have blogs with a huge following. Some don't. The same goes for twitter and facebook. If I were thinking of trying to epublish with an agent, I would definitely be researching their online presence. :)

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  8. The above remark, in combo with your larger post, shows such good sense. Thanks for bringing your level head into this discussion.

    And I would never throw rotten tomatoes. Although if all of my currently-green tomatoes set, I would consider tossing you a juicy ripe one for use in a salad.

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  9. Mmm, I'll take it! I love tomatoes in my salad!

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  10. An agent-published backlist book: Loretta Chase's "Captives of the Night." Still only available on Amazon, with no real publishing announcement, and a cover that made people ask if it were a pirated copy. The book is selling *despite* the cover and lack of marketing, because it's Loretta Chase and this title has been oop for a long time. Just think what her sales could be if this book were available across all platforms, had been announced, and had a good cover... And if she's unhappy about any of this, (which I certainly would be in her shoes), she's in the rather difficult place of being unhappy with her agency and having quite a few issues to bring up with them. PLUS still trusting, despite the difficulties, that her agent continues to represent her to the very best of their ability to traditional publishers. Sticky, methinks.

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  11. There seems to be contradiction in some of these posts. If an author wants an agent (or epublisher or anyone else who can for that matter) to help them sell more units, then clearly a royalty model for each party sharing in volume success is the best way forward as a key motivator. Authors who pay for services as they go are really getting taken advantage of in my opinion. An agent or e-publisher who has some skin in the game is going to be a much better partner than one working for a straight fee. The knowledge to effectively use social marketing tools is evolving quickly so the marketing prowess of an epublisher will be their chief asset in the years to come. Writers should write; agents and e-publishers should work to build their careers and personal brands. And unlike what happened to print books, where they got a month or two to prove themselves or off the shelves they came, now with ebooks it will be possible to build sales over time in the expanding world of digital living. A return to a much more sensible way of doing business.

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  12. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.
    EPublishing

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