books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Literary Agents: An Endangered Species?

Publishing keeps zooming into the future:

  • This week, J.K. Rowling announced she’s self-publishing the Harry Potter ebooks, and as one agent tweeted “why [does] she need a publisher anymore? I predict Pottermore becomes her sole publisher.”
  • On the same day, Publishers Lunch announced yet another agent, Sarah Dickman, is leaving agenting for the greener pastures of social media, following the parade led by former agents Nathan Bransford and Colleen Lindsay.  
  • Also this week, John Locke became the first million-selling self-published Kindle author.
  • Every day brings more reports of self-pubbed authors making good money without the help of agents or publishers.
  • Self-published e-book authors are being approached by foreign rights buyers and film companies (and making lucrative, 100% agent-free deals.)
  • Brick-and-mortar bookstores are heading for extinction faster than anybody predicted. This means the agent/big-corporate-publisher/big-corporate-store paradigm is also slouching off to dodoland.
  • The world’s biggest online bookstore is also becoming a major publisher. Not only is Amazon’s Kindle Direct the biggest producer of ebooks, but they’ll soon be competing directly with traditional publishers when they launch their romance line, Montlake, in September. Sci-fi, mystery, and thriller imprints will follow. Amazon-the-publisher makes offers directly to its own top-selling self-pubbed ebook authors. No agent-gatekeeper required.
  • For a while now, the six big publishing houses have been paying smaller and smaller advances for fewer and fewer titles. This is the era of the predatory multinational corporation and the Big Six—mostly European-owned—are not exceptions. Many no longer trust an agent’s judgment as to whether a book is good or not—and don’t care. Nothing matters but sales numbers. Note: there's more on this at Eric's Pimp my Novel blog today (Monday, June 27) in a blogpost titled "the Vanishing Advance."


So is the Literary Agent about to become extinct?

Some of us might do some secret gloating at the thought. If you’ve spent decades knocking on agents’ doors, only to be told your work is too quirky/unremarkable, dark/light, similar/different, and “not right for us at this time,” it’s kind of nice to get your brain around this wonderful new fact: you don’t need an agent to be a successful writer any more.

But most agents aren’t leaving the profession. They’re retrenching, redefining their roles, and trying out innovative concepts: some smart; some not so much.

Here are some of the new tactics:

1) Providing flat fee services for self-publishers: 

  • Marketing: Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada has a side business called Agent Savant.com . For $500 she’ll help you through all the steps of marketing your self-pubbed book. I think this is kind of brilliant. You get the expertise of a literary agent for a flat, upfront fee.
  • E-coding: Another side business some agents are providing is formatting e-books for self-publishing in all the various platforms. Meredith Barnes of Lowenstein Associates offers this service. Nice to hire somebody in the business who knows how it all works. 
Bottom line for authors? Good.
This is win/win if you can afford them.

2) Only taking new clients with proven sales numbers.

  • Closing offices to queries. I recently read that only 1% of new books are by debut authors now, so a lot of agents aren’t bothering to plow through mountains of slush to find authors the big publishers won’t look at anyway.
  • Trolling the Kindle lists and offering representation to top-selling self-pubbers. I talked about this last week, and I’m hearing of more news of it all the time. I expect more agencies to follow this trend.
  • Poaching other agents’ clients. I’ve seen at least one agency that actually posts on their website they only want writers who already have representation. They suggest querying to get a better deal. Maybe 15 minutes could save you 15%, like with that insurance lizard on TV. At least they seem to have the lizard part right.

Bottom line for authors? Bad.
Authors are judged on their ability to market, not their writing. And as for the poaching—would you really want to be represented by somebody that slimy?
  
3) Adding draconian clauses to contracts.

Here’s the problem with the Kindle-trollers. Sometimes the contracts they offer the starry-eyed self-publisher are seriously predatory. Here’s some of the stuff they’re doing:

  • Demanding a percentage not just of your sales but of your COPYRIGHT. This means they will own part of your book for your entire lifetime—and, in the U.S., for 70 years after you die.
  • Making authors sign away rights to characters—so you can never write about those characters again without paying the agent a fee.
  • Adding “In perpetuity” riders: you must pay them even if you move to another agency. (I guess this is supposed to be anti-lizard protection.) This means you’ll pay 30% in agent fees: 15% to this agency, and 15% to the agency that actually sells your books.
  • Making authors sign away a percentage of EVERYTHING THEY’VE EVER WRITTEN OR WILL EVER WRITE. I don’t know if that gives them the right to ferret out your grade-school poems about “What Flag Day Means to Me” and publish them, but it probably does.
  • Demanding that you cease all your self-publishing operations immediately, even books they don’t want to represent.
Always run a contract by a lawyer. Big, well-known agencies can be as guilty of nasty dealings as smaller, obscure ones. There are a lot more horror stories at The Passive Voice and The Business Rusch. If you’re at the point in your career where you’re looking for an agent, they are a must-read.

If an agency won’t negotiate on these clauses, walk away. If this agent wants you, a more ethical one will, too (YES, THERE ARE STILL ETHICAL AGENTS!!) 

Bottom line for authors? Seriously sucky.

4) Becoming publishers

There was much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth earlier this year when the Wylie agency began publishing e-books of their clients’ backlist instead of selling the e-rights to the Big Six. Many people in the industry have called this a conflict of interest and a predatory practice.

Kris Rusch of the Business Rusch Blog is still frantic about it: “If your agent has become an e-publisher, fire that agent now. That agent is not working in your best interest and never will again (if they ever did). Your agent has left the agenting business and has become a publisher, so your agent now has a conflict of interest.”

And according to agent Meredith Barnes, some agencies are indeed charging way too much for the service—especially when they pay themselves 15% to “represent” the client to themselves as “publishers” who get another hefty cut—often over 50%.

But the Association of Author’s Agents refused to condemn it, saying: “There are certain activities that our code of conduct explicitly prohibits and the practice of agencies offering their authors a way to market their books directly to the reader is not one of them.”

The Andrea Brown Agency made headlines this week when they joined in the epublishing fray. But Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde, who is repped by Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown, couldn’t be happier. CRH has a number of titles that have not sold to US publishers, although they sell well in the UK and other foreign markets. If the Big Six had their way, none of these books would ever be available to the majority of U.S. readers.

But as of this week, Second Hand Heart is now available on Kindle for $2.99, published by the Andrea Brown Agency.

And Catherine is NOT paying the agency the usual 15%. Just a very reasonable publisher’s fee—less than most of us would pay if we got the books coded and designed ourselves.

Bottom line for authors?: Depends entirely on the ethics of the agency.

Personally, do I still want an agent? I sure do. I think it’s worth 15% of possible earnings to have a savvy advocate in my corner.

But are all agents savvy advocates these days? Nope. Especially the ones who are running scared or trying to cling to 20th century ways.

This means we have to screen agents as carefully as they screen us.

For more on the role of agents in the 21st century, read agent Kristin Nelson blogpost on the subject. She warns writers not to sign “in perpetuity” agreements and cautions against other unethical practices.

But in this new publishing world, writers don’t need agents anywhere near as much as agents need writers. Be smart and protect yourself.

And remember there are still ways to be traditionally published without an agent. Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote a great blog series on this a couple of weeks ago. She’s very happy with a small publisher, as are many successful authors I know.

This just in: On Monday, June 27, the Dystel and Goderich agency announced its foray into the digital world: they will represent their clients who want to e-publish some of their titles. Again this is a slightly slippery slope, because some may accuse them of pushing clients into self-publishing. But they will walk that line by leaving the decisions up to the client. Here's what they said--

"What we are going to do is to facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work.  We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid.  In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do."

What about you, fellow scriveners? Are you still hoping to land that agent? Self-publish? Find a cozy small press to call home? Have you heard any horror stories of predatory agents and nasty contracts?

63 comments:

  1. Wow...this is scary business. I want an agent to have someone in my corner. A partner to help me grow as a writer with my best interest. But I don't know what that means anymore. I got a lot of catching up to do.

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  2. Excellent post, Anne -- I think you fairly covered all aspects of the issue. It just goes to show how important it is as an author to define one's intentions for one's career, and to thoroughly research whether an agent can assist with or detract from those intentions.

    Also, an agent needs to be part of the team. Authors need to feel comfortable with who they let into their inner circle.

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  3. Thanks for breaking it down, Anne. It really is helpful.

    I still feel like I'm just waiting around to see what's going to happen in the publishing world.

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  4. Great post! Thank you for an informative and fascinating read.

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  5. Great round up of issues. No matter what a writer does, as always, it's important to read and understand the contract and what they are signing away.

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  6. JK Rowling’s announcement will surely be the final wake up call for those still with their heads in the sand over the digital future. In the English-speaking world, at least, the old model is finished.

    Elsewhere the transition looks set to be much slower. Amazon famously launched their Kindle-Germany site earlier this year but it seems it never occurred to them to make the Kindle instructions available in the German language. Elsewhere in Europe e-readers are still pretty rare.

    As the paper market collapses in the English speaking world it may well be the Big 6 and their agency cohorts use their clout in the rest of the world to ride out the transition.

    And it’s there, if anywhere, the old-model agencies still have a role to play.

    But who wants an old-model agency? If your agent can’t move with the times they’ll drag you down with them.

    The Andrea Brown Agency approach seems the best way forward. And it’s great that Catherine’s books are reaching a wider market. But someone ought to remind Catherine’s publisher, whether agent or legacy, that selling an ebook at almost the same price as a paperback (Kindle UK option) just looks like a rip-off. Second Hand Heart on Kindle UK is also twice the price of the Kindle US version. Why?

    I’d love to buy all of Catherine’s books but while I can buy four indie books for the price of one CRH I’m afraid I’ll be sticking with the indies.

    My days of being ripped off by the Big Six are over. The e-pub revolution is benefiting readers as well as writers.

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  7. Great post; so informative. I was amazed to learn some of what you shared. It really makes a writer think. And think. And think!

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  8. Richard Curtis was my grandmothers agent, who is now an epublisher, but articles like this make me want to avoid representation for my books. I can find plenty of savvy advice in blogs like this.

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  9. Informative post. It's been going this way for some time and people still can't get their heads round the fact. Here's hoping that a lot of writers will find a "cozy small press to call home" appealing. But the trend is going to be self-pubbing for quite awhile in the future, and all that implies.

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  10. These days, sorry to say, agents seem very 20th Century to me. The days when your agent was your partner & fought hard for you are mostly long gone. The agent needs the publisher for your deal--and for the next writer's deal. S/he is only going to fight so much because now that advances are stingy, s/he has to think about the next deal after yours & isn't about to risk alienating the publisher.

    The only author an agent is going to go to the mat for is a writer like Nora Roberts or John Grisham.

    As for foreign rights, they are expensive to sell since both the primary agent & the sub-agent take a cut. In addition, the advances are small especially when translation costs are added in & the money tends to dribble in slowly.

    BTW, I'm speaking of fiction here. A good non-fiction author with a track record & a hot subject is in a different category. Altho I even wonder if they might have to take smaller advances these days.

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  11. This post is just a reminder that writing the book is only half the battle... and probably the easier part!

    I deal with contracts a lot, and I would never sign something that I'm not completely okay with. I just hope other writers don't get swept away by the "being published" feeling and forget that a bad publishing deal is one you will regret later.

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  12. E. Arroyo—I’m still holding out some small hope that some agent may be interested in my stuff. But that will probably only come after I can prove I can get good sales in the US. But I write quirky books. Other, more popular genres (esp. YA) are more likely to get an agent.

    Elisa—You’re one of my role models, because you’re a major self-publishing success story—and you did it all without an agent. I’m happy especially because you write the kind of stuff I write. (I write romantic comedies, too, but mine have dead bodies and lurking murderers in them.) Anyway, I’m rooting for big success with your Amazon Encore titles.

    Cynthia—I’m still in wait-and-see mode too.

    Thinkellen—I’m finding it fascinating to watch, too.

    Jan—Yeah, it’s always important to read that fine print.

    Mark—CRH and Andrea Brown have no control over the price of the UK Kindle book, which has been up for a while. The UK paper publisher owns UK e-rights, so they published it, not Andrea Brown.

    Elizabeth—Yup. I’m doing a lot of that thinking myself.

    Christopher—Richard Curtis was one of the first agents to take the agent/publisher route. Some people got really mad. But now they’re getting used to it, I think.

    KarenG—I’ve got to admit that a good small press is looking like the safest place to be these days.

    Ruth—I know there are good agents, and some, like Kristin Nelson and Janet Reid have been warning us about these bad contracts for a while now. But there seem to be fewer of the good guys all the time—probably for the reasons you say: publishers force them to screw their midlisters to pay more to their superstars.

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  13. All things to consider. Seems our world is changing fast. I'm happy with my small publisher, so I doubt the fate of agents will concern me very much. But it will make changes in the industry.

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  14. I'm definitely still seeking an agent (and have MS's out to them), but I also have my eyes wide open to all these changes. Thanks for the heads up on changing agent contracts! I hadn't even thought about that yet!

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  15. Frankly, I'm glad to see the middleman's roll dwindling.

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  16. A very interesting post Anne. #2 is particularly chilling depending on how it plays out. The idea that the effort put into marketing is going to be the most important factor in having or not having a writing career is depressing. I would say that's the biggest reason I would want an agent. It's the whole advocate thing. Plus I'm haven't worked all the kinks out my sales pitch yet:

    Why should I buy your book?

    Because if you don't I'm just going to lurk around your house till you leave, break in and download it onto you Kindle anyway and I don't want to do that because I don't know how to pick locks and that back window looks expensive.

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  17. This was a great read, I retweeted it on Twitter. I have a feeling that the old saying will still prevail through all of this: "If you want to be published, write well."

    I just hope I can be part of the scene when the dust settles!

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  18. This post is why I keep coming back to you every Sunday, Anne. Thanks.

    To answer your question, I am still going traditional and will begin to query my WIP in a few weeks after I get it back from my readers and polish.

    At the same time, before all this craziness started, I have already found two great mystery "indie" pubs I want to send my first mystery to as well. If the rules have changed, then there is nothing stopping us from having the security of an agent and still going our own way with other projects.

    The real talent for these times is remaining calm amid the storm of change.

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  19. Its becoming as dangerous to agent shop as it is to car shop.

    Yes, I still want an agent. But I'm leaning more towards small publishers. The area I doubt I'll ever suceed in is marketing. In order to keep up on all the necessities, I'd have to quit the day job and hope I can navigate all the ins/outs and pitfalls.

    This has been an informative post Anne. I didn't know most of this. And it scares me just thinking about all the sales skills I need to hone in order to think about a writing career.

    Not happy thoughts for me.

    .......dhole

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  20. Right now, I still really need my agent. She not only reads through my contracts and finds those clauses that need to be removed, but she also sends me my tax statements at the end of the year and even is a first reader for me.

    But--I'm still a traditionally published writer with no plans on leaving my gig any time soon...although I'm planning a strictly e-release, myself.

    Came across an interesting article in my Reader the other day: http://tinyurl.com/3pwxd2j . It's a PBS look at the evolving role of the lit agent--suggests they become self-pub "consultants."

    Nice post, Anne!

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  21. Another post I have to bookmark. You are amazing. I especially like the flat-fee service links. Not that I'm going there, however....if I do decide to I don't want to be a flop.

    Yes, I still want an agent. I'm a writer, not a salesman, and the thought of having to be one gives me the creeps.

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  22. I THOUGHT I was dead set on the whole agent & traditional publishing company route, but you and others have provided me with a lot of food for thought lately. If nothing else, my mind is open to other viable possibilities now.

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  23. A fabulous, balanced, and thorough post which I will be saving. Thanks.

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  24. Ah thanks so much for this post. The publishing world is starting to feel more and more tricky as role are redefined and as the industry adapts.

    I will definitely go check out the links you gave.

    Great post.

    :-)

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  25. This is really scary. I guess I joined the party too late! My book doesn't come out until 2013, by which time people won't even have biological eyes to read with anymore - books will simply be downloaded into people's heads. I wish I knew how to keep up with all this; but your post is a brilliant start so thank you.

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  26. I've been fortunate to be with an agent whom I trust. Having her read contracts, provide guidance, and answer my questions has been a real plus. I think whether you decide to go agented or not depends on so many factors. But, clearly, going the unagented route these days is certainly an option. It's an exciting time to be an author.

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  27. Personally, I knew I needed an agent to take my work to the next level. I think these times are both exciting AND scary for authors. Things are changing so fast I can barely absorb one piece of information before it becomes old news. One thing I appreciate about the current publishing climate is CHOICE. Authors now have several routes to choose from. Great post, Anne.

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  28. A great post to read. Thanks for the amazing info. I am still agent searching, although I have approached small publishers. I need someone to help with the nitty-gritty of a contract. Time will tell, the more I read about the industry the more I am considering s/p. Although a NY agent has given me an invitation to submit to her after rejecting a hard to place ms.

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  29. Anne, thanks for putting together a thoughtful post that gives us much to consider.

    But the 8 bulleted points you lead off with worry me in that some are, I think, exaggerated. For example, Sarah Dickman leaving agenting is not a sign of the agent apocalypse, nor is the departure of Nathan Bransford or Colleen Lindsay much of a parade. Lots of agents leave the business, every year, for various reasons.

    I disagree that brick and mortar store decline is a sign that publishers are headed to dodoland. I think brick and mortar stores have their heads up their asses about how to run their businesses. Huge mega stores are not sustainable in this economy. And where's the report that the publishing houses are paying smaller and smaller advances? I'm not saying they aren't, but where is that info coming from, and can we categorically say it's true across genre and author?

    I guess my biggest concern is that most people don't have ereaders--and poor people certainly aren't going to. But what's the plan for the greater world to read? Are we going to just ignore everyone who doesn't have an ereader?

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  30. Elizabeth Barry—If you have some contract experience, you’re way ahead of the game.

    Alex—I think you’ve found the perfect medium with your small press.

    Susan—Forewarned is forearmed. Knowing what to look for is half the batte.

    Ranae—I don’t see how breaking the monopoly of the big 6 can be a bad thing.

    Himbokal—Love the sales pitch. Can I borrow it?

    James—Thanks for the RT. You’re right. Whatever happens, good writing is the key. And learning to write well takes time.

    Fois—Finding an agent who will allow you do use some self- and small-pub options would be ideal, wouldn’t it?

    Donna—Car shopping is probably a good analogy. Kind of scary.

    Elizabeth/Riley—You’ve certainly got the traditional publishing plan working for you. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, right? The link you give is also live below in the paragraph about Andrea Brown. Great article.

    Yvonne—Thanks! Yes, I think the flat fee marketing help is a fabulous idea.

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  31. Anne--you're so knowledgeable about all this stuff, which is hard when it seems to be changing all the time. Thanks for keeping all of us up to date.

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  32. I am just going to have to join in with the chorus of other commenters saying Thank you. I'm very glad I'm reading at all this before I'm ready to publish.

    Like I've heard a few people above state. I'm horrified at the thought of having to market myself. I'm a scientist and creator at the roots of my being. I have a hard enough time with job interviews, let alone trying to market my own book!

    Keep the advice flowing. I'm taking it all in!

    :} Cathryn Leigh

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  33. Susan—We have a lot of options now. That can’t be bad.

    Judith—Thanks!

    Misha—I think the trick is to keep up.

    Steven—We do seem to be in sci-fi land at times.

    Liz—Working with big publishers, you REALLY need an agent, because the big publishing companies can have contracts that are nastier than anything the agencies can dream up

    Julie—I happen to know your agent personally, and I can say unequivocally that you’ve got a hard-working, ethical agent in your corner. Congrats to you and to the new Red Fox Literary.

    Glynis—I’m still submitting to agents, too. An invite to submit is something to go for.

    Sierra—I forget that not everybody reads Publisher’s Lunch or follows as many industry blogs as I do, but all this is very well documented.

    I didn’t say all publishers are headed for extinction: I said the old paradigm of the Big 6/Big Nasty store is crumbling. That’s where bestsellers were made by buying shelf space and midlisters were buried spine-out in the back. Not a good thing for most of us.

    As for the precipitous drop in advances, ask anybody in the business: author, agent, or editor. They’ve dropped like home prices. It’s really, really tough for most agents out there. Agent Meredith Barnes has a great tell-it-like-it-is blog. And Eric at Pimp My Novel has great insider skinny. And if you read Kris Rusch’s blog, you’ll get so much info, you may go on overload, but it’s worth wading through.

    Nina--Thanks!

    Cathryn--I think we have to see our marketing selves as characters we invent: fictional parts we have to play.

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  34. Oohhh Anne, that's a good point.

    *Does some rumagining around her brrain while her charcters quickly get out of her way and look at her strangely*

    I'll have to work on creating that character.

    :} Cathryn Leigh

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  35. The industry is getting into a chaotic scramble, thanks to Amazon and their multi-million dollars ideas. We have yet to see if it's a good thing or not. The ball is on the writers side again.

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  36. Anne,

    There's too much solid-gold info in this post to digest. Thank you for digging it up and helping us make sense of the present scene.

    Here's another tip from the Book of Experience: Once a book is published with Kindle, Smashword, etc., a small publisher is unlikely to give it the time of day. If the book becomes a big seller in ebookland, I suppose it's possible an agent or even a big publisher might come calling. As for small publishers, however, their margins are already so slender that they consider your self-pubbed book "over with." Many of them would just love to school a self-pubbed author on why that is!

    Presently the self-pubbed world is ideal for a lot of commercial fiction, particularly in genres such as thrillers, mysteries, fantasy, etc.. If you write the kind of material that would best be served by the marketing arm of a traditional publishing company, think very carefully about self-pubbing. You might at least want to try snagging a small publisher first before giving up on that option forever.

    And who knows--this might change also.

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  37. Wow, this is amazing, seeing all this information together in one blog post about the sweeping changes in the publishing industry.

    I’d love to have an agent if they were able to address the changes in the industry as they occur, rather than turning only to older models of publishing, e.g. arranging eBook contracts in which the eBooks are overpriced and the author receives a small royalty – ugh, who would want that? Right now, I have some books published by an indie press and others self-published for 99 cents each on Amazon Kindle. Amazing things have happened for me in both worlds. In the indie world, my short stories published in anthologies are being considered for TV shows, through a joint venture between my publisher and several media people including the Executive Producer for THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies. I’ve also been referred by another author to two top Hollywood agents who only accept submissions by referral, they’ve read all my work, and one has invited me to submit all my future work. Pretty exciting. In the meantime, my Kindle books continue to sell on a daily basis, with increasingly more books sold per day. I’m very happy with my decision to try nontraditional methods of publishing. I’m hoping to complete my final rewrite of a science fiction novel within the next few months, and am seriously considering self-publishing it without querying literary agents at all.

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  38. Thank you Anne! I'd love to have an agent, but I'm rather wary of picking a bad one now, and thank you so much for giving me signs to watch out for. Plus, the knowledge that agents aren't essential, and that there are those other agent-turned-ebook-helper types is a great reassurance. Thank you! :)

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  39. The business paradigm has shifted drastically, yet most of the business has no adapted. The only thing between an author and their reader now is a screen. No need for agent, publisher, bookstore, etc. I think they have roles to play, but those roles are changing drastically. Those that adapt will succeed; those that don't will be looking for employment.
    There are also those who are taking advantage of the situation by inserting clauses into contracts that are outrageous.
    Publishing has become the Wild West.

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  40. Cathryn—I think it helps to do that for blogging too. Not that you want to be phony on your blog, but you can adopt a voice that’s like a character voice, instead of all of your own raw self hanging out there.

    Ben—They keep using various earthquake metaphors to describe it, but “chaos” probably says it best. Nobody knows what’s coming next and everybody’s scrambling to hang on. Lots of people worry that if they wait for the dust to settle, they’ll find themselves buried. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s important to be aware.

    Anon—you bring up an important point. Using the ebook as a query can backfire. If you don’t sell big, your book probably won’t ever be traditionally published. It remains to be seen if that’s a bad thing.

    Marilyn—WOW! TV and film producers and Hollywood agents! This is fantastic news for all self-pubbers. Keep us posted. I hope things continue to grow for you!

    Spook—Yeah. The option of being able to hire an agent for a flat fee feels reassuring to me, too. Logical, as well.

    Bob—It really is the Wild West. And if you’re going to be the sheriff, the cattle baron or the punk kid who gets killed in the shoot-out is all up in the air. We just have to go with gut instincts.

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  41. Great post. I am in the process of seeking an agent and am bookmarking this in case I get to the point of signing a contract with someone. Some good heads up info.

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  42. Interesting post, Anne. The publishing world has changed since amazon introduced kindle. Who knows where it will go or end up. I think the agent and the publisher of the future will have to offer marketing and distribution above and beyond what the author can do for himself, or herself.

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  43. Anne - Thanks for such a well-thought out and well-researched post. You're definitely up on industry blogs/news! It's absolutely true that advances have fallen drastically, that the midlist is disappearing, and that many agents are jumping ship to become e-book marketers and packagers. I don't think agents are disappearing completely, though, any more than publishers are disappearing completely. I think they play a valuable role in reviewing contracts and managing subsidiary rights (film and foreign, for example) for traditionally published authors. And we have to remember that Amanda Hocking, who made $2 million self-publishing, is now with a traditional publisher (St. Martin's Press) - so self-publishing isn't the panacea for publishing's woes. There has been so much talk lately about the few success stories of self-published authors (Barry Eisler, Joe Konrath, and John Locke in addition to Amanda Hocking) that we forget that most authors who self-publish make almost nothing at all. They sell 300 copies of their book - mostly to friends and families. Meanwhile, the Big 6 expect a first-time author to sell 20,000-50,000 books before they'll renew their contract.

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  44. Wow - this post has a CRAZY amount of information.

    I have an agent and she's wonderful. The best kind of agents are going to be those who adapt to the changing winds of the industry and continue to make themselves invaluable to their clients. Offer services that writers need and writers will continue paying that 15%. At least I will. My agent takes care of so many things that would squeeze the joy out of writing - like contract negotiations.

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  45. I think that at this point in my career, finding an agent is second to figuring out what path I want to take with my ms. Would an agent be nice to have? Sure, if they are going to give me the same attention they give to their A list clients. Which of course, they can't. So, in the end, I'll work my own strategy, market myself and keep the control and 15% that I earned far more than an agent ever did.

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  46. I have a question about point #1 and flat-fee services for self-publishers. Doesn't this become another form of vanity publishing? You're basically paying an agent who has no real interest in what you wrote to get your book e-published. Why would an agent find this acceptable, and if he/she is putting their reputation behind any kind of book being published won't that eventually reflect badly upon his/her status as an agent? What if he/she is just helping any sort of badly written trash get out their on the market? Nope. Not for me. To me, this seems like a step back from where publishing has been. Agents and publishers need to be held accountable for the work they back. Otherwise, it just becomes a free-for-all for everyone and their dog who wants to be published.

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  47. Wonderful post as usual Anne. Lots to consider concerning contracts. I shall keep it as a good ref and hope to check out the links. Thanks!

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  48. Nikki—I think every writer benefits from the agent query process—it helps you hone your pitch and learn about the business. I think the majority of agents are ethical and more than earn their 15%. Finding a good agent is still the most solid way to a professional career, in my opionion. But we just have to be more wary than we used to.

    Bob—For the past decade or so, publishers have offered less and less marketing and promotion. Agents have taken up some of the slack, but that isn’t really part of their job description—and they have very little control of distribution. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to a time when big publishers give marketing help to more than a handful of authors. We’re on our own these days, whether we self-publish or not.

    Meghan—Thanks. Your own well-researched blog is one of my best sources of publishing information. It’s good to remind people that one of the indie movement’s biggest successes, Amanda Hocking, went over to the Big Six as soon as she got a chance—and Konrath has an agent who has helped him through all his indie success. Very few of them are really doing it single-handedly.

    Katie—Good to hear from the happily represented. I think most of us would like to be in your shoes. Good point about contract negotiations: that’s hard going if you’re not an industry professional. You’ll probably have to hire a lawyer to go through those foreign rights contracts.

    Karyne—An agent should treat all her clients as “A-list” –even newbies. If somebody makes you feel “second class,” I wouldn’t go there, whether you’re shopping for an agent, or hiring a marketer, coder, or designer.

    Mary Mary—I should make it clear that the flat-fee services do NOT include representation. These are side businesses for the agents. They put on a different hat when they’re hired to format a book or market it. But the fact that they’ve worked as literary agents gives them a high level of expertise in the book business.

    —And as far as everybody and his dog being able to publish a book—that’s been going on for a couple of decades: first with POD technology and now, for much less money up front, with Kindle. Does it mean there’s a lot of really, really bad stuff out there? Oh, yeah. It’s caveat emptor time.

    —The role of agent as gatekeeper will continue for the Big Six, but they aren’t so much looking for what’s “good” as what will sell in large quantities: Thomas Kincades rather than Picassos.

    Jacqueline—Thanks. The contract thing is scary. And it’s new, so a lot of writers aren’t aware and they’re so grateful to have an offer, they sign without paying attention. Not a good thing.

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  49. I'm actually really excited about the changes in the industry. It's opening up great doors for authors & agents, Anne. I only feel sorry for the authors and agents who staunchly refuse to get with the times. Publishing is going to look so different 5 years from now. We've only seen the beginning of the changes coming.

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  50. Anne, you know I’m a fan, and this was my favorite post you ever written. A couple a days ago I wrote about the Andrea Brown Literary Agency take in self-publishing (based on what I observed in a conference), but I only scratched the subject.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, and enlightening authors in this time of changes. It is overwhelming, but it is exciting at the same time. And its because of people like you that I don’t feel blind walking this road.

    Best,
    Natalie.

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  51. Jeff--I agree that this is an exciting time--and a great one for authors. There was nothing good for most of us in the old paradigm, where only a few authors were made into superstars by buying up-front space in the megastores and most writers were shoved to the back and had their books returned and pulped after three months. (Then the "failure" to sell big made the writer toxic in the industry.)

    Natalie--Thanks a lot. I'm glad it helped. I've got to go read your post!

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  52. Wow! Love all the information in this post. I'm excited about the future, but I'm also sad to think brick and mortar book stores will suffer. I love going to the book store. :/

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  53. A brilliant post, very insightful and thought provoking.

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  54. Great post, Anne (as always)! What a crazy time to be in the writing/agenting/publishing business. A little scary and a lot of drama...which makes for an exciting story in itself. Someone should write a book about that....

    Looking forward to hearing you speak at the writers' conference!

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  55. Kathi--I think we will always have bookstores, although they'll change. Barnes and Noble may look more like an Apple store, with lots of displays of its Nook, and indies may be more like literary cafes. But a lot of people still prefer paper books. There will be places to buy them.

    Darin--Thanks!

    Mary--It is a scary-crazy time. But authors have a lot more freedom than we've had for decades. I'm looking forward to the conference, too--and soaking up all that knowledge from people like Laurie McLean and Smashwords CEO Mark Coker.

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  56. Great blog. I'm reeling along with everyone else. Last August I scored an agent I really wanted, and she has been terrific--but hasn't been able to sell me book. At that time, e-pubbing was "just" an alternative. In the past year the industry has fallen into chaos, and I'm one of those thinking about how to best manage my career going forward. Thanks for all the info--this helps.

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  57. Great post, Anne. I'm self-published. I once thought the Big Six was all there was. I know differently now, and I'm having a lot of fun. It's exhausting, and like you, the right agent in my court would certainly be welcomed. I know that I have options now, thanks to bloggers like Konrath and articles like yours. Keep them coming! They're much appreciated.

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  58. Excellent post, Anne. As someone who - in the last eighteen months - has published with a big six house, a small private press, and self-pubbed an ebook, I can tell you there's no easy route for the writer. But the common demoninator of all three methods is that the writer is taking on more of the promotional work and ergo we cannot afford to be unaware of what's going on in the industry. The days when writers signed their contracts (preferably with a quill pen) and retreated to their cabin in the snowy woods of Maine to begin book two are over.

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  59. What a fantastic post! I'm going to have to retweet this!

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  60. This is a very informative post, thank you. I'm published with a small press and am extremely happy with them. But I do want to test the waters and see if I can get an agent for my second book. But I tell you, if I get turned down by all the agents I want to submit to, I'm not going to settle for second best. In that case, I'm going to be more than happy to submit to my small press again. I would submit to them anyway, but I figure I ought to give myself a chance at 'stepping up the ladder' a little first. It's certainly worth a shot.

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  61. Why in the world would anyone think an agent knew anything about book marketing? There skills are limited to marketing a book to a few dozen editors. Most have far less experience marketing to readers than YOU already have. Heck, they should be paying you to teach them how to market.

    Scott Nicholson
    The Indie Journey: Secrets to Writing Success

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  62. Terry--Rick Daley of Public Query Slushpile has just gone through a year with an agent who couldn't sell his book--it's happening more often than not these days. He just self-pubbed. You might want to do the same.

    Michelle--I love hearing from all you happy indies. I intend to join you soon.

    Kim--Looking forward to your guest post on Sunday!

    Jami--Thanks for the RT.

    Jessica--A small press sure is a good alternative. (If they would ever get around to reading submissions.)

    Scott--Some agents are great marketers and have been guiding their clients for years. Others are clueless, so buyer beware. But Laurie McLean had a marketing company before she went into agenting, so this is familiar territory for her.

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  63. The third part made me choke. Do self-published authors not realise this when they sign their rights away?

    It's a good reason I'm going to be studying Law after College! Maybe all writers should do that to prevent themselves getting trapped.

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