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.
Bottom line for authors? Seriously sucky.
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.
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.
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?
Labels: Agent Savant, Andrea Brown, Catherine Ryan Hyde, J.K. Rowling, Kris Rusch, Kristin Nelson, Laurie McLean, Literary agents, Meredith Barnes, Michelle Davidson Argyle, Pottermore, The Passive Voice