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Ken
11-13-2011, 04:16 PM
"With big publishing buying only the crème de la crème of books, and more authors turning to self-publishing, many literary agents are getting squeezed right out of the middle.
But some savvy agents are acting as literary consultants to help their authors self-publish ..."

http://www.twliterary.com/ted_PBSMediaShift_01.html
(Ted Weinstein Literary Management)

... happened upon the article just now.
Not entirely sure what to make of it all.
So thought I'd post it here.

bearilou
11-13-2011, 06:19 PM
Interesting!

Cyia
11-13-2011, 06:27 PM
This has been going on for a while now, which is what has so many crying foul/conflict of interest.

Jamesaritchie
11-13-2011, 06:56 PM
It's been going on for some time, and it's horrible thing for writers who fall for it.

DeleyanLee
11-13-2011, 06:59 PM
Check out some of those agents/agency names in the "Beware" forum. There's been some lengthy discussions going on about this topic.

Ken
11-13-2011, 08:29 PM
Check out some of those agents/agency names in the "Beware" forum. There's been some lengthy discussions going on about this topic.

... wasn't aware of that. Will have a look at threads for the mentioned agencies.

Filigree
11-13-2011, 09:27 PM
Such a huge conflict of interest. Even reputable agencies are dabbling in it now, and I cannot see much ultimate benefit for the writers. This feels more like ambulance-chasing than agenting.

Libbie
11-13-2011, 11:56 PM
I've always rather thought that the role of the literary agent will transition more into a PR person than a sales person.

As for benefit to the author, I see a huge one. I just launched a little private experiment in self-publishing one of my books, mostly so I could learn how to effectively promote and market a book. It's very time-consuming, and I would so rather outsource that work, especially if I could outsource it to somebody who had the connections to boost my sales quickly. I'd be willing to pay a percentage of my sales for such a service.

Diana_Rajchel
11-14-2011, 04:11 AM
I'm trying to envision a circumstance or circumstances where this might be a legitimate/worthy of consideration option. Here's what I'm coming up with:
1)for some reason, the agent can do a better job than a publicist in promoting the book - but this does not make sense. Agents sell the book to publishers, the author and whoever the author can persuade/pay to assist does the actual selling-to-eyeballs.
2)a larger publisher sees a self-published/indie title and wants to pick it up in a 2nd or later edition. I can see wanting someone to help negotiate rights for that.

Those are the only two I can think of where it might make sense.

gotchan
11-14-2011, 04:36 AM
I've always rather thought that the role of the literary agent will transition more into a PR person than a sales person.

As for benefit to the author, I see a huge one. I just launched a little private experiment in self-publishing one of my books, mostly so I could learn how to effectively promote and market a book. It's very time-consuming, and I would so rather outsource that work, especially if I could outsource it to somebody who had the connections to boost my sales quickly. I'd be willing to pay a percentage of my sales for such a service.

Bolding mine. There's a huge potential for screwing over authors depending on how we set this up. Look at the Hollywood distribution system for independent films. The standard deal is the distributor and the filmmaker split the profits 50/50, and there are never any profits. [WARNING WARNING WARNING Sarcarsm ahead.] If self-publishing develops into something like independent filmmaking, then authors will be worse off than under the traditional publishing model with its stupid and greedy gatekeepers who refuse to acknowledge our genius. [Sarcasm has concluded. It is now safe to move about the thread.]

I can't see that happening though. The technology wasn't designed for that and is already being exploited in other ways. It's not just closing the barn door after the horse has escaped, it's trying to build a brand new barn around the horse. Independent filmmakers are using the internet to enable an end run around the distribution system.

We will eventually see service package providers. A lot of people don't want to do the non-writing work themselves. I suspect their dominant form will be suppliers, not partners.

Cyia
11-14-2011, 04:46 AM
Bolding mine. There's a huge potential for screwing over authors depending on how we set this up. Look at the Hollywood distribution system for independent films. The standard deal is the distributor and the filmmaker split the profits 50/50, and there are never any profits. If self-publishing develops into something like independent filmmaking, then authors will be worse off than under the traditional publishing model with its stupid and greedy gatekeepers who refuse to acknowledge our genius.

That axe sharp enough, or does it still need grinding?



We will eventually see service package providers. A lot of people don't want to do the non-writing work themselves. I suspect their dominant form will be suppliers, not partners.

These already exist. They supply editors, cover artists, packaging, distribution, formatting, publicity, etc.

We call them commercial publishers.

gotchan
11-14-2011, 05:29 AM
We will eventually see service package providers. A lot of people don't want to do the non-writing work themselves. I suspect their dominant form will be suppliers, not partners.
These already exist. They supply editors, cover artists, packaging, distribution, formatting, publicity, etc.

We call them commercial publishers.

I disagree. Commercial publishers are partners, not suppliers. That is in my opinion the defining characteristic of traditional publishers. They believe in your book enough that they are going to take a big risk on it designing it, printing it, and running a promotion campaign. The author supplied the book, the publisher provides everything you listed (plus printing). They share any profits. That's a partnership.

For whatever reason, traditional publishers do not provide self-published authors the same bundle of services as their own authors. I think we'll eventually see some entrepreneurs providing various promotional services (including cover design, etc.) to self-published authors. As Diana says, this sounds a lot more like a publicist than an agent. There is a demand for these services, but no clear provider. One reason, I think, is there isn't a clear marketplace yet. Self publishing, whether print or electronic, is still very much tied up in which publisher or which format.

Traditional publishing is a transparent technology as far as readers are concerned. A reader doesn't care and needn't care what type of press a book was printed on, what kind of binding machine assembled in it its cover, what distributor supplied it to the bookstore, what publisher commissioned it, or even who wrote it. Yes, readers have author preferences, but the only thing they need be concerned about is the content of the book—the words and ideas, not the paper. Self-publishing, particularly e-publishing, is nowhere near as transparent.

When it becomes so, and it will, we will see a shake out of different providers with different packages selling services to self-published authors.

Libbie
11-14-2011, 07:32 AM
@gotchan -- I see what you're saying about there being potential to screw over an author, but that potential is already there, as the system currently stands. The industry standard for agent commission has been 15% for decades, and it's remained there because authors refuse to work with agents who try to go beyond the standard. I don't see that changing.

There are "agents" out there now who are only in the business to screw authors, and they find authors to screw all the time, but let the buyer beware. It's up to the authors to educate themselves about how any system works and to be smart with their money.

15% of my income seems like a jim-dandy deal if it means I don't have to do all the goddamn promotion work involved in making a book successful. It's a LOT of work, and I'd rather outsource it if I could. I'd pay 15% to an agent in a heartbeat, with the same basic industry model in place as it is now: agent doesn't get his 15% until and unless sales are made, period.

Seems safe enough. Agents keep jobs and authors don't have to spend valuable writing time doing PR and marketing. They can write twice as many books for themselves and their agents to profit from.

And yes, publicists already exist, but you must pay for their services up front, before you see results. The attractive thing about the current agent model is that the agent doesn't get paid until she lives up to her promises and makes the sale. I don't see that changing if/when agents transition into a publicist role. The we-pay-you-for-results model already exists, and that's something that will work in our favor, so that all authors, not only those who have a lot of money to invest in their first books, have an equal crack at establishing a career -- all they have to do is write a really good book.

gotchan
11-14-2011, 08:26 AM
Libbie (and everyone else),

The question is, are agents best positioned to provide the services self-published authors need? Back up. Do self-published authors need services? I say yes.

To simplify figures from many threads, discussions, and blogs about slush piles:
1% of the submissions publishers receive are publishable now, but they can't afford to buy them all,
4% are almost publishable, maybe they are too niche to be cost-effective,
5% could be publishable with work, and
90% are not publishable.

The portion of the 1% that didn't fit in the schedule are in the same distribution channel as the 4%, 5% and 90%. Assuming a reader finds the printer or device specific storefront that has your book, how can that reader tell if your book is part of the 10% or 90%? Self-published authors need help to stand out and promote their quality. Quality can only be reliably promoted by a trusted voice. In publishing, that voice is the publishers. For publishers, that voice is agents.

The most valuable service for self-published authors is promotion and distribution. Let readers know that your book is worth reading and how they can get it. This service is only valuable if the provider has channels to prospective readers and a good reputation with the reading public. Agents have neither.

An agent could build a good reputation with the public, and the channels necessary to reach them. So could a publicist, and a publicist might have a head start. An agent's trusted voice status with publishers does not automatically transfer to the public.

The no money down, 15% off the back end model of agents runs into problems in self-publishing. Your promoter will have unavoidable minimum expenses. Revenue only comes as micro-payments, not a big check from a publisher. With the off the back end model they will quite reasonably collect their expenses before they start paying you anything out of sales. This could take some time. They also must recover 100% of their expenses on all the books they promote or they go bankrupt. Your successful book subsidizes my unsuccessful book. This isn't the promoter being greedy. The promoter has to do this to stay in business. Your income is linked to the success of every book in the promoter's portfolio.

A flat fee up front to cover the minimum expenses means your book does not need to pay for my book. Your income does not depend on my success. The percentage on the back end is a deserved performance bonus. Promoters with a higher proportion of successful books (they pick them better or promote them better) can afford to discount the up front fee. If you've had several books that paid out for a promoter, they might even discount the up front fee to zero. They are confident your book will pay out.

We are going to see a new class of people provide these services under a new business model. Some of them might be former agents, some of them might be former publicists, some of them will be neither.

NeuroFizz
11-14-2011, 10:00 AM
From my experience:

Agents are involved in selling books to publishers (a form of marketing the book), but they are not involved in marketing the book to the buying public, which is way different, way more labor intensive, expensive, and requires a different kind of expertise.

Agents are involved in helping with the interpretation and handling of contracts to best benefit the author--to maximize what the author receives from the publisher. If the agent takes over the duties of the publisher, that same contract expertise may work against the author, and represents a huge potential for a conflict of interest situation. At the very least, it erases the original benefit to the author.

Some agents will help an author with editing and re-writing a manuscript, but I doubt any legit agent will have the time to help with all of the line edits, and final formatting checks, the detailed evaluation of the page proofs, contracting with cover artists, doing all of the ISBN and copyrighting gruntwork, etc. It will only take a few of these clients to swamp the agent's workload.

Finally, if one goes with the average sales from self-publishing, 15% of very little isn't going to encourage the agents to put much effort into any of the above.

And a couple of gut feelings:

In the present agenting system, a significant number of books that are contracted by an agent do not sell to major publishers. In this case, the agent has to work hard to get a sale. What's to stop that agent from not doing that hard work, and rather just say, "Screw this. I'll have the author self-publish and I'll get 15% of what they make anyway."

If self-publishing is chosen, the author will still have to fork over a significant sum of money to have the book published, and now he/she will have 15% less of the profits to recoup that large initial expenditure.

At present, all inaccuracies, negative issues with the writing or the stories, legal issues, issues with quality control, etc. rest solely on the author's shoulders. If an agent takes a cut and performs some services as mentioned, all of those issues will be tied to that agent's name and reputation as well. Most important, the agent will not likely have a legal team to help with problems of story-based liability or problems with copyright infringement and intellectual property theft.

These are just a few concerns that come to mind.

Medievalist
11-14-2011, 11:00 AM
A reader doesn't care and needn't care what type of press a book was printed on, what kind of binding machine assembled in it its cover, what distributor supplied it to the bookstore, what publisher commissioned it, or even who wrote it.

They absolutely DO care. Look at the disillusioned responses that have met corporate authors; look at what happened to the Harol Robbins "brand" when other writers wrote "Harold Robbins" books.

And if you've ever paid 20.00 for a POD book and had the laminated gloss flake off, the cover curl and peal, and the binding come unglued and the ink flake off the pages, you'd start caring too.

Medievalist
11-14-2011, 11:03 AM
15% of my income seems like a jim-dandy deal if it means I don't have to do all the goddamn promotion work involved in making a book successful. It's a LOT of work, and I'd rather outsource it if I could. I'd pay 15% to an agent in a heartbeat, with the same basic industry model in place as it is now: agent doesn't get his 15% until and unless sales are made, period.


Don't confuse selling the MS. with selling the book. Agents sell the MS.

Publishers sell the book.

An agent's job is to sell your book--or bring you contracts for books you write.

aruna
11-14-2011, 11:11 AM
Such a huge conflict of interest. Even reputable agencies are dabbling in it now, and I cannot see much ultimate benefit for the writers. This feels more like ambulance-chasing than agenting.

My agency has just started doing this. It doesn't feel at all like ambulance chasing to me; I will be the one approaching them at some point with a view to self-publishing my out-of-print, rights reverted first novel. While I believe this book should have a second chance, I absolutely do not want to get into the nuts and bolts of e-publishing it. I'd be only too happy to hand the whole thing over lock stock and barrel and say get on with it. The book at th emoment is dead as a doormat. If my agency can help raise it to life, good for them. I can't lose, but only gain. I'm aware that I'll have to do some promotion. But the work up front? No thanks.

OTOH hand I do intend to go it alone with the book on my blog. That's a different cup of tea altogether, and I have lots of ideas as to promotion, and rather look forward to it.


I've always rather thought that the role of the literary agent will transition more into a PR person than a sales person.

As for benefit to the author, I see a huge one. I just launched a little private experiment in self-publishing one of my books, mostly so I could learn how to effectively promote and market a book. It's very time-consuming, and I would so rather outsource that work, especially if I could outsource it to somebody who had the connections to boost my sales quickly. I'd be willing to pay a percentage of my sales for such a service.


Exactly.

dgiharris
11-14-2011, 11:47 AM
I see this as a generic debate about a traditional business model vs. a new way of doing something.

The current business model (commercial publishing) has been honed over the past couple of hundred years and through Darwinian scientific based evolution is the dominant form today.

Any deviation from the model must be heavily scrutinized.

Has there been any recent scientific breakthroughs that present an opportunity for a different model, i.e. self publishing?

Well, the two often cited breakthroughs are:

#1 The internet
#2 Proliferation of electronic devices that can mimic traditional books

So the next question is, can the traditional business model (which is entrenched and dominant) adjust to incorporate these new technologies?

The answer is yes.

If the answer were no, then you could make a strong argument for deviating from the traditional model. But the answer is not no-- but yes.

A soap bubble is round for a reason.

Think on it.

Mel...

gotchan
11-14-2011, 12:18 PM
They absolutely DO care. Look at the disillusioned responses that have met corporate authors; look at what happened to the Harol Robbins "brand" when other writers wrote "Harold Robbins" books.
No, they don't care about the name on the cover. If readers are unhappy with a book by a corporate author, they aren't unhappy with the name on the cover. They're unhappy with the contents.

Readers learn to associate certain names as being better bets for good content, but it's content, content, content. Not name on cover. I won't prefer an inferior book by John Smith to a superior book by Jane Doe even if John Smith is lauded as a better author and has also provided me with reliable entertainment in the past. I don't care how good your previous book was. How good is this one. That's content, not name. Any shine on a name is afterglow from content.

As you point out, readers had no loyalty to the name "Harold Robbins" when the content stopped glowing. They weren't fans of the name, never were. They were fans of the content. Several successful series have been written by numerous authors under the same false name. The series pseudonym was associated with a certain tone and quality, but it was the content readers came back to again and again. If the content wasn't there on any individual title, the name would mean nothing.


And if you've ever paid 20.00 for a POD book and had the laminated gloss flake off, the cover curl and peal, and the binding come unglued and the ink flake off the pages, you'd start caring too.

If your pencil breaks, you curse, sharpen it, and carry on. If it breaks and breaks and breaks, you toss it and grab another. If you have a whole box prone to breaking, you maybe don't buy that brand again. But even as you forswear one manufacturer, you almost certainly won't consider what an amazing made thing pencil and paper or pen and paper is. It is a transparent technology.

I don't know a single person who walks into a bookstore and says they want a book published by HarperCollins, printed on a Harris 1000A web offset press, with a side-sewn adhesive binding. Oh, and it has to have been typeset in QuarkXpress. They'll say they want a book about trans-gendered canaries and their struggle for acceptance in the harsh world of coal mining. Content.

Publishing is a transparent technology. If your book breaks, you return it for another one. You don't ask for one that was printed on a different type of printer or bound in a different type of binder. If the replacement breaks, or several replacements for stubborn people, you may swear off publisher X even though they had nothing to do with the printing other than signing the cheque. You're very unlikely to swear off books printed on a particular model press. Most of the time you have no idea about the details of a book's physical production. That is why publisher are so quick to correct systemic problems in production. It is their reputation and their bottom line that takes a hit. Not the printer's.

gotchan
11-14-2011, 12:58 PM
I see this as a generic debate about a traditional business model vs. a new way of doing something.

The current business model (commercial publishing) has been honed over the past couple of hundred years and through Darwinian scientific based evolution is the dominant form today.

Any deviation from the model must be heavily scrutinized.

Has there been any recent scientific breakthroughs that present an opportunity for a different model, i.e. self publishing?

Well, the two often cited breakthroughs are:

#1 The internet
#2 Proliferation of electronic devices that can mimic traditional books

So the next question is, can the traditional business model (which is entrenched and dominant) adjust to incorporate these new technologies?

The answer is yes.

If the answer were no, then you could make a strong argument for deviating from the traditional model. But the answer is not no-- but yes.

A soap bubble is round for a reason.

Think on it.

Mel...

I agree the traditional model can and will transition. But the new technologies also allow those shut out of the traditional model to self-publish, which leaves them buried in a featureless sea of competitors.

In the traditional model an agent agrees to represent your book because they think they can sell it. They are so confident they can sell it that they will devote their own resources to it and only take payment from any sale they negotiate. This is a huge compliment. This is so much more impressive than your mother saying she liked it, it's not even measurable.

A publisher that agrees to publish your book is saying not only are they so confident of its success that they will put their own money into preparing, printing, storing, shipping, and marketing it, they'll even give you a few thousand dollars before the presses run. This is an even bigger compliment. Many times bigger. Be humbled.

This system works because agents and publishers are very good at betting and are very, very selective about who and what they bet on. Throw a few more veries in there.

Authors who aren't quite a sure enough bet for the high stakes of the traditional model can now self-publish for very little money, and be instantly surrounded and overwhelmed by crap.

We are already seeing the traditional model be adapted by new e-publishing and POD only houses. With lower stakes, they can afford to bet on the slightly less sure thing, or the smaller niche market. A new set of gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are good. They are marks of quality and champions of authors. Their authors, granted.

No one, however, will ever offer 100% off the back end services to any self-published author who approaches them. It won't work. The traditional system only works if agents and publishers reliably pick winners. You can't pick winners by taking all comers. Anyone offering services to all comers has to charge an up front fee. The only alternative is bankruptcy as soon as the initial capital runs out.

Agents helping authors to self-publish? That's not what agents do. Agents sell manuscripts to publishers. Big publishers, small publishers, print publishers, e-publishers. Publishers, not readers. Exactly how much help can an agent provide before they are effectively publishing the work? An agent's role is to get the best deal from a publisher, so as soon as they act as a publisher, conflict of interest. As soon as they offer an alternative to a publishing contract, conflict of interest.

shaldna
11-14-2011, 01:23 PM
Libbie (and everyone else),

The question is, are agents best positioned to provide the services self-published authors need? Back up. Do self-published authors need services? I say yes.


Here are two very good questions.

The very nature of self publishing would suggest that an author DOES NOT need an agent, after all, agents, in their current role, are there to find the writer a publisher.

In the realms of self publishing agents are redundant.

However, do I think that self publishers could benefit from guidance on promotion, marketing, or even someone to do this for them? Sure I do. But that's not an agent they are looking for, it's a publicist.



To simplify figures from many threads, discussions, and blogs about slush piles:
1% of the submissions publishers receive are publishable now, but they can't afford to buy them all,
4% are almost publishable, maybe they are too niche to be cost-effective,
5% could be publishable with work, and
90% are not publishable.

To simplify this further:

If the book is good enough then someone, somewhere, will publish it.



An agent could build a good reputation with the public, and the channels necessary to reach them. So could a publicist, and a publicist might have a head start. An agent's trusted voice status with publishers does not automatically transfer to the public.

Agreed. And the agents I have met have all been too busy in their real jobs to try and be a publicist as well.



We are going to see a new class of people provide these services under a new business model. Some of them might be former agents, some of them might be former publicists, some of them will be neither.

And I would say that a lot of them will be scammers or just plain useless. Sadly that is often the way of these things.

dgiharris
11-14-2011, 11:33 PM
No one, however, will ever offer 100% off the back end services to any self-published author who approaches them. It won't work. The traditional system only works if agents and publishers reliably pick winners. You can't pick winners by taking all comers. Anyone offering services to all comers has to charge an up front fee. The only alternative is bankruptcy as soon as the initial capital runs out.

Your post was spot on.

And the above is a key point. In my opinion, one of the best indicators for this argument is the money. Follow the money.

Is money flowing to you, or is money flowing away from you?

Similarly, think of the customer.

The customer will go where the best product is. Like em or hate em, the traditional publishing model eliminates tons of crap.

The Self Publishing model creates an ocean of crap. Sure, there will be a few diamonds in the rough, a few good books, but those good books will be adrift in a sea of utter crap. For every good book (or story) there will be 100 horrible books.

Thus customers are going to be quickly turned off and retreat back to sources they can trust. And those sources are going to be the ones that eliminate as much crap as possible on the customer's behalf.

NOt to say there aren't times or situations in which self publishing is feasible or preferble. There are.

But if you want to write commercial books that will sell and make you money, then you need to go the traditional publishing route.

Mel...

Libbie
11-15-2011, 02:51 AM
Don't confuse selling the MS. with selling the book. Agents sell the MS.

Publishers sell the book.

An agent's job is to sell your book--or bring you contracts for books you write.

I am not confusing the two.

Not every agent has what it takes to sell books to readers, but some of them do. I suspect those who can naturally sell to readers and sell to publishers -- those who can bring you contracts and bring you readers -- will find the easiest time adapting if self-publishing becomes more popular in the future.

I'm not entirely convinced it will become so massively popular that it will edge out traditional publishing or even compete with it in an appreciable way, but it's a possibility.

Libbie
11-15-2011, 02:57 AM
To simplify this further:

If the book is good enough then someone, somewhere, will publish it.



Honestly, that's TOO simplified. The reality is that things like genre trends have a very strong impact on what will be published. I can't tell you how many other historical novelists I've met who, like me, saw their book turned down by editors for years, and all those rejections were accompanied by effusive praise. "This book is wonderful! We're not going to buy it."

Many, many excellent historical novels that did not fit the current hot trends were rejected over the past couple of years because the economy is too tight for publishers to gamble on anything that's not fitting into the "sure thing" trendy settings.

The options all of us faced: go with very, very small presses who had no distribution and no money to promote books, self-publish, or wait out the trends, which could take a decade or more to pass, and hope to god that our settings were the next hot trend.

Various authors chose various paths for various reasons. But "If it's good enough, somebody somewhere will publish it" paints a too-narrow picture to give an accurate view of the industry. Yeah, somebody somewhere will publish it...and the author will have to put as much money and time into promoting it as she'd put in if she self-published it, so why bother to submit to the smallest presses with no distribution and no plan? What's the point?

The publishing industry makes far more complex decisions than "this book is good; let's publish it" or "this book isn't good; reject it."

Ken
11-15-2011, 04:14 AM
… after Stephen King made a name for himself his first, unpublished books written under a penname were dug up and published I believe. The same has happened to a lot of works by well-known authors. So to my way of thinking it’s not a bad course of action to shelve a manuscript one can’t sell rather than to go the self-publishing route if one isn’t entirely into doing that.

Tastes change, too, and a manuscript that doesn’t find appeal with publishers one year may suddenly fit right in with a popular trend the next. Sure, there’s a slim chance of one ever becoming nearly as popular as Stephen King. Everything about writing is a long shot though. So there’s no harm in thinking big, particularly for those here who already have agents or published books under their belts.

harriet47
11-16-2011, 08:26 PM
I've recently gone through Kindle formatting for Amazon and have hired someone to do the same for Smashwords.
Who formatted your book as a "book" if you also have it available that way. I've considered Amazon's CreateSpace (expensive, SLOW, not flexible), and need recommendations for other formatters. My cover art is professionally produced so I don't need that, just someone to put it all together. Any ideas?