To be honest...there is a part of me that feels that way too. It's kind of a matter of serving two masters. I think that most successful people find something they are good at and do that thing very well. To be trying to walk both sides of that may be difficult to balance. But my biggest problem is not with conflict of interest but rather do they have the skills required to make a book a success...and that generally comes down to marketing.
I know that in today's publishing environment agents are scrambling to find out what part they can play. I think there is much that they can do that fits squarely with their training and strengths. For instance, agents are used to reading a book and seeing the good and bad things about it. For indies, I think there will be a huge market for content editors. Those that can give critical feedback that can take a book that shows some good potential and making it great.
So for new works...I think an agent can be a great content editor which is one of the major jobs that a publisher does (or should do). But it's not all that is necessary. But...if you need substantial story editing and even copy editing, then getting it from an agent who takes a cut might make more sense then spending several hundred or thousands of dollars to get the book launched.
But, in most cases where this comes about is not for "new titles" it is for back list reverted works and that is a horse of a different color. Because this book has already been edited and is "good to go" for the market. So here's what's left:
- Formatting - either for ebook, or print, or both -- ebook formatting is amazingly easy so much so that I personally think people should do this themselves...or if they pay someone else to not pay more than $100 - $200.
- Cover Art - something the agent will probably be outsourcing. Since this will come out of their pockets - then it's not such a bad idea. (Although I've heard of some "arrangements" where the author is being asked to pay for this ... then what is the agent doing for their cut?
- Marketing - well now that is where the rubber meets the road. This is not a business of, "if you build it people will come". Well - this may be the case for some very popular books but if they are so then why were they dropped? And if this is so what value add is the agent/publisher bringing? Marketing is key to a book's success and I've proven five times now that once I concentrate a little marketing loving on a project (that is well written) then getting sales of tens of thousands of books is doable...but....my background is marketing. I understand how to build a brand, how to promote, how to get people excited and I work pretty hard at that. Will an agent do the same? Will they know what to do? Will they be successful?
Anyway - that's my two cents on the matter - comments?