Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Agents as Publishers

Today's post is "by request" as someone asked me to comment on the recent trend of agents becoming publishers. There are some that say it is a conflict of interest, that an agent should be working to place their work with a publisher and not acting as a publisher themselves.

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 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?
If the answer is yes - then I say sure - go with an agent/publisher - after all they are just taking 15% and a royalty share of 85% is pretty generous and a book sitting idle and unavailable isn't doing anyone any good. But they better be doing things to earn that 15% - if they are just slapping on a cover, formatting, and getting the book "for sale" then do as Dean Wesley Smith suggests and pay for "day labor".

Anyway - that's my two cents on the matter - comments?


Ender Chadwick said...

Thanks for the post. You make some great points here Robin, par for the course for you.

I've spent the last few weeks doing some pretty serious research on a lot of the ePublishers, as my last release was co-written and we were looking into other possibilities other than simply self-pubbing. I was fairly surprised to see the majority of these were, as you put it 'just slapping on a cover, formatting, and getting the book "for sale"'

We ended up just doing it ourselves since we couldn't see any benefit to going with those outfits.

I've said it before, but I can't wait to see more publishers taking your approach.

Oh and since you brought up editors, I was wondering, do you have a reasonably priced freelance editor that you've worked with and recommend? I'm nearing completion on my first SciFi novel (well the first that doesn't belong in a dumpster) and looking for some help to make it shine.

Thanks again, for all you do.

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey EC - I do have some freelancers that I've used. Not sure what their availability will be can forward them your way....but...I'll do a post on my recommendation for how to find an editor as it is a pretty innovative technique.

John Dwyer said...

Very timely post. I'm nearing the completion of my second book and was wondering how do I find a good editor to go through it before being published. Looking forward to reading that post Robin.

John Dwyer, author of High Road To Tibet - Travels in China, Tibet, Nepal and India.

Michael E. Walston said...

Thanks for this. Times are changing, and writers really need to think about these things...

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