Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who needs an agent? You do.

Do you ever feel like you want to take everyone involved in the publishing business--writers, agents, publishers, and the interns who open the mail--and shake them until their teeth rattle? Probably not, right? Well, I usually don’t either. But then I read a piece like this one in Galleycat and, well, you know....

At the risk of sounding self-serving, every serious author needs an agent. Not just any agent, of course. You need a good agent. One who is an advocate, who is willing to fight for you and who is able to tell you when you’re being unreasonable and doing your career more harm than good. You need someone who’ll tell you they believe in you when you think you’re the biggest literary fraud since James Frey (who is actually a very good writer despite his questionable morals). You need someone who asks about your ailing grandmother and vets your contracts. You need someone who will look at your royalty statements and make sure that the publisher isn’t holding a 75% reserve for returns. You need someone who is willing to try to place foreign rights to a book that is so hopelessly American that no one outside of the 50 states would want to read it. You need someone who will do battle with your publishing team and make sure they still like you despite the fact that you aren’t always discreet about them in your Facebook posts. You need someone who’ll see you through the process from idea to publication to the inevitable disappointment when the publicity for your book is done with before you noticed it had started. And, you need an agent because in these trying times, we’re sometimes the only people who offer continuity and stability in what everyone hopes is a long career.

So, how does the digital revolution change the fact that you need an agent? Not at all. Sure, you can upload your manuscript on the internet yourself and you can do all your own accounting when you start selling the downloads. But, if you’re serious about writing books, you’re still better served having someone else handle the business side of being published.

There is no question that agents, as well as publishers, need to get with the program when it comes to e-books and all things digital. There is a woeful amount of ignorance about this revolution and lots of needless resistance and hand wringing. In the end, however books get into a reader’s hands is irrelevant. The process by which they get there, who sifts through the good, the bad, and the absolutely unreadable, and who takes care of the administrative side of things while you hone your craft, should not change. I would argue that with so much content out there for the taking (or downloading), now more than ever we need agents and publishers to be better gatekeepers and advocates. Otherwise, I will begin to fear for the future of books, and not just because they don’t come in paper packages any more.


-Miriam

95 comments:

  1. Oh. That Galleycat article was kind of horrifying. I am so grateful for my agent, who knows the business far better than I ever will!

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  2. THANK YOU for posting this. The Galley Cat article (and some of the comments) made me want to shake lots of people. :) LOL. Thanks for the blog post, and I agree totally.
    Deidre Knight

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  3. What the people who insist they can "just upload my book onto Kindle" don't seem to understand is that no one will know they're there. WHO is going to browse 3 million titles and choose one because of some little blurb they read about it? No way is traditional publishing going down the tubes. I can tell you that my readers LOVE BOOKS. Print books. There is something tangible about them that Kindle will never achieve. Not that I'm saying there isn't a place for e-books. I just know I'm not buying into the whole "just upload my crap... uh... book" for free thing. I love my agent and she's worth every penny she earns helping me be the best author I can be.

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  4. Thoughtful post. I agree, especially with: "with so much content out there for the taking (or downloading), now more than ever we need agents and publishers to be better gatekeepers and advocates."

    The relative ease of "e-publishing" could lead to an avalanche of stuff--much of it not worth wasting time on. The industry NEEDS agents to help sort things out. As a writer, I'm glad I have one to guide me through the treacherous waters.

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  5. I apologize for the lengthy rant in advance but I JUST HAVE TO:

    "I don't see the whole point when I can hire an attorney to negotiate my publishing contract for a flat fee."

    First, methinks this charmer authored that gem:

    http://maryww.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/the-talent-killers-how-literary-agents-are-destroying-literature-and-what-publishers-can-do-to-stop-them/

    Look, I'm not a publishing lawyer, but I am a lawyer. And I can say with confidence that whoever said that is a fool. I'm perfectly comfortable representing plaintiffs in multi-million dollar international lawsuits, but the only person's advice I'd want on my book contract would be my (future) agent's. The skill sets are *completely different*

    Also, I would be beyond shocked if publishing lawyers with the requisite knowledge and experience to ethically negotiate these contracts charged a flat fee. That shiz will play out in billable hours. And will the amount be less than an agent's 15%? Maybe, maybe not. But the lawyer will only be accountable insofar as that single contract; and the standard (for malpractice) will be competence. Not excellence: competence. And most lawyers, frankly, just don't care what one-time, flat-fee clients think. It's not a high volume repeat business unless you're James Patterson, and if you are, well...you're not. So if a client is unsatisfied, there's no incentive to improve. Convesely, an agent will be accountable for your entire career (and therefore has a proportionally vested interest in you) and, if you've done your research, will not want to risk getting screwed because you think he done you wrong. One thing I've learned by reading agency blogs: the publishing world is small, and agents have their reputations to protect.

    (I should also add that if you bad-mouth a lawyer all over the internets for jacking up your contract, he's probably more likely to sue you for libel than a literary agent. Just sayin'.)

    Ultimately, as Miriam said, there are a gazillion important things agents do for clients that lawyers will NEVER do, and even more things that agents Just Do Better.

    The comments section on GalleyCat is igniting. Oh the stupid- it burns!

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  6. Good post Miriam. I don't think it's a leap to say the people saying that agents are unnecessary are the authors (published or not) who have had bad experiences with agents. Which is kind of like saying that because it's raining right now you should never go outside.

    If every author suddenly adopts the "publish your work to Kindle" approach, you're going to have millions of 'authors' making an average of $30 a year. Fine if your only aspiration is to have an Amazon page, not so fine if you actually want to have a career as a writer.

    That's the major difference: most authors want to have careers, and only an idiot would think the creative side and business side are identical and can be done without any training or industry knowledge. True, a bad agent can harm you as well as help you. But a good agent will sell foreign and ancillary rights, help you brainstorm ideas, know which editors to send your work to, fight for the right cover, and earn their 15%.

    That Galleycat post, and posts like it anger me because they're made with no insight. It's like if after the invention of penicillin someone said, "Doctors will be obsolete in five years." There are so many nuances to publishing that unless you're simply happy having your book available to download (which is like having a stack of flyers that are 'available' to take), you need someone who knows the industry to fight for your career.

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  7. I read the post, but not the comments. I was all worked up just after the post! The least volatile thing I wanted to say was that if that's what the anonymous writer thinks of agents, then they don't understand the difference between "any" agent and a great-match agent. Also, funny they were anonymous. Maybe they didn't want any of the agents they're currently querying to know it was them! Haha! I could list a hundred things that my agent has done for me over the two years that are totally invaluable. And most of them don't even have to do with contracts.

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  8. Excellent post. Thank you.

    I don't usually read GC, but I saw people talking about how awful it was yesterday. I have to agree. Wow.

    At least stupid people are vocal about it so I know who to avoid. ;)

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  10. Brava! Brava! Great post. (The sound of rattling jewelry is heard in the background.)

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  11. The post was just insanity. Your post, however, is a great response.

    I'm with M above- I'm a lawyer also and I mostly handle contract law. But I wouldn't want to touch a book contract. And I definitely wouldn't want to pour over my own royalty statements and try to negotiate foreign rights and tv/ movie rights and fight with publishers to get the book presented in the best way.

    Agents are necessary and important, and I don't need to have one yet to say that, although I hope that changes soon :).

    Besides, lawyers could never replace agents- we don't hand-hold and encourage unless we can charge for it! Lol

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  12. I'm surprised to read any writers are shying way from literary agents. One only needs to open "The Writer's Market" to be convinced to start looking for someone compatible.

    I must admit to having difficulty reading the post you are responding to. The busy site somehow affects my dyslexia. However I can clearly tell the article is mostly quotations without a fully presented argument. I am certain your well written response fully trounced the meager evidence provided.

    Thank you for an excellent post.

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  13. Okay, Miriam...
    You've convinced me. YOU'RE HIRED! Please have your people contact my people ASAP!

    http://robertwahl.blogspot.com/
    http://www.jacketflap.com/profile.asp?member=PYXX


    Haste yee back ;-)

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  14. You're spot on.

    There is no difference in tension when negotiating a contract -asking where the $ is, contract changes and all that stuff. There have been MANY times I wished I had an agent as my advocate (small e-press pubbed). I don't want to deal with that stuff-I just want to write. Sounds naive, but when Stress clogs up your creativity and you CAN'T write becuase of it? I would come out the richer writer for having an agent.

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  15. Hi Miriam. If I had a pound for everyone who'd tweeted me the link here in the hope of a bunfight I certainly wouldn't need an agent.

    So I'd better say something. Probably not what people expect of me, though. I disagree with you. I'll get that clear up front. I agree that the digital revolution has made little difference - but that's only because I don't think we really "needed" an agent before.

    On the other hand you're right - we all need checks and balances and supports as writers. The first, however, can be done very well by a great editor, and the second by one's fellow writers.

    I can see why people have complained about this post. You assume that we need agents - because they will smooth things over with publishers. That of course make the huge assumption we want a publisher. An increasing number of us don't. We want readers. And whilst we are still playing with sustainable business models for self-publishers, there are some of us who are looking very hard and seriously and will get it right.

    What a self-publisher can't do without is great editing, design, PR, printers, and logistics (though this is more digital than physical and will become more so as espresso machines take off). Some writers will perform one or more of these functions themselves. Others will outsource them all. I DO see a role for promoter/managers in this scheme - and I think our current agents could do it well, although they will need to learn different skills, and I think people crossing over from music PR (especially as myspace's woes continue, with bebo looking set to follow, meaning there is a glut of talented social media music PR people on the scene) could do it equally well.

    I have no axe to grind with agents, which will surprise those who know me [correcty] as a rather gobby advocate of the DIY/punk/whatever-you-wanna-call-it-just-don't-make-me-swallow-your-labels approach. Every agent I know does an incredible job for their clients, and many of tehm are lovely people too. I see Jodi is here - as an agent to be I couldn't sing her praises highly enough. There will probably always be a rump of genres where the agent-publisher model persists, even. But I do see publishing becoming flatter, and direct outsourcing becaoming more the norm, and to fit into that model agents need to reposition themselves.

    But for those of us on the literary end of things - and probably my friends in SF, maybe those in erotica and fantasy, certainly those in non-fiction - I wold prefer agents to be the lovely people with a shared passion for books I meet up with on #litchat several times a week. I have no interest in pitching them. I have no interest in having a go at them. I just don't see why I need one.

    I'm in a collective of 26 of the most talented writers on the planet, at least three of whom are of major prizewinning potential - they support me and psur me on in my thinking and my editing and through my self-doubt; I love meetnig readers and speaking at live readings; I work with an immensely skilful cover designer; I have a five-year plan to make writing work as a career without ever having to stop experimenting and finding my voice because I'm hidebound to genre by a publisher.

    I'm a writer. Whether I'ma awriter worth their salt is, of course, another matter. But this is a post that made generalisations, and as someone included in one of them, I'd like to ask: what would an agent give me that I don't have where I am?

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  17. You lay out the vital things an agent does for writers with book deals. But what can you do for the unpublished writer? Especially in the current climate that sees fewer risks being taken on unknowns and even mid-list writers being charged with doing all their own promotion and marketing because the budgets are no longer there.

    The majority of publishers don't accept a MS without it coming through an agent. A practical/artificial (depending on your pov) barrier to entry. But there's no guarantee the agent is going to be able to place the unknown's book with a publisher - it is just a requirement that a MS be presented by an agent and not the writer. The chances are not enhanced in any way.

    We all know the figures for getting published first time are miniscule, so like Dan, I'll take my chances doing it myself with about the same odds of generating a decent sized readership (going viral however that is defined in terms of sales) as being picked up off a publisher's slushpile and offered a deal. At least I won't have anyone else to blame but myself.

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  18. Thanks for all your comments. We like a good back-and-forth around here (as does Galleycat: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/agents/literary_agents_react_142886.asp). We really do believe that an agent’s role is to make life easier for authors so that they can devote their time more fully to writing. That, of course, assumes that most authors want to have a publisher’s imprimatur on their work. To answer Dan and Sulci Collective, however, I’m not suggesting that agents are for everyone. In fact, given that we probably take on about 1-3% of the projects that are submitted to us, I know we’re not for everyone. I am suggesting that we provide a valuable service both in taking care of business so that you can write and in sifting through all that content and determining (flawed as the process may be) what merits attention. Speaking as a passionate reader, there are sadly a limited number of books I’ll be able to read in my lifetime. I depend on agents and editors to help me choose what may be worth reading.

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  19. Sulci - I agree that there's no guarantee that an agent will sell a book, but I think your conclusion that your chances are not enhanced is off the mark.

    Good agents are INVALUABLE. They provide editorial advice, and they know which editors are looking for what types of ms's. Plus, editors give creedence (ok, preference) to projects brought to them by agents, ie, they trust an agent's taste.

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  20. Alan forgive me if this is neither your experience nor your practice, but in the UK I have yet to find any agent to give more than a stock rejection letter if they are not interested in your MS - and I fully understand this as it would be uneconomical for them to spend time on a project that they will not be involved in, or give advice on other possible agents (Competitors & rivals) who might be. I have no gripe with this, it is just time management and the market.

    What it does do on the other side of the equation however, is leave a writer in total limbo. No further along knowing where their craft lies than the very first MS & very first rejection letter they ever received, no matter how much time has elapsed between the two. In such circumstance, the author may as well make his own judgment and back it by self-publishing.

    In my case I can fully see an agent is likely to judge that my work is not commercially viable enough to make it worth his while. It's probably a bit of a tough sell. But thereby it becomes my job to prove him wrong, to make the tough sell and back my judgment and belief. If I am even part-way successful, then what need do I have of him then?

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  21. @DGLM this is a great discussion,and thank you for diving back in. - you say "I’m not suggesting that agents are for everyone."
    but I think I may have to call you out on that one:
    "every serious author needs an agent"

    Of course, I realise your point is that we're not serious authors, which of course is one you're entitled to make, and I'll allow visitors to the Year Zero site and our books to make their own minds up. But you have to admit, it sounds like you're backtracking on a generalisation.

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  22. Sulci, your point about agents not providing much editorial feedback before you're a client is well taken (in my previous post, I was referring to after you've signed with one). And I'm here in the States, so things are undoubtedly a little different.

    As for getting that much-needed feedback, I've relied on critique groups and workshops and writing conferences. They've been essential, at least to me.

    Best of luck, whichever path you take!

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  23. Thanks for the follow-up, Dan. My point is not that you're not a serious author if you don't have an agent, but that everyone who is a serious author NEEDS an agent. I don't see the contradiction. I may think you need a good agent in order to have a successful publishing career, but implicit in that is a partnership and two parties who are intent on reaching the same goals. If you don't want to be published in the traditional sense then, serious or not, you don't need representation.

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  24. Alan, of course an editor is invaluable. And I can see you've made a case for linking editors with agents. But that kind of vertical business model (where you get [person 1 simply to get you to person 2) seems somewhat perilous to me. I am always fascinated by the difference between the UK and US - the one that always really surprises me is the query - in the UK the query that leads to a partial doesn't really exist - submissions start as partials. I'm constantly intrigued by how the difefrence came about.

    And Sulci's point is a vaild one regarding commerciality - what's not commercial for the industry needn't be uncommercial for the individual

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  25. "everyone who is a serious author NEEDS an agent... If you don't want to be published in the traditional sense then, serious or not, you don't need representation."

    I'm afraid you lost me as to why that isn't a contradiction

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  26. I've been reading about all the panic and mayhem with the e-book concerns the suspected "death of the novel" and such for some time now. It's nice to hear someone who knows the business intimately say what I've been thinking, "online, e-book, or paperback, what does it really matter so long as the works are getting read?"

    I know there are ramifications to contracts and royalties that still need to be worked out, but I don't think that warrants the apocalyptic mind-set that so many writers and agents seem to have lately.
    -Colin Hill

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  27. "online, e-book, or paperback, what does it really matter so long as the works are getting read?"
    Amen to that Colin. I think that's something we can all agree on. The one thing that really matters is that people carry on getting excited by stories. That's way more important than this kind of gadget or that kind of genre or this writer or that press. It's a wider and more important issue than any one of our parochial concerns, and whilst it's good to have these back and forths, let's never forget that wider impotr when we show our faces to the world.

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  28. I think that some of this is wishful thinking on the part of unpublished writers who are frustrated with how hard it is to break into the business and get an agent and who would like to believe that business is getting in the way of art.

    I mean, yeah, you kind of do want agents to stop existing when you have the agent who's had your full manuscript for a year and won't spare you an email to at least say "still reading" or "sorry, you're rejected" but yet finds the time to twitter several times a day. And it makes you want to scream when agents have very public "let's race to the bottom of our inboxes" races.

    It's even more frustrating when you get the form letters where the [INSERT NAME] is still left in the email or when you get a rejection from somebody's assistant or intern because you didn't even get to the agent themselves.

    The temptation to imagine that this might be a thing of the past is strong. Especially when you feel like you're caught in the "I need to be published to get an agent and I need an agent to be published" cycle of doom.

    But I think saying that agents actually are going away is complete nonsense. I think they'll be working with different formats and in different ways - but the basic job function is NOT to be a gatekeeper like everyone seems to think.

    They're arbiters between the producers (writers) and the distributors (the publishers), and while there might be services that let a writer upload their novels to an e-book service, getting the word out about a book so that it hits critical mass is still going to require someone with a bigger network than most novelists can muster. Which means publishers or book distribution companies of some sort.

    You can put a book up on a website, but unless you tell people about it, nobody is gonna read it. So you need visibility. And to get that visibility, you're gonna need somebody who's got a wide network and can put that book in places where people will actually SEE it. Whether that's a website or a bookstore, the principle remains the same.

    I mean, iTunes and mp3's didn't spell the collapse of the album, it just meant the downturn of a format. CDs aren't selling as well these days, but the big name music artists are getting no less rich. Even with music piracy.

    Ebook, paperback, and hardback are just formats. The product - the book - and the process of writing a book and then getting it out there to the readers may change a bit with that format, but a lot of the systems that exist are in place because they work.

    Agents are going anywhere and the frustrations the bad or badly overworked and disorganized ones cause writers isn't going anywhere, either. You either learn to live with it and keep plugging on or you go do something else that makes you happy.

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  29. For the past ten to fifteen years, I've had this "self-publish on the internet and bypass the nasty old publishing paradigm" discussion with people...but so far the business model doesn't stack up (the closest I've seen yet is Lee & Miller's, but they already had a solid fan base for their work when a publisher's bankruptcy dumped them into online publishing as the only and fastest survival strategy.)

    I don't just want "readers." I want writing income. Moreover, I want income from writing fiction, because I like to write fiction. In typical writer-indulgent fashion, I want to write what I want to write and get paid for it. Lots, if possible. And yes, it is--with help.

    In pursuit of that goal, some 20+ years ago, I signed on with an agent--and for 20+ years his knowledge, energy, and attention to detail have served me well and increased my income. Would I be published if I didn't have an agent? Maybe. In short fiction, certainly (already was.) But books? Doubtful, though more houses took unagented submissions back then and I'd spent several years waiting for my manuscript to bounce from one publisher after another. I know that I'd never have made sales to all the countries where my books ended up without my agent's efforts.

    There are a few substantially successful writers who don't have agents, but most writers who make a living at it do have an agent. These successful writers don't let agents take 15% off the top because we're in love with tradition...but because agents (good agents, anyway) earn that 15% by making us more than enough to cover it.

    I make my living--supporting the family-- writing fiction. Writing the stories I want to write. I have a lot of readers (which pleases the ego) along with money to live on. My agent is an integral part of that success. I could not do what he does (don't know how, don't want to spend the time away from writing.) Division of labor makes sense; using each person's expertise in that area of expertise makes sense. Together we accomplish more.

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  30. I believe literary agents will soon become an endangered species. The tired, old publishing business model is on a respirator and about to expire. As digital age buries this sick business model, agents will be in the same cemetery. The digital pipeline from author to reader will not need a dotted line to an agent any more than a new car needs running boards. Digital distribution companies will absorb the author/agent process of delivering content. There will always be a strong demand for good storytelling, however, in the digital delivery, agents won't have a large part of the story. And as the digital series unfolds - in the next few years, agents will be written out.

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  31. Catherine Whitney12/11/09 11:50 AM

    Maybe Dan doesn't need an agent, or maybe he just hasn't found the right one. In my experience as a professional writer--that is, full-time, income producing--I can't imagine doing it without an agent. I gladly turn over all of the business headaches (a hundred calls asking where my money is), the marketing studies, the conversations with editors, the sales pitches, etc. so I can concentrate on writing. If anything, the new technology has made me more convinced than ever of the value of my agency (which happens to be DGLM). It has provided expertise on social networks, web pages and other promotional vehicles. It's lonely enough being a writer without also having to know and do everything for myself.

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  32. People, there are crappy agents out there. There are insane agents out there, and lazy ones, and deluded ones, and ones who should never be allowed to call themselves "agent," and who should probably not be allowed to work with the public in any manner.

    But that's true in any profession.

    You simply do your best not to engage the bad ones, and if you do, you chalk it up to experience, and you move on.

    At the risk of sounding aggressively commercial, my goal is not simply to have my work published, or I'd just merrily blog away (I do that anyway). I want to make money with my writing.

    And here the agent comes into play. (And yes, mine did quickly sell my books, so for me the system worked well.)

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  33. This is a wise post but it makes me sad. It makes me sad because my ex-agent never did any of those things for me. In fact she never even bothered to pick up the phone to discuss anything with me outwith the initial, "I'd like to represent you" call. When she punted my book around a minimal amount of big publishers and then got nowhere she gave up. Didn't even try any small indies. Then we mutally parted ways.

    Now I've got two publishers offering on my MSS and no agent.

    I feel slightly that I'll be damned if I give 15% to someone when I did the work. Yet I don't know the business.

    I dream of someone like you describe but it's very sad that there are agents out there who aren't very good at all, and effectively can jeopardise one's career- For example until two weeks ago I was someone with no deal and no agent- which new agent would ever look at someone like that?

    You don't know you've got a bad agent til you get one. Sometimes I think the agents you describe are the ones you see in films....

    I'd like to see a post from someone entitled "How to spot a bad agent before it's too late".

    Because at the risk of being cheeky, saying "You need a good agent" is a moot point.

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  34. I think I have a unique perspective on all this. I'm a former DGLM client, and I'm also the founder of an ebook self-publishing platform that lets any author get their book out there and distributed.

    Although DGLM was unable to sell my book, I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience with DGLM and would highly recommend you to any author fortunate enough to earn your representation.

    It's unfortunate these conversations often devolve into religious camps as if the two must be at odds with one another. I think a better way to look at the situtation is to recognize there's an entire spectrum of publishing.

    Writers write for different reasons. Agents and publishers have a right to choose who they work with. A writer who writes to give their stuff away for free is no less worthy than a writer who writes to put bread on the table. A self-published author is no less worthy than a commercially published author - the readers will decide which authors are worth reading.

    Agents aren't evil. Publishers aren't evil. We're one big ecosystem with room for all shapes, sizes and flavors. Like in any ecosystem, there are good seeds and bad seeds.

    Mark Coker
    Founder
    Smashwords

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  35. This is all very nice reading these posts,I'm a retired Air Force Officer, because of changes in Family circumstances returned to a love of Literature.To date I have produced five books,the first being rather wobbly but I got more proficient as my University Education kicked in(I'm in my sixties).
    As I was trained in Marketing,my profession after Service, my books are based on Readers needs.
    I cant even get a Agent to reply to me never mind a Publisher,have I entered a World of self opinionated Scam Artists or a who cares scenario.
    Comments or advice I would welcome. Bill Farquarson Findlay.

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  36. The more I read, the more I realize I need to get off me arse and start querying again for an agent. My book is published with an indie press, and nope, don't have an agent . . . everyone is telling me "Get.An.Agent.Now.Kat." and I have not done so ---reading here and at Stacy Kane's blog - well, I'm feeling the need to start that query process for an agent!

    Now, out of curiosity, I am going to read the GC post that is creating so much discussion!

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  37. @mark C -- your perspective may be unique but your opinions aren't. There are many ways of going about getting your work to readers, and whcih is for you depends on a vast set of variables. And there is very little reason why we can't all do our thing peacably and let others do theirs. On a sycophantic note - you at smashwords do yours very well - and your outlet suits us at Year Zero with our freemium model of free ebooks and paid paperbacks absolutely perfectly (we'll be using you as distributor of choice for our next tranche of books on Dec 1st).

    @Catherine - not having an agent doesn't in any way mean doing it yourself. I am part of a 26-strong collective. And because we come from 8 countries in different time zones if ever any of us has a dark night of the soul, there is always another of us at the other end of the e-mail to listen. We learn from eackh other, help and advise each other. We are lucky to have a professional designer in our midst for covers, and a guy who rnus a PR company, but if we didn't we'd outsource these to people we'd chosen and trust. DIY doesn't mean do it alone. It means retaining creative control. And I'm the first to admit it's not for everyone, suits very few genres, and that it works for us because we have very common goals that focus our individual voices, and work right at the literary-est end ofliterary fiction where it borders experimental art and invovles collaboration with music and film; and because several of us love performing live and think that having a real audience listening to us read is one of the pleasures not pains of being a writer. We are happy doing it that way -some of us may decide to go t'other way at some point, others won't. My real point is that our way suits us, we are very serious writers, want to make a living from our writing eventually, but don't need an agent, so the generalisation of the article isn't strictly true. Like I say, I like every agent I know - as a breed they are passionate about books - what's not to like about that?

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  38. The Internet allows people to research and shop properties and houses on their own, and real estate agents are still going strong.

    I don't think literary agents are going anywhere.

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  39. OMG, I almost never agree 100% with anything anyone says. But, Miriam, this post is beautiful from beginning to end. Yes, yes, and... yes. Every word is just right. And every consideration accurately and well expressed.

    Wow.

    ReplyDelete
  40. It wasn't until I heard an agent speak at a conference that I began to seriously think about looking for one. Up until then, it seemed like it was just as hard to get an agent to read my mss as it was to get publishing companies to read them.

    It's not that I'm all about the money--it's just that a traditional publishing platform appeals to me because of the potential for a broader audience. One of the greatest things about writing, for me, is interacting with people after they read my stuff.

    I did the self-publishing, POD thing a few years back, and predictably, it got me nowhere. Sure, a few copies got into the hands of freinds and family members, who somehow seemed impressed. But at this point, I'd rather take my chances with someone who can help me navigate the murky waters of publishing. Is it the most ideal scenario? No, I guess not. But what is, these days?

    ReplyDelete
  41. I assumed I'd need an agent, but your post, and particularly some of the comments under it, have been very illuminating. I hope all writers who read the Galleycat article wind up linked to your rebuttal.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Things will get tougher for agents --- as they have for everyone else. The cause is bigger than agents, or writers, or individual publishers, or even the whole industry. It's supply and demand for written fiction.

    Books are cheaper to publish: supply goes up. People have less free time in general: demand goes down. Written fiction facing more, brand-new competition for the public's entertainment dollar: again, demand goes down.

    This adds up to fiction being VERY tough to sell. For anyone. Agent, no agent, whatever. So, the question of whether it's worth the effort of finding one is becoming debatable.

    It's already 1-2 hours per query, personalizing it, checking the agent's blog, looking over agent's recent titles, and double-checking all the agent's specs are met. I don't have the money or time to go jetting off to conferences, that's for sure. Few working parents do.

    I'll keep trying to get an agent. I appreciate what the agent can do, but then again, I'd also appreciate having a helicopter. The result is the same: It's unlikely I'll ever get one.

    I don't think there are enough (honest) agents out there. I think the low number of people who become literary agents is already evidence that literary agents are struggling. Agents will never disappear --- at least, I certainly hope not --- but over time, they will start to concentrate at the industry's high end, because the wise (who appreciate them) will pay more for them.

    Low-end agents will, I think, ultimately go, because there simply won't be any money at the "low end" to support them. As for low-end authors, they'll all be self-publishing, not by choice but by necessity.

    The resentful unpublished who imagine that The Death of Publishing As We Know It would constitute some kind of vindication or "payback" should be careful what they wish for. . .

    ReplyDelete
  43. Right after I made the post above, I noticed Jason Pinter making my point, very concisely.

    "If everybody goes the Kindle route, you will have millions of self-published "authors" making about $30/year." (paraphrasing)

    I think this unfortunate situation is, to some extent, inevitable. At the very least, you'll have this from people whose work is too bad for anyone to want to publish it. And from people with talent who are too lazy to make the work "publishable" quality. And from people too lazy (or pessimistic) to make the effort to pitch the story to agents.

    That's a lot of people.

    It's not particularly bad, unless you get to a point where they are joined by anyone whose work deviates from "what's hot right now".

    As the supply of fiction skyrockets, some fall in quality is inevitable as the freshest new product is overwhelmed in a tsunami of mediocrity.

    I'm sure there are solutions to all of this, though I can't think of one. Whoever DOES think of one will have a great opportunity. I can't wait to see what it is.

    ReplyDelete
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  45. I tend to agree with the fact that if you want to be a serious author you need an agent. However, I have a problem submitting my ideas and work to someone without some sort of written non-disclosure/non-compete agreement. What is to stop an agent, or publisher for that matter from ripping off your idea and giving it to one of their published authors within the same genre? Perhaps I am too distrustful, but how can you be sure your "ideas" do not end up re-worked? So, that leaves you with "I need an agent, but who can I trust?"

    ReplyDelete
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