Monday, June 20, 2011

What AGENTS Are Doing with Self-Publishing for Their Clients

Now, the last thing I want to do is start a debate.

So I'll join one.

I really didn't think I'd end up commenting on this blog post. A fellow agent brought it to my attention when she emailed me and a bunch of other agent buddies to glean our reactions to the whole self-publishing thing.

I'm still not really going to - I have plenty I COULD say, but really, eh. What I'm mostly concerned with is that a lot of agents (myself included) are getting a little more than frustrated with all the flak out there regarding agents who represent self-published authors - they're being called "thieves" and "useless" and all sorts of nasty, irrational and impulsive things.

Personally, my reaction to that post was to flat out laugh. Maybe my head is in the sand; but whenever I hear someone rant about how useless agents are these days and what CAN we really provide that an author can't do themselves, well, I say good luck to you then. I'll represent those who DO appreciate what I do. I have no wish to stand here and argue when your face is already blue.

Which is exactly why I haven't commented much, save my own feelings on self-publishing, on the role agents are/should/will take.

I don't plan to either. It's sort of a moot post to make, since it changes every .001 second.

But I do have a few things to say, maybe to add to the conversation as a whole, that came up while chatting with fellow agents Laura Bradford and Taryn Fagerness today.

1. Ok, so you say it's a conflict of interest for an agent to self-publish a client's work - an agent can't be publisher AND agent.

I say: so, you'd rather have an agent lie to you for their own self-interests?

Think about it; all this yelling at agents to stick with the traditional roles is really backing us into a corner of only being ABLE to offer traditional roles to clients...who may actually benefit from self-publishing. Take a mid-list author, for example, who has a NY publisher, but isn't necessarily happy with the cut they're getting. They are an incredible self-promoter, are already seeing great ebook sales...and perhaps they could make it bigger if they stick it out with the publisher, or really, just continue to flounder on the mid-list doing ok. An agent isn't going to want to shoot themselves in the face by walking away from a guaranteed advance. But this author...might REALLY make more, and become far more profitable, from e-publishing. The author may even be...happier!

The limits of ebooks and e-publishing have yet to be established - and an agent who is backed into a corner of "either you're a good agent, and keep your client in NY, or you're a bad agent, and plop a book on Amazon and take a cut of the ebook money" isn't going to be able to completely lay out the pros and cons. They're going to tell the client...what is in THEIR best interest as an agent, whether to save face or hey, to pay the bills, but not necessarily what is in the CLIENT'S best interest.

3. What if an agent signs a client, edits the book, goes out on submission, and can't sell it - is it fair game then to self-publish that *edited* manuscript without any compensation to the agent?

True, traditionally, this IS a risk agents take - we only get paid when an author gets paid, so any effort we put in CAN be for null. But DOES it still count under that traditional structure for self-publishing? After all, the author is, then, getting paid. Even if the agent doesn't do any of the self-publishing...what's the right thing to do, in terms of all the work we DID put in?

Right now, there's no standard for that - should it be a flat fee, since we DID technically serve as an editor? Should we take commission? Should we just say oh well??? That's what my agency is currently trying to figure out (and we haven't reached a conclusion).

2. So what CAN an agent offer clients that they can't do themselves, anyway, when it comes to e-publishing?

Simple: foreign rights. Do YOU have publishing buddies in Germany and Italy ready to read your book? (Ok, neither do I, but I definitely know who to go to who does). Know how to apply for double tax exemption, if you DO decide to start submitting to foreign publishers and/or self-publishing overseas? (THIS, I DO know). Know if it's even POSSIBLE to self-publish overseas?

Even simpler: access to OUR knowledge of professional cover designers, copy editors, and publicists - people we KNOW get results, who are WORTH the money you spend. After all, we meet these people at conferences too - not just editors. You can be sure I keep their cards, just in case.

And even SIMPLER: we can literally take the hassle of knowing the where and how to put your book online - and even have ins, like to OverDrive, the nationwide library ebook distributor, that YOU don't have, and can't get.

Do YOU know how to purchase an ISBN and register copyright? Know what to do with it, how much it's going to cost? Know how to format your manuscript for Kindle, Sony, or Nook? Thought all that was automatic...or starting to think that maybe it's a little more complicated than write book, pu button, see on screen??
Obviously, my view is going to be biased. And it certainly doesn't answer anything; these points, like I said, may be moot tomorrow anyway, and I'm far, far from having an answer on how the agent-author self-publishing relationship should work. If you're curious, here is a post on what a few agents ARE doing with self-publishing - and read a success story here about a client of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency that self-published with them.

But food for thought.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Everything YOU Wanted to Know About CONFERENCES and the NY TRIP

Alrighty, so there were some fabulous questions asked of me from the last post. Not surprisingly, of course, most of you wanted to know about conferences!

Here are my answers:


Is it something you'll have to do regularly, or doesn't it make much of a difference whether you're an agent in San Diego or NYC? I've always been curious about the logistics of being an agent outside of New York.

It's something I plan to do once per year. This was my first official trip out, and thus (I'm hoping) the craziest logistically. But, to answer your other question, no, it doesn't make a big difference - as long as I'm still attending conferences where I meet MANY editors and emailing, twittering, and talking on the phone to editors to know their tastes. It's just so much fun to finally meet in person and get some face-time with someone you've been corresponding with for over a year! It is also nice to literally put yourself in front of these people and say, "Hey look, I DO EXIST!"

What did you learn in your meetings as far as MG goes? What are publishers looking for more of right now? What are they tired of seeing?

I think the biggest thing I took away from this trip was: SEND US MG!!!!!!!!!!! Almost ALL publishers are DYING for MG right now; there is a lot of room for almost any kind, due in part to the huge YA burst.


Why do agents go to conferences? What do they hope to get out of it? And do agents often get new clients out of them?

Well, for me, the biggest benefit is getting to interact with editors I only get to meet in person if I go to NY. But yes, we are absolutely also hoping to get clients out of these conferences - I have indeed signed a client from a conference (yes, I did say A client).

This is, sadly, rare; it's sort of a running theme for faculty to end up asking each other: "Soooo...have YOU ever signed someone from a conference?"

The answer is usually no. Why? Because a big majority of those that attend conferences are brand spankin new writers - which means they have a few betas and (possibly even) manuscripts to go before they really get everything down!

My advice, honestly, is: don't go just to get an agent. It doesn't matter if you meet me in person or not - your writing is what's going to sell you. SO, go instead to HONE YOUR CRAFT. These conferences are invaluable for learning the do's and don'ts, to gathering up the courage to start submitting, to re-igniting your momentum to keep going. You find partners in all your trials and tribulations, and are surrounded for hours and hours by people JUST LIKE YOU: WHO LOVE BOOKS AND WRITING. Who won't look at you slightly pitying and disgusted when you say: I'm writing a book.

Since you probably don't have time to write everything about the one in NJ, what were the high points for you? What were the high points for attending authors? Was there overlap between both sets of high points?

Biggest high point: seeing my clients, Jessica, Natalie and Charlotte. I also truly enjoyed meeting so many wonderful editors, and interacting with conference attendees...who just wanted to chat, not pitch me all the time! I love socializing and ESPECIALLY love sharing what I've learned along the way with others.

I have no idea what people get out of'd have to ask an attending writer! But, I imagine one of the same benefits I get - realizing these big, scary agents (editors) are just cool, approachable people, too. I'm the COOLEST, of course, but....

Any plans to attend the AZ one?

No. We have to be invited to these puppies. ;) You can see what I'm attending on my EVENTS tab.

Besides free books, what is the best sort of SWAG you like getting at conferences?

Bags - totes or otherwise. I SO do not need them, but I love them. Pens. Awesomely unique things that I won't just throw away - like a bottle opener shaped like an antique key with the title of your debut Steampunk *hinty hint*. BUTTONS - love fun ones that don't just have your title on them, but maybe a cute, spunky reminder that has to DO with your book or genre.

I have a post on SWAG, actually, you can read more on.

How often do agents go with clients, in person at least, to events like conferences? Or did the meet up just happen on the fly?

I'd say close to never. If I see a client at a conference it's because the clients live in the area I'm attending the conference at, or they decided to attend the conference too.

What do published authors do at these conferences? I understand why agents, editors, and hopeful authors go, but I don't think I've ever heard why established authors make the schlep.

Network. Exchange cards with other aspiring authors for blog/promo team-ups, blurbs, other marketing tips. Meet with editors and (possibly) publicists; it's ALWAYS good to have your name out there in the biz. Promote your book - these writers are eager to hear of your success stories, and a publisher author can often give a workshop or lecture about theirs or something helpful to aspiring authors (who are also POTENTIAL BUYERS). Word of mouth!

What is it like, from an agent's perspective, to hear a pitch from a very nervous aspiring author? What are you thinking as we chatter along? Do you see through our nervousness to the good idea?

Cute. And a little funny. As I've stated before, I literally look like I've just turned 12 and people are nervous to talk to ME. Very odd, but a little endearing.

If I can't see through the chatter, I ask questions to get an idea of what you're talking about - I almost always say yes to a pitch, because for me, it's the writing that decides, not how you talk about it. Which is why I also always say...don't use your appointment to pitch me - come with questions! Come prepared to chat and get to know me better. You can email me your perfect, non-chatty pitch later. ;)

Read more on my take on pitch sessions here, and then go write the perfect pitch!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New York and Beyond

Yup, that's right - I finally made the legendary agent-shlep out from San Diego to NY!

I figure, well, I don't really have much energy to think of something super helpful to write, so I'll just let you in on exactly what happens on these trips:


Lots. And lots. Of meetings.

Over 30 in three days kind of meetings. And that's a lower number.

Between navigating the streets of NY while trying to ignore the wafting breeze of...port-a-potty (yes, NY smells like a port-a-potty in the summer), realizing I'm heading Uptown but oh, whoops, I need to be going Downtown...on the B subway...not R, wretchedly holding my skirt firmly at my sides as I'm blown by the gale-force winds that is the Penguin and Scholastic area, and making it just in catch the sleeping receptionist, I had my hands quite full.

I had awkward meetings (blank stare across the can we do for you??) some drinking meetings (ah...martinis count as book talks, right?) some incredibly laid-back meetings (yeah, that was me you saw whose skirt flew over her head) and some formal, traditional book-chat meetings.

I could really go on all day about it; I could especially go on all day about the conference that capped it all off (SCBWI NJ).

Instead, I will share some pictures:

My client, Jessica Souders, whose debut RENEGADE will release in Fall 2012, and me

My clients, Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo, whose debut, SIRENZ just released June 8th, and me

And shall open up the floor to all of you - any questions about my NY trip or the conference? Let me know what you want to know!

*questions posted on and before Friday, June 10th will be answered*