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, puhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifsh 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.