Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Agent Debate – Part III

New fodder for the agent debate is the pay structure.

A number of agent blogs are kicking around ways for agents to make more money in this dicey economy. Billing for hours and hiking the standard percentage to 20% are ideas kicked around on a number of blogs.

It seems that with fewer books published through traditional means, and lower advances for the books published, agents are also scrambling for ways to pay bills.

Now, my mind comes up with a snappy come back: "don't reject so many books," right off. After all, in my business (IT) the cry for more money is met by: "work harder, stupid." The next thought that crosses my mind is a quote from Peter Cox of Litopia "I went to a conference and there were more agents than writers." That's going to be a problem, too many hungry agents and not enough writers to go around.

Not enough writers? Eh?

Hold it! I don't know about that – the agent blogs lament the sea of manuscripts that wash through their email.

Maybe, it's like the saying "too many lawyers, but not enough good ones."

No matter what my mind conjures up – this Writer's Digest article on the future role of agents caught my attention as a nice sane attitude in a chaotic time. Here's the opening:

"Given the magnitude of change underway in publishing, some have questioned the future role and necessity of the literary agent. Will agents continue to be the middlemen between publishers and authors? Do authors still need agents if they can get discovered or published on their own? Will publishers rely on agents when they can uncover talent through websites like HarperCollins' authonomy.com?"

Rely on Authonomy? (Ascending soapbox, begin mini-rant.) Well there was a shot that went over the bow – so to speak. Okay, four books gleaned from the slush-pile in two years is a 'huge success' to Harper Collins, yeah, yeah, I quoted them myself. Early on there was real talent on the Editor's Desk, unfairly dismissed, (for the record, I'm talking about 'Heart of Rock') which should have been snapped up. (End of mini-rant.)

On the other hand, Dean Wesley Smith posted another viewpoint on his blog. Dean reports hearing more and more "career killed by agents" stories; which prompted his latest post. The comments to his posts are often as enlightening as the article, so do read this one all the way.

The comment below by Laura Resnick illustrates a new trend – more publishing companies are now openly accepting UNagented submissions. (The implied thought is publishers are not finding the fresh voices they want and need, because agents are marketing 'same old, same old' because "it sold last year.") Italics below are mine.

  1. I browsed around Pyr Books website, I was intrigued by what I read – which, SciFi wise, hasn't happened in a bookstore in many years.

    So what's my point? I'd like to say that there are too many agents and not enough writers to go around; but I'd be blowing smoke out my – rump. Instead, I shall say that the current business paradigm – the 'Agency model' isn't working for many people in the business. Writers, agents, even publishers appear to be chaffing at the constriction of the old – and warily eyeing the new, like a kitty eyes its first moving bug.

    (What is that? Does it bite? Could I swat it? Is it tasty?)

    Meanwhile, the likes of Dean Wesley "100-books-&-counting" Smith is dusting off his backlist and posting them on Kindle and Smashwords – priced to sell – so his "Magic Bakery" will kick into a MUCH higher gear. (Do the math with the 70% royalty, 50 books selling 10 copies a day at $2.99.) Joe Konrath will rack up over $100k from Kindle, on books he couldn't sell to NY publishers. (Bad economy? What bad economy? These guys are as happy as a duckling in a puddle!)

    One man models that "writers don't need agents," the other models "writers don't need publishers." Both are right, because this appears to be the start of a new age.

    Do you have a niche picked out yet?

    I do.


Madison Woods said...

Very good article, Kat. I met Lou Anders at MidSouthCon in March this year and was impressed with his approach at Pyr books. He is top on my list of editors I'd love to sway when I get started pitching.

Carina Press, an ebook publisher is also open to unagented submissions.

I'm still leaning toward using an agent, but am paying attention to what you have to say on this topic.

Ms Kitty said...

Carina press is another one to watch. It appears they are publishing cross-genre romantica - right up your alley!

They passed on "Lunch" in just a few weeks. *sigh*

In just a year the climate has gone from "MUST have agent to launch a career" to "be careful, a bad agent can kill your career," to "why pay an agent?"

May as well keep watch on developments, not telling what will be going on in 3 months.

I would like to see a resergence of hard SciFi. I used to love the stuff back when Heinlien and Asimov were writing.

Steam punk looks really interesting, like the stuff Doyle and Wells wrote.

I've got a few "future" based story settings that don't have plots yet. Fun stuff to play with, for now.

The point is finding what is going to work for you - and knowing that you aren't locked in to any one relationship or contract with an agent.