Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Agent Is My Publisher?

If you haven’t heard about the latest trend in publishing your response to my title was probably similar to mine when I discovered these new hybrid publishers. I very intelligently said: Whuh? Literary agency publishing houses? Are they nuts?

Just typing my title made me glance around to see if I’d accidentally fallen into a parallel universe. Nope. Still here. Living in a world where the publishing industry is breaking down and reforming itself like the fractals in a kaleidoscope.

I have to admit, after the initial shock, a literary agency publishing house becomes an intriguing idea. I mean, who would know if a book is good enough to epublish, but the discerning eye of an agent? And a lot of literary agencies have large social networking and marketing platforms where they can market the book.

The idea could have merit.

However, you might wonder how your agent—the person is supposed to represent you in your negotiations with you publisher—can represent you effectively when they are your publisher?

Hmm.... Good question.

Not a lot of answers—yet.

Let’s face it. The publishing industry is changing so fast that most organizations are making up rules as they go. Right now, each of these hybrid agency/publishers has their own epublishing rules and regulations. And no one is monitoring them.

So let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks to this arrangement.


ePublishing Your Backlist

It all started as a way for agents to publish their client’s backlist. I mean, how great is that? The author already has a following of readers, so any books that were not under contract were just sitting there gathering dust when they could be selling at the lovely 70% royalty levels on Amazon.

It was a natural instinct of the agency to help their clients and themselves to earn additional revenue by e-publishing any books that were out of print and out of contract. They have the skill to do it for their clients. The clients starts earning revenue on what was essentially a dead book. Win-Win.

New Authors Experience A Publishing Wasteland

Agents have been grumbling a lot lately. They represent too many great manuscripts that are going unsold. The big houses just aren’t picking up new authors in the same numbers as in the past. So, after they’ve exhausted the traditional publishing route, some agencies are backing their authors by epublishing them.

What’s not to love? A new author gets some traction on their career. The agency gets to build them up and make them ready for traditional publishing. They might even teach the author a thing or two about book marketing.

So far, it's a love fest. Except for a few unsightly details....

The Drawbacks

There’s only one drawback that I can think of, but it’s a doozy. Who represents you?

I’m not saying that your agency is doing anything wrong. They probably have the best of intentions. However, no one is really representing you in this transaction. It’s a conflict of interest for them to be your agent and your publisher. So no matter how much you love your agent and how excited you are about being published, you need to tread carefully.

Options for Covering Those Pretty Assets of Yours

This agency/publisher hybrid might be a great way to launch your writing career in a tough publishing environment, but don’t let it go to your head. Take your time deciding. Do your research. Here are a few things you'll want to consider:

  • There are other epublishing companies. And you can epublish yourself. So look around at other ebook publishing companies. Contact them to see what they have to offer in comparison. I bet they’ll have no problem making you an offer once they know your agent wants to publish you.

  • Compare what else these companies have to offer, beyond royalty rates. Do they have a marketing system for you? Are they willing to promote you? Do they provide cover design and layout? What kinds of rights will they have and for how long? Are there any other terms you need to consider?

  • Nail down the issues of tracking the sales and percentages. Are the royalties a percentage of the gross or the net? If net, then what is included in the net expenses?

  • Define what this means for your future books. Will your agency represent you in future books that you want to get traditionally published? How does this publishing contract effect the rights of your books if you get picked up by a publisher later? Think long term as you explore your options.

  • Ahem. Royalties. We all know writers are shy and just super excited to get any kind of publishing deal, but this is your livelihood we are talking about, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Find out what other epublishing companies are offering, then use that information to negotiate to get what you want.

  • Finally, memorize this phrase: All contracts must be looked over by a contract lawyer before you sign anything.

These new hybrids might be a wonderful opportunity for an author or it could be a nightmare. Success or failure will depend on the agency and your own good sense.


Cindy Keen Reynders said...

I had an agent in the UK offer to rep my most recent mystery this way and publish through his house but he wanted to charge. As you pointed out, since we can e-publish ourselves, why pay?

Tamela Buhrke said...

Hi Cindy
I feel the same way. However, some are technophobic so epublishers give them an option to get their book out without having to learn all the technology.

Also, there can be marketing benefits. Some agents and epublishers offer to use their own platforms to market the book.

Those marketing benefits can give a new author a leg up. But if you have a readership and many books out, then the only benefit is not having to learn the technology.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Lots of new and excellent information here. I'd heard only the tiniest bit about this potential trend, so it's good to see some of the pros and cons.

Daven Anderson said...

If the agency promoted you and your book effectively, e-publishing with them would be a good deal.

If not, "D.I.Y."