Are Agents Running Scared?

Frightened WomanI’ve been answering questions from readers, and today I’m responding to Mark, who (along with plenty of others) asked if I’m afraid of the future in which agents will be extinct. He suggested we are all terrified of losing our jobs, and when we write about traditional publishing, and even (gasp) defend it, it shows how desperately we’re clinging to an outdated model.

Hey Mark, way to put me on the defensive!

Ahem. Just kidding.

Along with everyone else, I’m carefully watching the new developments in publishing, and I try to think through how each change will affect readers, writers, and everyone who works in publishing and bookselling.

I’m not afraid of the future of publishing. For now, despite the loud voices online constantly screaming about the death of our industry, publishers are still buying and producing books, and so agents are continuing to represent authors. The difference is that in our role of career partner and advisor, we’re helping our authors to be aware of all their publishing options beyond the “traditional” ones of the past.

So the role of literary agents is already starting to change, and this will continue. The role of many publishing employees will change too. The roles of writers have been changing in the last few years and will continue in that direction. Heck, people’s roles in countless industries have been changing rapidly as our technology changes, our economics change, and the role of marketing changes.

The fact is, we live in an era in which no matter what you do, you’re going to have to embrace change or you’re going to stagnate and fall behind.

I think it’s an exciting time, if sometimes overwhelming. The future is wide open for people who are adaptable, creative, and forward-thinking. I can envision many different ways for agents’ roles to evolve, and I know most of my agent friends have been thinking about this too. Writers are still going to write; readers are still going to read; and agents are people who have developed a wide variety of skills that help bring the two together. How it will all shake out is anybody’s guess.

Most of us can think of twenty different ways our roles could morph into something related yet different. Those who aren’t interested in rolling with the changes are looking at the possibility of a different career down the road.

So don’t feel bad for all of us poor agents who supposedly may be out of a job in a few years. We’re not the equivalent of buggy-whip makers in the era of the automobile. Maybe we’re more like the road maintenance crew—we facilitated transportation via horse and buggy, and now we’re going to facilitate transportation by automobile, so we just have to figure out how to make the roads better.

I’m fairly sure that the same skills that led us to be agents in the first place will serve us as we each figure out our next step. Most likely, we’ll still be in the business of helping bring the written word to readers. Somehow, some way.

How do you envision the future for agents and publishers? And for writers?


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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Are Agents Running Scared? — Rachelle Gardner […]

  2. Brian Henwood on June 19, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    I have self-published e-books, and I have done the print on demand self-publishing route as well. Despite the relative ease of getting your work “out there,” what these approaches lack is the ability to reach your target audience without a super-human effort. You’re basically taking on the roles of agent, publisher, author, editor, etc. Good luck juggling all of that successfully. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if you think landing an agent is hard, try selling 1000 copies of a self-published novel.

    Whatever transformation this industry takes, there will always be a need for agents. For example, let’s assume everyone decides to publish their works on the internet and instantly everyone’s work is available to the world. I for one am not going to take the time to figure out which new authors are worth my attention. I’m going to look to someone I trust who can refer me to the kinds of material and style or writing I like. Isn’t that in a way what agents do for publishers now? We’d just be cutting out the middle man.

  3. […] And Bransford, in fact, is following Rachelle Gardner, an agent who tirelessly plies the pages of her own blog with efforts to demystify the biz for authors. Gardner last month had a post there titled Are Agents Running Scared? […]

  4. Industry News-May 6 » RWA-WF on May 6, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    […] agent Rachelle Gardner isn’t afraid of the future of publishing or of agents’ changing roles. “We’re not the equivalent of buggy-whip makers in the era of the automobile. Maybe we’re […]

  5. Scott Nicholson on May 5, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    I agree that the innovative will survive and thrive. Starting with those who realize their business clients are no longer a few dozen editors but instead 6.5 billion people.

  6. Patti Mallett on May 4, 2012 at 12:20 AM

    Thanks for the reminder that writers will always write and readers will always read. And I hope agents will always be around to help bridge the gap!!

  7. Peter DeHaan on May 3, 2012 at 6:22 PM

    I see change as opportunity in disguise.

  8. Writing on the Ether | Jane Friedman on May 3, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    […] Are Agents Running Scared? she takes on that question I’m hearing from authors (who are running scared, yes) and echoes […]

  9. Sam Craft on May 2, 2012 at 9:54 PM

    I was very impressed with how you explained this. Nice tone 🙂
    Excellent job! Interesting to hear how the role is shifting. 🙂 Thank you ~ Sam

  10. Douglas Thompson on May 2, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    Agents – I’m not sure, but it sure is nice to have an advocate on your side, protecting you and fighting for the best deal you can get.

    Publishers – Will always exist, the future will bring many more formats and opportunities.

    Writers – Will always write. That’s what we do. Hopefully as the world benefits from our creativity, we too can.

    That’s all I got for now…

  11. Dan Miller on May 2, 2012 at 6:55 PM

    I happen to love the business side of publishing – as well as the writing. With my last book I had a big name agent and got a multiple six-figure advance with Random House. We did a double imprint with one version as a New York business book and a Waterbrook imprint for the 7% added faith-based content book. With the book I have coming out in August my agent balked at some of my suggestions for pitching it to publishers. I talked to another rock star agent who assured me she’d get me the biggest deal I’ve ever had.

    But – I elected to negotiate a very unique business contract directly with my publisher. At my request, I got No advance, but a very different back-end agreement than what I’ve ever seen. I truly am in a business venture with my publisher. They are not at risk and hoping against hope to recover some obscene advance. If the book does what we expect, they will make money from the sale of the very first book – and I’ll make many times what most authors make.

    That is not a deal that’s appealing to most agents. They count on their percentage of the advance, knowing they may never see another penny. So when I find an agent who’s willing to be creative and be in this for the long haul, I’d love to talk. I do miss the input of an agent but I’m also thrilled with the prospects of this new deal.

  12. Mira on May 2, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    Great post. Absoltutely. Specific job descriptions come and go, but skills and experience are always highly valued and very much in demand.

    I think many authors want mentors and guides. And as their options and independence increases, many will want guides and teachers even more. Agents are completely primed to step into that gap and fill that need.

    They also might be primed to make more money. A recent thought: If the author is making more money, that means their agent will too. I know that agents make most of their money right now on advances, volume and best-selling authors’ higher royalty rates, but I wonder if that 70% royalty rate would be attractive to agents as well.

    Just a thought. 🙂

  13. Jackie Layton on May 2, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    Great post. I’m not published yet, and I long for an agent.
    To be the best writer I can be, I want an agent to help guide me. I’d be afraid to self-publish at this point because I think it’d be tempting to publish before my story was the best it could be.
    Thanks for posting this today.

  14. Cherry Odelberg on May 2, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    It has been apparent for some time now that changes happen whether I will them or not. No matter what field you work in, you must keep up with the changes and continue to reinvent yourself. You said it well,
    “The fact is, we live in an era in which no matter what you do, you’re going to have to embrace change or you’re going to stagnate and fall behind…The future is wide open for people who are adaptable, creative, and forward-thinking.

  15. Jane on May 2, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    I think there’s so much speculation on the role of agents and publishers now, but so far no frontrunner has emerged with something all that new and different. Some deals have been made that might change SOP for both authors and publishers — such as an author keeping e-book rights to make up for dwindling advances — but those deals haven’t become standard yet.

    I vacillate between my ideal of having an agent and publisher to build a longstanding relationship with and the realities of my career, money and the marketplace. I was one of the fortunate ones who was offered a deal for my first book. Unfortunately, the advance was so low that it wouldn’t have afforded me even two months off to write my next. I chose to self-publish, which has been profitable enough to allow me almost a year to work on my next project. That’s more than I expected and all I could ever hope.

    Still? There’s a credibility to publishing in the traditional way that self-publishing just can’t come close to replicating, especially in its current form. It takes a lot of devotion, energy and marketing skills on a self-pubbed author’s part to raise a book out of the cyber slushpile.

    I will most likely submit my second book to agents and hope that the modest success of my first will give me a leg up and a better offer, but I understand that it’s getting more difficult and purse strings are tighter than ever. I’ll self-publish again if I have to, but it’s not my ideal.

  16. Sherrie on May 2, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Just curious what you think about the article (below) from Bloomberg Businessweek called “Amazon Wants to Burn the Book Business”. Rachel, what are your agent and publishers saying about that? And how can we help stop it?

  17. Laura Diane on May 2, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Great post Rachelle. Change–it’s the one constant throughout life–whether it be our human lifetimes or the cycle of a product or service. There is always change.

    Perhaps change and the need for adjustment are hitting us a bit harder now that technology seems to make everything happen in “quick time,” but we are innovative and will figure it out.

    Those who don’t want to figure out how to move through the transitions will pursue other careers. Maybe they will whine for a while about the “old days,” but absolutely nothing stays the same.

    Your positive attitude is a beacon of light and a stabilizing point for those not adventurous enough to step boldly forward and recognize their own ability to create the future.

    Here’s to magnificent new adventures in the sphere of writing, editing, selling, promoting, and publishing books!

  18. Cherilyn Clough on May 2, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    Yes, as writers we can publish our own books, but most of us are amateurs when it comes to marketing and finishing our books and finding the right tools to make money with our books so I see agents moving into consultant and coaching positions. There will always be a need to get the word out or improve the word we are trying to get out and no one can be an expert in everything. Thanks for all your blogs that help us wanna be published authors!

  19. Sue Harrison on May 2, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    I am not a business person. I realized that years ago when at age 24 my husband bought a sporting goods store and I “got” to be the bookkeeper. AACCCKKKK! I was never more grateful 8 years later when we sold off the dealerships and I didn’t have to do those daily sales, monthly reports, inventories, and so on anymore.

    Imagine my surprise when I found myself as a newly published author also enmeshed in bookwork. It’s a part of the game and it’s a part that I’m not good at. (But it’s more fun than doing motorcycle parts inventories.)

    When it comes to publishing I feel that I don’t have enough knowledge to make wise decisions.

    When it comes to my own writing, I know that I don’t have enough knowledge to make my own decisions. By the time I finish a book, I’ve read it so many times that I don’t know if it sings or stinks.

    I NEED an agent who is far wiser than I am. In so many areas of my writing life and my writing business, I need that informed person who can guide me and put up with me and fill in all the blank spaces that I don’t know anything about. I’m guessing there are a lot of writers out there just like me, and I’m guessing that that is going to continue to be true as long as writers are writing.

    THANK YOU, RACHELLE, for what you do!

  20. Jim Gilliam on May 2, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    Hi Rachelle,

    Joanna Penn and New York Times best selling author C. J. Lyons just did a great Webinar dealing with this very topic. C.J. is a hybrid, meaning that she is both traditionally and self published. The bottom line is publishing is a business and agents and publishers must go with what sells or go out of business. Even though that fact is painfully obvious the majority of new authors just don’t get it. With the advent of the computer it seems that everyone and her brother has written a novel. Of the thousands of books that are published each year only 20 percent of them are fiction, while 90 percent of queries to agents like yourself are for novels. You must get at least 1000 queries a month. You probably “pass” on 99.9999999999 percent of them annually. Ann Rittenberg, only signs one new author every other year or so. Ebooks are here to stay. All writers were readers before they became writers or at least they should be. While it is electronically convenient to read a novel from an electronic device there is nothing like holding a bound volume in your hand as you turn the printed page. I truly believe the majority of readers feel this way. And when was the last time you were reading a traditional book when the page you were reading suddenly went blank? The good news for agents and publishers is that Amazon eBooks have become the great American electronic “slush pile.” I think there will always be a market for real books whether traditionally published or not. Even John Grisham self published his first novel A Time to Kill and sold it out of the trunk of his car at flea markets and meeting of local garden clubs. When his second book The Firm took off A Time to Kill was picked up by Doubleday with Dell later putting it out in paperback. Both The Firm and a Time to Kill went on to become blockbuster movies.

  21. Charles Specht on May 2, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    The fact remains that if I ever write a book that isn’t complete rubbish, and there are some quality traditional publishers out there willing to purchase the book, I’d want an agent representing me. They know what they’re doing…I don’t.

    I think this is true even with the plethora of other publishing models out there right now. I don’t understand all the in’s and out’s of Kindle’s req’s, and the req’s of Nook and others.

    It’s just over my head and so I’d probably hire an agent just to coach me through them, if nothing else.

  22. Janet on May 2, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    Self-publishing sounds easy, but from the research I’ve done there’s more involved than one might think. The trend to self-publishing has opened the way for plenty of scam artists and navigating through the process takes time I would rather spend writing.

    It would be nice to partner with an astute literary agent to sort out the options and keep me from getting taken. Besides, most literary agents are far more marketing savvy than the average writer. Looking past getting a book published, a well-connected agent can take it to the next level with TV and film rights.

    “Self-pub” may become the “trad-pub” of the future. Smart professionals will be prepared to continue helping writers fulfill their dreams.

  23. Maril Hazlett on May 2, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    I think one of the things that agents could do very well in the new world is to help writers with – well, essentially with property management. There’s a lot of rights out there to keep track of, self-publishing doesn’t cover them all, and once you get more than one book going, rights management can get crazy pretty fast. There’s a limit to what most writers will take on in terms of business, even self-publishers. If you don’t at least attempt to sell and manage those additional rights, though, you may be leaving money on the table.

    My impression is that most successful agents are just too busy to offer significant editing for very many of their clients. Or editing would be all that they did all day!

    • Maril Hazlett on May 3, 2012 at 9:31 PM

      I have kept thinking about this question…

      I think that in the larger scheme of things an agent’s role has been to connect the right idea/ idea maker with idea developers and sellers. The idea, the content, is what is important – not necessarily the format of a book. Stories and ideas can take different incarnations than a traditional text narrative. Certain ideas might be effectively expressed through alternative formats, and I can see an agent having a key role in evaluating and facilitating the process of bringing a story to life in different forms. Not all content is as physically simple to publish as an ebook (comparatively) and when you get different creative teams involved, there’s usually a fair amount of headaches to sort out.

      Project management will never go out of style!

      (I think)

  24. Donna Pyle on May 2, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    If you ran, we’d find you and force you to read C-grade novels until you felt compelled to return to save the publishing world. 🙂

  25. Stephanie M. on May 2, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    My agent is insanely busy so I doubt she’s running scared 🙂 She’s also reviewing an e-publishing contract for me that I’m VERY glad not to have to look at myself. I think the new challenge is going to be raising novels up out of the e-slush.

  26. Nancy S. Thompson on May 2, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    I don’t know what role agents will have in the future, but as an author who landed a book deal without an agent, I can honestly say I still wish I had one. Yeah, I did the big part on my own, but I’d like to have guide & mentor, if not just someone who’ll hold my hand.

    • Sherrie on May 2, 2012 at 4:35 PM

      But how much are you willing to pay for that “hand holding”? Do you think you would have sold more books? That is my big question.
      We had a speaker at my writer’s group telling us how you make 5 or 6 times more on each book you sell. But I wonder what the big picture looks like. How many of these self-published books make it BIG? And how well edited are these books?
      I read about one guy who published a book that he did NOT edit, AT ALL! When he asked for reviews, he blocked my friend and did not publish her review. He insisted that his writing was best the first time out and that editing and revising made them worse, not better.
      These are the kind of people that self-pubs are dealing with. With a thousand of those next to your well-edited and revised story, does one even have a chance at getting noticed?
      These are all questions I am asking. I haven’t decided where I stand yet.

      • Nancy S. Thompson on May 2, 2012 at 5:02 PM

        Well, I haven’t sold any yet because it won’t be released until October, but it’s not self-pubbed. I have a publisher. So I will have their backing and marketing behind my book. It is professionally edited, so I have no worries there. With the blog tours and reviews and all that is planned, I hope it stands out against self-pubbed titles, as well as all the others. Butin the end, it will come down to word-of-mouth, just like any other title.

  27. Chris on May 2, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    As an avid fiction reader, but also a fiction buyer for the bookstore I work at, I love following this blog. It is very informative, but I have never commented because I am not a writer…
    Anyways this is something that has and does effect my job.

    I have watched with much interest the changes in the fiction world over the last few years. The only parrallel I could find was about 10 or so years ago the music industry did the same thing when the ipod hit the market. Everyone said it would be the end of the big music publishers. That hasn’t happened, yes indi music is bigger, but listeners of music really don’t want to take the time to weed threw all the bad indi music to find that gem hidden there, it is word of mouth that gets that noticed and it should and will continue. But it didn’t take over the industry.

    Self Pubbed books should and need to continue, but most readers are not ready to lay down $15.00 or more dollars on untried author. (there maybe a reason that a publishing house didn’t want it) An agent, editor, and publishing house doesn’t mean it is a great book everytime, but it does mean that has gone through a process that makes it not just a writers own edits, opinion etc…

  28. Joan Cimyotte on May 2, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    Things are changing so fast. When i started writng my current novel I was following Nathan Bransford’s blog. He talked a lot about the way publishing was changing. I’ve been off and on searching the old fashioned way for an agent. In the meantime I’ve also tried to educate myself about self publishing. I think the change is already taking its stronghold. Nathan is no longer an agent. I know of three people (all blood relatives, writing runs in the family) that have successfully self published. And then I had an acquaintance who published 2 books tell me that you don’t need an agent for heaven’s sake.

    I still cling to the idea that I need an agent. I’m starting to think I am wrong.

  29. Jennifer@GDWJ on May 2, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    Honestly, I cannot personally imagine stepping into this mysterious world without my agent. Maybe that’s my insecurity showing. To be sure, I have several author-friends who have made some very bold (and successful) moves independently. But I’ve felt way more comfortable navigating this publishing world with a professional beside me.

    Keep up the great work, Rachelle, not only with your clients, but with the many, many others you serve with your words in this place.

  30. Yvonne Kochanowski on May 2, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    All relationships evolve – that’s part of business! And after all, we are that – a business that caters to people’s desires to be entertained.

    What I find to be very positive and hopeful is that with the advent of e-readers and the ability to read on computers as well, PEOPLE ARE READING MORE!!! And that means more markets and more customers and a greater audience for what we produce, no matter where we are in this business system. As a writer, this pleases me to no end!!!

  31. Ida on May 2, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    I think it is an evolving time and information such as is provided on this blog is valuable. Many theories of the future are being batted around and based on our backgrounds and and experiences we come to different conclusions. I tried to break into publishing the traditional route for a couple of years but I wasn’t prepared to continue that indefinitely. Subsidy publishing or assisted publishing was something to consider the first time but I think many find more effective ways after that.

    I enjoy self-publishing for the independence and control over my own work that it gives me.

    I do wonder about the future. People have less time, for pleasure reading at least, so I think novels will tend to become shorter and more succinct. Trends and genres will change more quickly, also and I wonder if the time-line of traditional publishing will become problematic for them.

  32. Dawn Rae Miller on May 2, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    I self-publish with my agent’s help & am extremely happy with the arrangement. I write & she handles the business side. She’s negotiated two foreign deals (Germany & Hungary) for my book, handles any problem with my distributors, acts as a sounding board & secures write-for-hire jobs for me. Why wouldn’t I want an agent?

  33. Karen Akins on May 2, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    I should start by saying I’m a little biased as I adore my agent. Her role is more than just a “gatekeeper” for traditional publishing. I don’t have the time, resources, or personality necessary to become a successful self-publisher. Few do. And those who are successful have caught lightning in a bottle.

    If anyone doubts me, they should go check out Amanda Hocking’s blog post from April 30th. Even she extols the virtues of traditional publishing and admits how much better her books are under her editor’s guidance.

    Is traditional pubbing going to look the same in 5 years as it does now? Of course not. But I shudder at the day it disappears completely.

  34. Patricia Zick on May 2, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    Your blog shows you’re adapting to the new exciting world of publishing. However we publish our books, we essentially need to do the same things which is pitch our book and sell it. I believe this is the best time to be in any of the fields of publishing as long as one thing remains constant: the willingness to adapt to change.

  35. Amanda Stephan on May 2, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    To be completely forthright and honest ~ I want to have the backing of an agent (and hopefully a traditional publisher).

    I want to be able to say, ‘Yes, this agent thought my writing was good enough’. I don’t think agents nor traditional publishers are going anywhere, and I’m glad they’re not. Do I say this because I have one? No. But I’m working toward finding that perfect fit. Why? Because a good agent knows their business. They can help me as a writer in ways I wouldn’t even think about if I were to do this on my own through self-publishing.

    Agents are a good thing and if writers are willing to listen and learn, the writer stands to gain.

  36. Lynn Rush on May 2, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    I don’t think “Running Scared” would be how I describe things. We’re all changing to adapt to the continually changing world that is publishing. Traditional publishing has to change with the times, and change is always scary. But we’ll just HOLD ON and get through it…in the end it’ll all work out. 🙂 It always does. ! 🙂

  37. MaryAnn (JAustenwannabe) on May 2, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    I don’t think traditional publishing is going anywhere, anytime soon. As you’ve already said, your role is just evolving.

  38. Charmaine T. Davis on May 2, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    What a well-written and gracious reply. I like how you described agents as being the road maintenance crew of the literary world.

  39. Brent Stratford on May 2, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    Thanks for yet another insightful post Rachelle.

    I think agents are in much better position to adapt to the industry changes than publishers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am pursuing the traditional publishing route with some great discomfort. I think we will see a lot of publishers fold and/or merge as alternatives cut into their market share. That’s bad news for new authors picked up by the publishers that fold.

    And that is why I won’t go the traditional model without an agent. I need an agent to make sure a contract with traditional publisher includes a termination clause if the publisher become insolvent.

    With all the changes taking place in the industry, writers a need a knowledgeable guide more than ever and a talented agent is exactly that.

  40. Kathryn Elliott on May 2, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    At my first grade parent conference, Sister Margaret described me as a “visual learner.” (Also, “gabby” and “uncensored.”) Her assessment was spot on, and being a child of the 70’s I use TV shows as mental guides for complex questions. Today’s post brought MASH to mind – here’s how my “visual” mind sees it:

    After battle (completing a MS) a wounded soldier (author) is transported to the 4077 for exam (query). The first person he/she meets is Radar (agent). Radar wheels the brave soldier’s stretcher into the healing hands of Hawkeye and BJ (editors) before Colonel Potter (publisher) presents him/her a medal (contract) for their service. Radar, advocating on behalf of the recovering hero, submits the official medal paperwork to the War Office (legal), and encourages the soldier to inform friends and family (social media) of his/her accomplishment – all while planning the awards ceremony (interviews/appearance schedules).

    Publishing may be a drastically changing battle, but I cannot imagine the Radars’ of the world becoming obsolete??? Who can manage that much by themselves?

  41. David Todd on May 2, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    I hocked my crystal ball, Rachelle, and can’t see any farther into the future than my two current works-in-progress. I thought I had my next four works queued up nicely, but last night a great plot line for a sequel to my just finished w-i-p popped up, so I have to re-think everything.

    You asked what the future holds for the writer. All I can see is: Opportunity.

  42. Stephanie Faris on May 2, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Hi! I’m agented and seeking a traditional publisher but I can’t help but notice all the success stories in e-publishing/self-publishing. Honestly, if I weren’t agented and considering those other options, I’d feel very out of sorts. I would have no idea how to go about getting a book properly formatted and published, then promoted. I think perhaps the role of an agent might be to help an author find success in all this and navigate the complicated waters. An agent might not be necessary but for a talented writer, that agent could be VERY helpful.

  43. Jeanne T on May 2, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    I agree wtih the comments above. Roles are changing, but I don’t foresee publishing houses or agents fading away into obscurity. At least not those who adapt to the changes that technology creates. Writers, too, will have to continue to adapt.

  44. Ann Bracken on May 2, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Industries change or die, it’s the nature of every business. Those that survive are usually stronger. I think the same will be true of agents, publishing houses and bookstores. Those unable to adapt will suffer the natural consequences.

    I don’t think agents will lose their jobs, but I do think some aspects of their jobs will change while others stay the same. I can’t imagine negotiating my own contract with a publisher. I’d have no idea what I was looking at or whether or not it was fair.

  45. Brendan O'Meara on May 2, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    I could see agents turning into gate keepers for their own e-imprints, in effect become publishers. Maybe this makes little sense, but it affords agents another option.

    Just a thought from this non-fictionist!

  46. Connie Almony on May 2, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Yikes! I hope agents don’t go away! I want to write books. And though I know I’ll have to do lots of pitching and marketing myself, I’d really like at least a guide to help me negotiate that world. I hate legalese—which is why I don’t write legal thrillers—and will need someone to translate contracts for me. I try to keep up with all the ins and outs of the business, but I may need someone to point to that in or out I missed. Please, agents, don’t go away!
    I also think that no matter what the change, readers will still look to gatekeepers of some sort to guide them to the books. With the advent of self-publishing, there is a saturation of reading material. The reader will need someone to help them sort out the “good ones.”
    Maybe the title of “agent” will diminish, but the role of guide for authors and gatekeeper for readers will turn into new careers.

  47. Missionary, now writer on May 2, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    When I was an active missionary, I discovered that I could only hold onto one foreign language at a time. When I switched from Vietnamese to Mandarin Chinese, I noticed a strange thing. . . Every time I learned a Chinese word, I tended to forget the Vietnamese equivalent. I do pretty well now in Chinese, but can hardly put a Vietnamese sentence together.
    From this (and other) experiences I’ve learned that I have limitations. I can’t do all things well. Although no agent has been fortunate enough to pick me up yet (grin), when one does he or she will find that I’m going to be picky too. I want someone that will do a good job, knows the business, and loves his work. I’m trying to become a good writer. I simply don’t have the time or talent to get good at agenting at the same time.

  48. Lindsay Harrel on May 2, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    Unless writers want to learn the ins and outs of publishing and approve their own contracts with traditional publishers (which I don’t!), then agents will always have a place as an advisor, imo. I think publishers will still use them to “weed out” those writers who are not as serious about the craft. So like you said, Rachelle, I can see the role shifting slightly but the purpose staying the same.

  49. sally apokedak on May 2, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    I don’t think the publishing companies are going belly-up. They’ll adapt or they’ll die and new ones will spring up. Bookstores, on the other hand, might disappear. I think more and more shopping will be done online. (Though here’s a wonderful idea for future bookstores)

    If there are publishing companies, there will be agents.

    I think the agents might lean more toward being writing coaches, than they do now, simply because publishers want authors who have already been coached and polished and who can debut on the bestseller lists. But even that will settle down in time, I bet.

    It’s true that introverted writers are now able to sell their work online and that, combined with affordable technology, enables them to self-publish. But I think we’ll always have writers who don’t care to hire their own editors and designers but would rather just write. Those writers will need publishers and agents.

    For years publishers and agents have been telling writers that they need to be entrepreneurs and marketers. They need to stop doing that, probably, and start telling writers again, “You write, and leave the rest to us.”

  50. Perrin Conrad on May 2, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    Great post, Rachelle. And there are so many great comments here, too. As someone who has self-published twice, I have been determined to do it all myself and keep all the money! However, the longer I am out here trying to play marketer, the more value I see in having an agent. A friend of mine self-published (under direction of her agent) at the same time I did (without any such direction), and she has enjoyed exponentially more success than I. The advice of her agent has made all the difference.

    As has already been mentioned above, I hear more and more that the authors making the most money have both traditionally published and self-published works.

    As I look to finish my next book (but first novel) in the next few months, I have decided I will be looking for an agent and trying for traditional publishing this time. I need help, and I’m not too proud to admit it!

  51. Stephen H. King on May 2, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    Agree with you, Rachelle. Times are changing as they always have, but those who can adapt will always come out of it okay. I, personally, don’t think the big publishers are going away. Some will, as the market for physical books continues to decline (but doesn’t go away, I add). I also, then, can’t see the traditional role of agents going away either.

  52. Jennifer Major on May 2, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    In reference to gunpowder, knights and the Holy Grail, the Chinese used gunpowder for all kinds of things beyond weaponry. Fireworks shows the world over owe their beauty to the 9th century invention meant for battle. And besides, good joust was won by impaling the opponent not blowing him sky high.

    An agent may start as any number of things, and over time, end up with connections that reach far beyond her office door. A certain person I married doesn’t have to go through an agent, but I do and he has a definite measure of pity for me. If I had to navigate the world of publishing on my own, I’m sure I’d resemble potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal in a bowl with a lit match.

    There are too many ever evolving variables for the creative part of the team to master, that is why the business and advisory part of the team is critical. Even if someday all books will be digital, contracts still need proper interpretation and therefore will always be a market for agents. And the chocolate delivery guy.

  53. kathryn Magendie on May 2, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    I don’t have an agent and am not sure whether how I am doing would be better or the same or somewhere in between to how I am doing now – I am traditionally published with a small press.

    But, I do love this answer – this is the positive and “forward-looking” thinking that creates and builds. We can all sit around and wring our hands/worry/speculate or we can be excited and positive and see where we can fit into all of this.

    I was published right on the cusp of all the “new stuff” rising up – the “ebook revolution” so to speak, so I didn’t have to adjust so much to the new as ride the coming wave to see where it goes.

    Different doesn’t always mean bad, sometimes it just means different. And those who keep an open mind will do better, I think.

  54. Melissa Mashburn on May 2, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    Good Morning Rachel, I don’t respond often, but I read your blog every day and I just wanted to say I loved your approach to this answer. It was so right on and well thought out, thanks for showing all sides of the coin. ~ Melissa

  55. Denise Petrey on May 2, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    I agree with the comments above. Although I am an adequate business person, specialties make the world go round. My husband has been a writer/editor/poet for the last 30 years, and I’ve helped him with The Asheville Poetry Review for the last 10.
    That knowledge doesn’t transfer to the changes in the world of fiction, apply to e-book debates, or who’s watching the sheep while you’re turned away. In a rapidly-shifting world of entertainment forms and formats, specialized skills are more required than ever.
    I write Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fairy Tales, and do try to keep up (this is one of the blogs I read consistently–thanks so much, Rachelle). I’m also surrounded by other writers and editors–but alas, the cobbler’s son never has proper shoes.
    Whether a novice or a published writer, the idea of entering today’s world of publishing without a guardian, gatekeeper, and trusted advisor (who’s keeping up with everything I DO NOT have time to keep up with), is blood-chilling.
    Like preparing my own taxes, arguing my own lawsuit, or surgically repairing my own body, being alone in the world of publishing is just . . . crazy (not sorry to say it).
    Professionals hire professionals, people whom they believe they can trust, who will speak plainly, make educated decisions, offer sensational solutions, and do tireless recon for them and their work.
    Will agent roles change? Yes. You’ll have to know more to continue representing clients in a too-many-ways-to-turn publishing world. The agents who pick up the gauntlet, take the challenge, and further dedicate themselves to their great love of writing and reading, are the ones I’m betting on.
    The ones like you, Rachelle. Thanks for tirelessly bringing calmness and rational perspective to a perplexing industry.

  56. Timothy Fish on May 2, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    I see no reason for agents and publishers to be scared. Just because it is possible to self-publish doesn’t mean that everyone feels comfortable doing it. In fact, many people are turning to subsidy presses rather than going the self-publishing route, simply because they aren’t comfortable self-publishing their book. But subsidy presses are charging about $2000 or setting the price of the books so high that they are hard to sell. A lot of authors don’t have $2000 just sitting around to risk, so they will continue to look for people who will take on that risk. Those people are publishers. And as long as there are more people who want to be published than publishers can afford to publish, there will always be agents who are working to persuade publishers to publish their clients’ books.

  57. Sharon A Lavy on May 2, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    I don’t see the need for agents going away anytime soon. Thanks for all you do for the industry, Rachelle.

  58. Rick Barry on May 2, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    Nicely stated, Rachelle. I will add another example. When the folks who founded American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) opened their doors for business, they surely didn’t envision a day when nearly everyone would carry a wireless communicator in his pocket. But they and others adapted and embraced the future rather than fleeing from it. Perhaps the thing to fear is an unwillingness to adapt to future opportunities.

    Blessings to you!

  59. carol brill on May 2, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    As long as there are writers who would rather write than be in the publishing business, I think agents will have a role.

    It is interesting watching the agent role evolve over the last several years as agents get savvy about e-pub, marketing, social networking and all that it takes to successfully publish today

  60. Lanny on May 2, 2012 at 5:29 AM

    Another excellent post, Rachelle.
    No answers here, but some random thoughts:
    1. Self-publishing isn’t the same as self-editing. The latter requires a filter between you as writer and the marketplace. My guess is a writer will always be a lousy self-editor, not on the grammatical stuff, but on the value of your material. Any of us could self-publish something within 30 days, but would it be worth the read?
    2. Somebody, please tell me the odds of netting anything by going the route of BookBaby, where you pay $199 for self-publication. For that matter, does anyone know how many self-published works are even out there? This may in fact may be the route for many of us, but I doubt it pays.
    3. I read an Australian writer last week who said novellas around the 50,000-word mark are easier to adapt to the electronic publishing world than longer novels. He may have a point–I don’t know.

    • Liliy on May 2, 2012 at 10:35 AM

      1. I think the ’30 days’ part is going from a finished manuscript, to the formatting & a final typo check. I’ve heard horror stories of a professionally published book being FINISHED (aka–edited, proofed & ready to print) and still taking a year or two to be on the shelf (I really wish I had the article on hand…*sigh*). Quite a few of us find that a little unacceptable.

      2. I have never heard of that service…it sounds like a rip-off. Publishing with Amazon, Lulu, & Smashwords are free. And as for the number–there are a TON of self-published works out there ranging in quality from ‘outstanding’ to ‘what? I can’t read this.’

      3. There’s no difference. Electronic formatting is electronic formatting. You’re still taking the same steps for 120,000 words as 10,000.

      • Liliy on May 2, 2012 at 10:42 AM

        Found it:

        I knew that article was somewhere. XD

        • Philip on May 2, 2012 at 1:06 PM

          Thanks for the lead to Kristine Rusch’s article, Lilly. Essential reading for all writers, who need every reality-check they can get.

          • Philip on May 2, 2012 at 1:07 PM

            And I just realized I misspelled your name. sorry. Won’t happen again.

          • Liliy on May 2, 2012 at 1:20 PM

            Yeah, it’s one of the better ones. And it reminds me I exaggerated slightly in my first post (Book was at the proofing stage, and one-year turn around).

            And no problem. People spell it wrong all the time. I’ve gotten used to it. XD

      • Robert Michael on May 2, 2012 at 2:29 PM

        I looked at BookBaby myself. You CAN actually publish there for free, but they don’t advertise it. The thing is, they amount to a middleman (think Smashwords), but they offer “packages” where they offer design and marketing help.

        They distribute to B & N, Amazon, Apple, etc., and take no commissions. They pay you 100% of your royalties, supposedly, when the distribution channels pay them. Not totally sketchy, but not worth it for self-published authors who want to maximize the relationship (and therefore the royalty percentages) with the distribution channels directly.

        They are just another choice. I am gonna put on my Konrath/Eisler hat: I envision a future…where an author chooses his or her venue. Super-star potential manuscript, with a nod from an agent who thinks they can market it? Send it on to the publishers. Outside of your normal branding, maybe too short or too long for your genre, so thereby a marketing risk? take that risk yourself and move the book through your own “publishing” company. Have a pet story no one wants and has rested on your hard drive for a decade? Dust it off, polish it, spend some deniro, and push it through Bookbaby, a vanity publisher, or just offer it for free on your website as a PDF download.

        The future looks bright for authors. Agents will still be needed, their roles will just change slightly, as you mention in your post. The “sky is falling” mentality taken by some self-pubbers doesn’t jive with reality, but certainly sounds great as apocolyptic literature. Dystopian Publishing, anyone?

  61. mark williams international on May 2, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    One only has to look at the celebrity self-publishers predicting imminent doom for traditional publishing to see that agents still have a role to play.

    Mrs. Barry Eisler, anyone?

  62. P. J. Casselman on May 2, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    I suppose the invention of gun powder made the knights obsolete or did it? Instead of wearing plate armor and charging into battle on a horse, the knights became the nobility who ruled musket carrying foot soldiers. Whenever change occurs, those in power find ways of maintaining power. This will be the case with great publishing companies.
    Therefore the agent is still going to be necessary. Actually, they will be more important due to the plethora of books that are being churned out on laptops around the world. Pub. Companies will use their advertising muscle in the E-book market as strongly as in the bookstores, but they will need higher quality material than is offered elsewhere. Agents will be their first line suppliers of high quality literature.
    Disagree on principal if you like, but the truth is- very few people know of good self-pubbed books swimming in a sea of meritocracy. However, a book by the big houses stands right on top of an Amazon search, is reviewed by the press and can get elevated by the media.
    Don’t take my word for it, though. Self-pub as an unknown. It will feel good to spit in the ocean until waves of reality make your dream disappear into the foam of futility.
    Oh yeah- IMHO

    • Stephen H. King on May 2, 2012 at 8:51 AM

      Whether there’s a principal involved or not, I agree with you on the principle of the matter. It’s indeed hard finding your way into reader’s hands as an Indie. And yes, a large part of that is because we still bear the stigma of a hundred thousand other Indies’ horrible writing. Still, tides shift, and times change.

      • P. J. Casselman on May 2, 2012 at 1:30 PM

        Oh man, I wrote that right after writing about a meeting with the principal in my new novel. I guess I needed the writing discipline. Thanks Stephen. 😀

    • Jennifer Major on May 2, 2012 at 9:03 AM

      A good knight still needs coconuts.

      And yes, the good vs dreck ratio of indie pubs is almost as nauseating as reading about spit while drinking fresh tea. Thanks.

      • P. J. Casselman on May 2, 2012 at 1:26 PM

        Jennifer, I was going to compare Indie to the air-speed velocity of a laden swallow, but I couldn’t make up my mind if I wanted to use an African or European swallow.

        PS. Sorry about the Earl.

        • Jennifer Major on May 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM

          I wonder just how many indie published books are out there and how many should not be roaming without wise counsel. Oh, I checked the Strouhal equation and some available kinematic data. The average airspeed of an unladen swallow is 11 metres per second, or 24 mph. The Earl still be angry.

        • Bret Draven on May 2, 2012 at 3:10 PM

          “Now go away… or I shall taunt you a second time!” Love it!

          • Cherry Odelberg on May 2, 2012 at 4:48 PM

            Good fellows, be ye not angry. The knight shall never his demise meet, nor obsolete become, so long as there be writers to champion his cause. Knoweth all those represented herewith on this page that the pen is mightier than the sword.

          • Jennifer Major on May 2, 2012 at 8:08 PM

            Very good! And Cheryl, I am impressed! Althought the comment thread dyeth upon her land. And *the Earl* is my tea. I got grossed out, whilst drinking my Earl, when I read Casselman’s mention of spit. And so true, the pen (Or Word file) shall always be mightier than the sword!

          • Joe Pote on May 3, 2012 at 3:39 PM

            Mightier than the sword…yet, perchance, not mightier than the spit…

  63. JC Emery on May 2, 2012 at 2:10 AM

    I think there will always be a need for agents and traditional publishers, no matter how popular self-publishing becomes. There will always be those who want to DIY and those who would rather work with a professional. I do see the market becoming more competitive, but not to the point of extinguishing agents’ jobs entirely.

  64. terri patrick on May 2, 2012 at 1:48 AM

    These are very exciting times in publishing world! A few years back, I researched becoming an agent because I’m a good business woman, know marketing, and my writing was stagnant. But then things happened and my writing chops returned.

    However, what I learned then, and since as I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many agents, is there are a lot of talented people still choosing that career. And the enthusiasm of the new agents is contagious.

    So no, agents are neither buggy whip makers or road crews. I see them as the hub on the information highway between writers and readers. They are also a professional filter for the author, with the same goal, to get the story to the reader.

  65. Aimee L. Salter on May 2, 2012 at 1:28 AM

    Many agents are already in a ‘blended’ role of helping authors produce self-published works AND selling to traditional publishers. But I do wonder if, in the long run, that essentially becomes Agents-as-Publishers.

    I’m thinking it’s not the agents whose futures are on the line, but the old-school Publishing machines.

    After all, Agents get first look at everything. How long is it going to take for a few agents to take a risk on self-publishing works, have some success, and decide to go that route entirely?

    I give it 3-5 years, tops.

  66. Chihuahua0 on May 2, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    Like everything else, the publishing industry just has to keep on moving.

    It’s likely that self-publishing and e-books will step onto equal ground with their traditional counterparts. However, there are enough factors to prevent self-publishing closing down all the publishing houses. They still have the authority and power to keep on leading authors.

    On the other hand, I think one crippling trait publishing houses probably have is that they’re slower. It does over take a year or two for a book to go from being sold, to arriving at stores. In contrast, it can take only a month or two with self-publishing, even less.

    Heard of New Adult, and how some publishers are still reluctant about it? I predict that NA will start popping onto the mainstream in three to five years–and The Big Six won’t be the ones leading the trend.

    • Janelle on May 2, 2012 at 12:30 PM

      However, one reason it is so slow is because it takes time to refine the book and make it the best it can be. Sure, there are bad books that get trade published – but not nearly as many as those ‘get it out quick’ self-publishers. I’d rather take that time and not embarrass myself.

  67. Elizabeth Arroyo on May 2, 2012 at 12:58 AM

    Such an awesome response and I hope agents don’t go away. =)

  68. Jan Morgan on May 2, 2012 at 12:45 AM

    Self publishing doesn’t negate the role of an agent and in fact a blend between self pubbing and traditional looks to be the best bet for most authors who want to maximize all channels. Many authors make lousy business people. Most can not arrange marketing plans let alone deploy, measure and refine them.

    Industry contacts will remain important and the finessing and business savvy a great literary agent can bring to the table will be just as in demand whatever the balance of traditional vs self pubbing looks like in months and years to come. If you want great placement on Amazon or other stores, it’ll be an agent who negotiates that. Just my thoughts on the subject.

    • Helen W. Mallon on May 2, 2012 at 4:53 PM

      Jan, thank you. That sounds spot on. I was wondering if self-pubbing DID eliminate the agent’s role. I’m glad it’s not an either-or scenario. It’s pretty exciting to watch all this unfold. Rachelle, thanks so much for bringing out so much practical info, week after week!

    • Jennifer E. McFadden on May 5, 2012 at 5:54 PM

      This is a great response regarding the future for agents. I agree that as long as you adapt well, the future will hold many opportunities in publishing.

      Thanks for these insightful posts.