Agents Represent Authors
I’m a literary agent.
I advocate for authors.
That’s my job, it’s what I choose to do, and I enjoy doing it. Every day I’m grateful for my partnership with so many talented writers. I consider it my privilege to assist them in reaching their publishing goals. I work hard to understand their needs, priorities, and dreams so that I can serve them well.
Part of my job as a literary agent is also to have a deep understanding of publishers. The better I understand their goals and concerns, the better I can find the right authors for them, and negotiate contracts that are win-win for both author and publisher. The more I do that, the more both authors and publishers appreciate working with an agent, and have a positive publishing experience.
On Monday I wrote a post in which I attempted to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published.
But I messed up royally.
In my effort to illuminate the publisher’s perspective on things, I inadvertently came across as completely defending the publishers’ viewpoints, and somehow being on the side of “Big Pub” (as some commenters put it) rather than being an advocate for authors. That was my mistake. I badly miscommunicated, and I regret it because it led to so much misunderstanding.
Here are a few points I’d like to clarify:
→ I am the author’s advocate, and I take that role seriously, as I know most agents do.
→ In order to properly represent authors, it’s crucial for me to understand publishers — and it’s also necessary to maintain a win/win philosophy in all negotiations. It’s in all authors’ best interest that publishers respect agents and want to work with them. So the agent/publisher relationship is not combative, it’s not “us versus them.” There is a spirit of working together to get good books published. This is why my post didn’t try to “take sides” against publishers. It’s better to simply understand where they’re coming from, so we have a foundation from which to begin negotiations.
→ Every author’s situation is unique. They each have their priorities, goals, and preferences. Like most agents, I approach each publishing contract with that individual author in mind, and I work hard to protect their interests, paying attention to their specific needs. No two scenarios are the same, and therefore no two contract negotiations are the same.
→ The title of Monday’s post was badly worded — mea culpa! I was trying to find a colloquial way of referring to the fact that publishing contracts allow and disallow certain things, on both the author’s and publisher’s side. By saying “Will my publisher LET me self-publish?” many people felt I was treating authors like third-graders and putting the publisher in the position of the Great and Powerful Dictator. That wasn’t my intent and I take full responsibility for my poor communication.
→ I assumed that most readers would accept my post in context of my other posts and other things they already know about me. Bad assumption! Not everyone knows that our agency is working hard to help our clients become hybrid authors if they want to. Not everyone knows that I’ve written positively about self-publishing many times. Not everyone knows that I myself am a self-published author, so I clearly have nothing against it. Not everyone knows how seriously I take my responsibility to be the writer’s advocate. My post needed to stand on its own without context, and failed.
→ Like most agents, I always work hard on the stickier contract clauses, such as non-competes and options (“first right of refusal”). My goal is to protect the author’s rights and get them a fair contract. Many comments on Monday’s post seemed to assume I was saying I would “just accept” publisher non-competes. I’d be an extremely poor author representative if I did that! I meant to convey that I understand the goals of a non-compete, and this understanding helps me to speak to publishers intelligently and work with them to come to a win-win solution.
→ Agented authors depend on their agents’ ability to be strong advocates, fighters if necessary, while maintaining the ability to sell books to those publishers. It’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid “us versus them” thinking. It is NOT authors-vs.-publishers. It is NOT self-vs.-traditional publishing. We are all in this together.
→ As agents, we represent authors. We’re committed to representing writers’ interests, and to do that, we must have strong working relationships with publishers. Don’t assume, because we understand and can explain the publisher’s side of things, that we’re confused about our loyalties. We know for whom we work.
We work for authors.
Why do you think these publishing issues lend themselves so readily to an us-versus-them viewpoint? What is making all of us respond so passionately? I’m interested in hearing your perspective.
To properly represent authors, it’s crucial for agents to understand publishers. Click to Tweet.
When an agent’s post is misunderstood, all hell breaks loose. Click to Tweet.
A “mea culpa” for Monday’s post from @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.