Dang Greedy Agents… (Not)
So here’s my response to Chuck’s post yesterday: Personally I wouldn’t favor the kind of fee structure he proposed. But I thought Chuck did a great job of thinking outside the box and proposing some options, and I liked the idea of putting it out there to stimulate some discussion. (Chuck’s not even an agent, so he had nothing to gain by suggesting something new.)
Here’s why I wouldn’t support a “minimum fee” for agents:
1) I’d feel like I were really scamming an author if I took $2000 from a $3500 advance. Believe me, I know how much work it is to write a book. I’m not here to minimize or devalue the important and difficult work authors do. There’s no way I could justify, in my own mind, taking money off the top like that.
2) I enjoy the motivating factor of the 15% commission structure. It keeps me on my toes, making it crucial for me to do my very, very best for each author. It also keeps me from taking too many extraordinary risks on books I might love but can’t sell for much. As several people noted in the comments yesterday, that’s probably a good thing for the publishing business.
3) I don’t mind the “crapshoot” aspect of being an agent. Yes, sometimes I’m going to work my tail off and when all is said and done, maybe I’ve made a dollar an hour. But other times the payoff will be much greater. Like publishers, I take on some big ones and some small ones, and I try to keep it balanced so that I can stay in business.
4) I don’t like any structure that leads to more suspicion about agent practices. Part of the reason the AAR has such strict guidelines is to avoid any gray areas in which an unscrupulous agent could take advantage of authors. If there are gaping loopholes in the system that would make it easier for unprincipled people to scam or shortchange authors, it would be bad for all of us.
5) I don’t think the current system works perfectly, but it works pretty well as far as I’m concerned. I don’t see a reason to change fee structures. Eventually there will be a need for agents to alter their businesses as publishing continues to evolve, but that will be a much bigger change than simply commission rates.
I DO appreciate all of you who rose to the occasion yesterday and thoughtfully responded. Chuck and I wanted to simply open a discussion and see if we could get some good ideas tossed about. I think he has a unique perspective as someone who isn’t an agent himself but talks to a LOT of agents, all the time. He gets to hear some things that the rest of us don’t, and I always like hearing about new ideas, regardless of whether I agree with them. Publishing is changing, and the way people (authors, publishers, agents) make money is going to change, so we might as well get used to talking about it.
Of course it’s predictable that numerous people would use the post as another reason to bash agents, and Chuck and I both knew this going in. I wonder why it’s so hard for some to just consider a hypothetical question without getting all hot under the collar?
Well, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks and I’m exhausted. I feel the need to lighten up. Anybody have a good, clean joke? Leave them in the comments and I’ll choose the one I like best to win a free critique of 20 pages. PG-13, please.
Update: Contest closed!
Have a good weekend!
Photo: Grove Pashley-Corbis. Newsweek.