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Should Agents Become Publishers?

booksWhat do you think of agents entering the self-publishing fray?

Several high profile literary agencies have formally expanded their businesses to include a “self publishing” division. (Waxman, DGLM, and Bookends.) And while you may not have heard other announcements yet, you can bet that every single agency is considering ways to keep up with new developments and stay in business.

It’s causing a lot of controversy.

So, what’s your opinion?

 

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!

91 Comments

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  5. Elizabeth Sogard on July 31, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Personally I think agents better watch it. If they go too far down this path they will not only lose their reputation with their clients but with the people that have been cutting their paychecks for years.

    If an agent thinks they can do better for themselves as an epub publisher they should retire from being an agent and acquire clients with full disclosure.



  6. Pen and Ink on July 29, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    No.



  7. Martha Ramirez on July 29, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Wow it’s spreading like wildfire. TKA announced the same thing.

    I have a question. So if an author decides to go through one of these agencies who help them self pub, later down the road if they decide to try for the traditional route, would that account as a writing credential?

    Right now–maybe I should say used to be—it was frowned upon. I’d like to hear your thoughts, Rachelle.:)



  8. Liz on July 29, 2011 at 6:59 AM

    It doesn’t bother me when an agent helps his author self-publish, because technically he’s still acting as an agent. Where it gets sticky–at least for me–is when agents pose as publishers and offer their services to people who aren’t their clients. Not only is that a conflict of interest, but it’s also kind of insulting. They may see it as taking more chances, but I see it as riding the coattails of someone who’s good enough to make money off of but not good enough to represent. Besides, when your agent is also your publisher, where do you go if you’re unhappy with your arrangement? I’m not saying an agent can’t be a publisher, but I think it would be hard for a good agent to also be a good publisher.



  9. Jo Huddleston on July 28, 2011 at 10:59 PM

    Wasn’t it Shakespeare who wrote something along the lines of never be the first to take hold of the new but not the last to let go of the old…or something like that? Maybe that will apply to agencies and writers.



  10. Martha Ramirez on July 28, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    There’s a huge controversy on Indie vs. traditional and I am anxious to hear your thoughts and all respected agent’s thoughts.
    Some of the things that Rusch predicted are coming true: http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/29/the-business-rusch-you-are-not-alone



  11. Reba J. Hoffman on July 28, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    I don’t think agents should abandon traditional publishing to go with self-publishing. That being said, I also think there is a place and need for self-publishing.

    If I were represented and had a particular manuscript,say a nonfiction how-to book for a specific audience, I would be grateful if the agent could just take care of that for me. The trust would already be there. Why not?



  12. V.V. Denman on July 28, 2011 at 10:09 AM

    If I were to self-publish, I’d feel much more confident with an experienced agent by my side. Even though I could learn how to do it on my own, I wouldn’t know everything an agent would know. Especially the first time out.

    And I hate to say this, but some self-published authors would benefit from an agent saying, “No, not yet.”



  13. Peter DeHaan on July 28, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    I also agree that this is a conflict of interest for the agent.



  14. Rudy Wilson Galdonik on July 28, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    I owned a travel agency back in the days when airlines paid commissions and before technology allowed you to make your own online reservations. Now the only agencies that exist are the ones who were willing to think outside the box.

    I think offering options and expertise to people who want to self-publish is a good thing.



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  16. Cynthia Robertson on July 27, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    What are they offering to do for writers? And how much will it cost? I’d have to know the answers to those questions before I could say what I think about it.



  17. Robyn Bradley on July 27, 2011 at 11:41 PM

    I’ve been following this closely, ever since Konrath decided to take the leap with DGLM. At first, I was thinking, “Yeah, this makes sense.” But Courtney’s argument, as many others have noted above, has definitely caused me to stop and think about things (which is good).

    Here’s the link for those interested in reading her piece: http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2011/07/26/an-open-letter-to-agents/

    That said, I know I’d want an agent to help negotiate audio rights, foreign rights, movie rights etc. I could still see the normal “percentage split” making sense there (and I don’t see it as a conflict of interest, since the agent would be working on my behalf, trying to get me the best deal possible, just as she would when seeking a traditional pub deal).

    For other business-like or marketing-like “consulting” (or project management), I think I’d prefer paying a flat fee (maybe quarterly in the case of project management), just like I would any consultant or vendor. I think that removes the conflict of interest since I’d think of the person as a business consultant…and I’d happily pay for it, too. I realize, in this case, I wouldn’t be calling the person my “agent,” but rather my business advisor or consultant. That’s fine. I think many agents could bring a ton of knowledge and expertise to the table. I know I could learn a lot from working closely with the right one.



  18. Amy Armstrong on July 27, 2011 at 11:33 PM

    It creeps me out. I want an agent to be an advocate for my work, not a vulture who might try to sell me the self-pub package du jour. Writing pays badly as it is.



  19. Laura Pauling on July 27, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    I think Courtney Milan’s posts spelled it out well. I have no problem with agencies helping their clients self publish, though I do think it should be for a flat fee, not a percentage of sales. But a publishing arm, outside of the conflict of interest, might undermine the trust between agent and client. And that would not be a good thing.



  20. Michelle DeRusha on July 27, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    I think it can only help to improve the reputation (and quality) of self-published books. Clearly self-publishing is here to stay, so the choice is either to hide our heads in the sand or jump in and make the industry better.



  21. Steena Holmes on July 27, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    I think that anyone who wants to delve into self-pub needs to do their homework. It’s not easy, but it wasn’t supposed to be. If the agent is offering a service for a flat fee – then I’m all for it. I need editing. I need a cover (unless I’m savy enough to do it myself) and I may even need help formatting. I will and do pay for these anyways. Whether I pay an agent to get these done for me or I go directly to the cover artist and editor really doesn’t matter. I’m paying a flat fee.

    What I don’t like is the percentage.

    Let’s be realistic. I’m doing this for the money. I have a passion that I believe can be beneficial to me as a writer. Otherwise I wouldn’t be out there branding myself or putting my work up where people can buy.

    I’m not also sure I understand the query aspect. If you are offering a service to help those who want to self publish – people other than your own clients – why am I having to query you to see if my work is good enough? I’m paying you a percentage of all my sales for your service – so why am I querying?

    I think right now the water is a bit muddied. Right or wrong, I think if this is a direction agents are going to take, things need to be a lot more clearer for writers before they take the plunge.

    I wrote about this on my blog yesterday after reading Courtney Milan’s and Bob Myers posts. http://www.steenaholmes.com



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 28, 2011 at 10:41 AM

      Steena, I think the reason for the query in the self-pub situation is for two important reasons.
      1) That entity, the self-pub business or “publisher,” is going to have their name attached to that book. It will remain crucial for them to avoid having completely awful books – badly written, badly edited – associated with their name. Quality is one of the few assets they can sell. If they can show authors that all their books look great and are well written and well edited, then the authors have a reason to work with them. Trust me, these self-pub entities are getting many, many submissions that are simply so bad — in idea, in content, and/or in execution — that there’s no hope for them to ever be good books. They need to screen for this and be able to say no when necessary.

      2) Every business has an obligation to limit their number of clients to whatever they can handle, while still servicing all of their clients WELL. So they need a way to say no when they’re at the limit.

      It would make no sense whatsoever to have a policy that says, “Come one, come all, we’ll help ANYONE AND EVERYONE get published.” Who would trust them if that was their policy?



      • Steena Holmes on July 28, 2011 at 3:25 PM

        Thanks Rachelle for clarifying about the query. It does makes sense, but I’m wondering if the term is what is throwing me off.

        I’ve heard of editors who have had to declined based on schedule or because there was so much work to be done in a manuscript.

        I associate query with agents, not self publishing. Just like I associate percentage with agents and flat fees with those who help in the self publish world.

        I agree that just because everyone can self publish doesn’t mean everyone should and that is a great benefit to going through something like this.



  22. Katie Ganshert on July 27, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    For some reason, every time I click “reply” to try and reply to one of the comments, it bumps me away from the comments altogether, back to the original post.

    Am I doing something wrong? Or is this happening to others?

    Great conversation here! Reading the comments has helped me better understand where the conflict of interest comes from.



    • David Todd on July 27, 2011 at 4:35 PM

      Katie: When you click “reply” to a specific article the reply entry box shows up at the bottom of the page, not adjacent to the post to which you are replying. Plus, for some strange reason, your cursor is placed at the top of the page. If you look at the red band just above your name, it will say “Leave a Reply to _____________” with the name of the person to whom you are replying. Your reply post will show up in the right place when you click “Submit Comment”.



      • Katie Ganshert on July 27, 2011 at 4:42 PM

        Thanks David! I was so confused! And funny you should respond to my question, because your comment was the one I wanted to reply to. I was going to say that you bring up a valid concern. Helps me understand what people mean when they say a conflict of interest. Makes it even more important than ever to have an agent that you know and really trust (thankfully, I have one!)



  23. Rondi Olson on July 27, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    An agent is supposed to represent the writer and when the agent becomes the publisher there is a conflict of interest.

    That doesn’t mean that agents can’t, or shouldn’t publish. In real estate there are seller’s agents, who represent the seller, and buyer’s agents, who represent the buyer. If one agent is contracted to represent both the seller and the buyer, new contracts are signed to let both parties know the agent has moved to dual agency, where the agent represents neither client but becomes only a transaction facilitator.

    I see something like this coming into the publishing world.



    • John Waverly on July 29, 2011 at 10:50 AM

      Rondi, you’ve hit on my biggest problem with agents and agencies becoming self-publishers.

      An agent gets paid when I get paid, and its to their advantage to negotiate the best contract for me. But if the agency becomes the publisher then how do I know they’re not going to take advantage of me and keep more of the profits/rights for themselves.

      In other words, do I need to get an agent with another agency to represent my interests when I negotiate a self-publishing contract with my current agent?



  24. marion on July 27, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I’m thinking of Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help, which came out of the publishing wilderness to top the bestseller list.

    And I’m assuming that agents would still be working on a percentage basis, not charging an up-front fee. (I believe there are already professionals–publicists?–who provide this kind of fee-paid service.)

    If the agent is working for a percentage, they’re not going to waste their efforts on junk.

    I’m also assuming that, in most cases, traditional publishing would be the most advantageous arrangement for both author and agent (working for a percentage), if a publisher will play along. Authors that have the savvy to self-pub. themselves to success as lone wolves will presumably not be looking to work with an agent.

    I just feel there should be help available for writers who have written a book that the “savvy agent” believes should be published, even though the publishers aren’t biting.



  25. joan Cimyotte on July 27, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    It seems the industry is changing rapidly. I think the publishing business is more brutal than ever. If an agent were to help someone self-publish than it no longer is self-publish. If an agent is interested in something it would seem that the person would achieve standard publishing. Or maybe for a small fee and agent becomes interested. There already are people who will gladly take your money to help you. I would be interested in the success rate a person has when they self-publish.



  26. Else on July 27, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    A few years ago some agents were making “referrals” to PublishAmerica and Author House in exchange for a cut. Monetizing the slushpile.

    Seems unethical to me.



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 28, 2011 at 10:46 AM

      Yes, Else, this has happened in the past, but never with any legitimate and reputable agents. There are so many watchdogs out there, sniffing out unethical practices among agents. And the truth is, most agents care deeply about their clients and do everything humanly possible to avoid even the slightest hint of unethical behavior. Just like in most businesses, there are a few bad eggs who bring down the reputations of the entire industry.



  27. Steve on July 27, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Amber said:

    The question is – who is going to do it? An independent company would be ideal, no conflict of interest, but someone has to start it.

    It’s already been done. There’s companies like BookOw. You can also seek out these people yourself. Konrath has links on his page for his formatter, etc, go to the Kindleboards (tons of references there) and I know of an agent who codes e-books and advertises this on her blog. It’s out there.



  28. Amber on July 27, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    I think Courtney Milan explains very well what is wrong with Agents as Publishers, namely the conflict of interest. And for that, I agree with her. But I also think there is a growing group of authors who are interested in self publishing. Maybe they want to put out more work more quickly, and get more of the profits, or maybe their work doesn’t fit as well into traditional publishers’ guidelines. But these authors want their work to be edited and well formatted and have professional bookcovers and the things that an agent/publisher would provide, without having to learn every bit of it themselves. So I think the idea of a “Publisher” like that makes sense. The question is – who is going to do it? An independent company would be ideal, no conflict of interest, but someone has to start it. And that someone has to have both experience in the industry (to be trustworthy) and contacts (to grow their business). So either someone jumps ship from where they are and takes a big risk, or we have to deal with spin-off companies like this. They are testing the waters. If it does well, you better believe there will be a dozen more companies lined up doing the same thing, but better, and independent.



  29. Lori (formerly BW on this site) on July 27, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    I don’t like it. It seems to me to be a conflict of interest. However, are agents busy enough with reading submissions, finding new talents, working on contracts etc.. without being a publihser to boot?



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 28, 2011 at 10:49 AM

      Lori, frankly I already AM busy enough (too busy, actually) with the business of providing representation for my clients. While our agency has had many talks and strategy meetings about handling the future, one reason we haven’t jumped out with anything “new” is that we’re swamped as it is. We’re selling books to publishers, and as long as we can do that, that’s where our focus will be.



  30. Kelley on July 27, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    I think the problem is that most agents aren’t even bothering to figure out what authors TRULY need. (And it isn’t creating yet another e-publisher to pub their book for them.)

    Look. It’s not hard to self-e-pub. There can be some out of pocket expenses, but then again, you can also do it for free. You control that. Regardless, it’s not hard. It’s not. I can give you some great contacts right now, off the top of my head, for free. And authors are helping other authors to learn the ropes.

    We don’t necessarily need agents who haven’t any exp in this to help upload our books.

    Except.

    One of the keys to success is brand, and part of that is having lots of avail stories for your readers. That becomes hard to manage. At a certain point it would be useful to have a manager. Someone to oversee all those details so the writer is freed up to write. (More, DGLM’s model and what Konrath’s doing.)

    The other key is marketing and social media. I don’t have time for that, and frankly others are better at that. Would I pay 15% for that? Oh yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    But agents shouldn’t become publishers. It’s a blatant conflict of interest. So the problem of their being reimbursed fairly is just that, an issue. It’s hard to sell books right now. I feel for agents. It’s rough out there.

    I still want an agent who will attempt to sell my book to a commercial publisher. Perhaps it’s time to rethink commission rates to some other fairer model to make it more profitable for agents to do so instead.



    • Liz on July 28, 2011 at 1:24 PM

      Would love to get those contacts you mention – especially the free ones. I have a Bible study I’d like to e-publish, more as an inexpensive resource for others than to make a profit. But I don’t have the resources to pay for cover art, formatting, etc. and would still like to produce a quality product. I’m following all of these developments with great interest.



  31. Ray S on July 27, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Nothing wrong with agents (or anyone else with the expertise) marketing their services to self-publishing authors. The agent business model has always been a % of the earnings of a book and that really need not change. Given that the real problem with self-publishing is marketing, I question whether it would be worth an agent’s time. If all the agent does is administer the mechanics of getting into print (or ebook), why bother? If a writer can’t master putting out a POD or eBook, they probably can’t master writing.

    What self-publishing needs is some entity to reproduce the ‘gatekeeper’ function of the mainstream process – a way to attract readers. Blogs and social media in general are a possibility but need to be better organized (it’s happening but it’s not there yet).

    I envision a new Book Review industry, with enforceable standards and ethics, able to be trusted by readers. The Book Of The Month Club used to function that way, before it got greedy and started pushing books indiscriminately.



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 28, 2011 at 10:54 AM

      Ray, I agree — I’ve always thought the biggest problem with the self-pub revolution was “how will it serve the reader?” In my life as a voracious reader (my professional experience aside) I’ve always relied on “gatekeepers” to keep me constantly supplied with good books. I read a ton of books, I have high standards and don’t waste time finishing books I don’t like, but I RARELY put down a book I choose to begin reading, and I think this is because I choose from trusted “gatekeepers” including bookstores and publishers. Review sites like Goodreads are now helping, but if I were just a reader, not involved in publishing, I would hate having to spend all that time and energy trying to find good books. So I agree, the gatekeeper issue is an important one for readers.



  32. Mary Jo on July 27, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    This is the first I’ve heard of this. Since they are reputable agencies it might be worth a look, assuming they aren’t charging exorbitant fees to format your ms for e-publishing etc. If I could afford it (which I’m assuming I probably can’t), I might consider doing this if I can’t get my novel published the tradional way.



  33. Colin Smith on July 27, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    This may have been raised already, but isn’t there a concern that agents who e-publish may jeopardize their relationship with traditional publishers (i.e., they might be seen as stealing business)? Or would the fact the agent can offer the client an e-pub option give him/her leverage when negotiating contracts with trad publishers?



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 28, 2011 at 10:59 AM

      Colin, this is an interesting question. Right now, neither of these options you proposed is an issue. Traditional publishers and still swamped with many times more submissions than they can handle, so they’re not worried about “losing business” in 99.9% of cases. I also don’t think most agents would use “self pub” as leverage in contract negotiations. There are a few high profile authors (Konrath, Hocking, you know the names) in which these might be issues. And I’m sure there will be more in the future as some authors break-out in self-pub. But that’s probably the top 1/10th of 1% for the foreseeable future.



  34. Sandra Ardoin on July 27, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    Sue has some great questions.

    On the surface, I wasn’t real keen on Bookends’ establishing their own self-pubbing company, but I’m not up on it enough to give an informed opinion.

    A friend self-published her book and, looks-wise, it came out great. Her biggest problem is marketing–getting her book in places other than local, small indies and Amazon. How would having an agent help with that? How deep into marketing would an agent go? Because if an agent can’t actually help with getting a self-pubbed book in the right places, I must be missing the point.

    Also, I’m curious as to how it works with an author e-pubbing a book that’s out of print. Does the agent who was involved in the sale to a traditional publisher also get a percentage on e-sales? As I said, I’m just curious.



  35. Sandra Moore on July 27, 2011 at 10:47 AM

    This interferes with an agent’s impetus to work the traditional publishing route for his/her client.



  36. David Todd on July 27, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    I would be worried about an agent coming to this realization: I can spend the next year helping the author to hone their book and proposal, shopping it to acquisitions editors, and having it shot down by the publishing committee, or maybe have one in ten accepted. Then the tiny advance will be paid over two years, and royalies every six months.

    Or, I can spend the next month getting a little editing done, getting some cover art done, having the book formatted for multiple e-reader devices, and begin earning at least some royalties in about four months, paid out every three months, and I can do this for every halfway decent book that comes across my desk.

    When that realization comes, the agent will be put in a conflict of interest situation.



  37. Sue Harrison on July 27, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    At this point, no opinions, just questions:

    Does the sponsoring literary agency dedicate as much time to the self-publishers as to regular clients?

    Does the agency establish a separate department to handle self-publishing?

    Would high-profile writers be less likely to sign with agencies that courted self-publishing clients?

    Is the self-publishing client “allowed” to say “I have an agent”?

    Does the agency employ a screening process or will any author with money and a manuscript qualify?

    Will traditional publishers be less apt to take the sponsoring literary agency seriously when the agency “shops” client manuscripts?

    Would the literary agency shop less marketable client manuscripts as intensively if a self-publishing option was available through the agency?



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM

      Sue, these are all the questions agents should be asking themselves as they consider setting up a self-publishing arm. Great thinking!



  38. Christine on July 27, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    I think it’s an interesting concept. There are agents out there who have a publishing arm because they knew the rights would revert back to the authors at some point and they negotiated the deal with print that way. I think some writers will want an agent to help negotiate the contractual waters, getting cover art, etc. But at what cost? What percentage off the royalties would go to the agent? I think the point of self-publishing is to make more money than with traditional publishing for established authors. I would not even consider self-publishing until I felt I had exhausted every avenue. I want editorial help. I want that experience. However, should I never make it inside the door despite honing my craft and getting great feedback from beta readers, then self-publishing looks like an interesting route to go. It certainly liberates me from the sword of rejection that once dangled over my head. Perhaps one day editors and agents will be pitching to writers. A topsy turvy idea for sure!



  39. Kelly Combs on July 27, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    It seems to be it would be better to have an editor than an agent if you are going to self publish. There are great editing groups out there that will work with you to make your book great, and then if you are going to SELF publish, seems to me, by definition, you do it your SELF.



  40. tara tyler on July 27, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    if i ever got an agent, i mean when i get an agent! i thot of asking about this! just like bookstores need a makeover, publishers do too. i want an agent, as a writer and a reader. the world needs these insightful, judgmental gatekeepers. it was hard enough to choose books before, w/ all these indies it’s a crap shoot on if they even edited!



  41. Sharon A Lavy on July 27, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I am taking the wait and see stance. I learned that from my daddy. He never jumped on the bandwagon until he saw which way the wind blew. And he left me a nice inheritance.



    • Cecelia Dowdy on July 27, 2011 at 2:57 PM

      I agree with Sharon. Publishing is changing so quickly within such a short period of time that it’s hard for me to make an educated decision right now. I just need to sit back, drink a nice, strong, hot cup of coffee, and wait and see what happens, and then decide what’s better or worse as far as self-publishing goes.



  42. Donna K. Weaver on July 27, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Depends upon how they handle it and whether or not they can avoid the conflict of issue conundrum.



  43. Juliana Haygert on July 27, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    What has scared me away from self-publishing so far is marketing. I’m not a marketing person and I’m not sure if I would be able to reach out and find readers by my own.

    If an agent can bring marketing to the table, then I may consider working with one.
    Otherwise, I can get cover, edits and formats from good professionals for a flat fee.
    I know I can get a few ads for a flat fee too, but that’s not the only thing that work for marketing (probably it’s the one that works the least).



  44. Lynne Connolly on July 27, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    I’m against it. It’s a serious conflict of interest, as explained above by several people.
    Especially the backlist issue. I think it’s partly because some agents are feeling the pinch in these straitened times. Traditional publishers are taking fewer books, concentrating on their top end, and the digital-first industry doesn’t work with agents, as a rule. So the agent needs some other form of income.
    If the self-publishing company was completely separate, and a different process was required to pass through to it, then maybe. Different companies under a single umbrella. But no close ties to the agency. Recently, with the Fleming backlist and the Loretta Chase backlist, we’ve seen how much money there is in doing very little.
    I think there needs to be a number of safeguards, and I think the AAA should examine this seriously.
    I want any agent who works for me to be concerned with getting me the best deal possible, not with sharing the profits or pushing me at his or her own concern.



  45. Heather Sunseri on July 27, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    I read on one agency site that they offer it as an option after 1) they’ve exhausted the trad. publishing route and 2) when it’s in the author’s best interest.

    I would want to be certain that the agent advising me to self-publish definitely had my best interests at heart.

    This is one of those subjects that I might find my head nodding in agreement on several sides of the argument. But I like controversy.



  46. Cathy West on July 27, 2011 at 8:31 AM

    I haven’t heard anything about it yet so don’t really have an opinion. I think it’s interesting. I mean, if folks are fully intending to self-publish anyway, then I suppose It’s better to have an agent behind the project then to go it alone. Perhaps these agents are just taking their cues from some of the bigger houses that now have self-publishing arms. The downside as I see it, is that it will only succeed in exploded an already over-crowded market. Sometimes, when we go for quantity, we lose quality.



  47. Wendy on July 27, 2011 at 8:03 AM

    Thinking on this one.
    It fascinates me and I respect the innovation behind it.
    Will be curious to read more about this here in your comments today and in the coming months.
    ~ Wendy



  48. Glynn on July 27, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    The publishing industry is in major flux, possibly upheaval. Border’s closes; e-books overtake print books in sales at Amazon; authors (a few) successfully self-publshing (especially with e-books) — the landscape is looking very different than it was just a year ago. I don’t see why agents shouldn’t try new approaches, if that’s what they are inclined to do.



  49. Katie Ganshert on July 27, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    I’m not on the up and up with this. I know there’s a big controversy, but I’m not savvy as far as what the controversy is, other than people say it’s a conflict of interest.

    What I do know, is that this is the way publishing is moving. Faster and faster it seems. And as an author who is represented by a wonderful agent, I would want help navigating this new and exciting world. Especially since epubbing is something I’d like to try someday.

    My initial thoughts – as long as the agent keeps the client’s best interest for their long-term career a priority, then I think it’s a good idea. It’s a way agents can make themselves useful to their clients. So their role changes…..EVERYTHING is changing. Why shouldn’t an agent’s role change as well?



  50. otin on July 27, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    I’m with Luciana…..I don’t know enough about the subject to formulate an opinion as of yet.



  51. Lance Albury on July 27, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    I don’t like it.

    It’s like a hiring company instead of requiring an applicant to pass through three different levels of interviews just letting one manager interview and make the hiring decision. Not good.

    This is actually one of my personal peeves. Businesses do it all the time: things aren’t working for them doing what they’re designed to do, so they try be what they’re not in the spirit of thinking out of the box (ever heard of the purple cow?).



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 28, 2011 at 11:20 AM

      Right, but when the environment is changing, it’s absolutely necessary that people on the forefront “think out of the box” and try to figure out the next step or the next new way of doing business. In every industry, some companies will do it right and prosper, while some companies will do it wrong and either go out of business, or change their tactics so they can be successful again. In the current publishing scenario, it’s far too soon to assess who’s doing it right and who’s creating a purple cow. (That’s my two cents!)



  52. Jonathan on July 27, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    My grandfather used to run a wharf on the beach selling fuel and ice, later outboard motors to fishermen. He never sold seafood from his wharf. Other shards that sold fuel, ice and seafood lost their fishing customers to Daddy Byrd because he didn’t try to wiggle into their field.
    Would I go to an agent who self-published? Warily, after all, if they couldn’t get a publisher for himself, will they be able to for me? I would expect them at some point to suggest self-publishing to me. If I wanted to go that route would I need an agent?
    Of course, on the other hand the agent may be self conscious about trumpeting the merits of their own writing. That is why I would go warily.



  53. Timothy Fish on July 27, 2011 at 6:40 AM

    In a word, no. It seems like everyone and his brother is jumping on the become a self-publishing company bandwagon right now. A new website springs up every day and yet another person is offering to publish your book for a price. But most of these companies are nothing more than middle men for a much smaller number of companies that do the actual work. Besides that, there are very few, if any, of these companies that the authors are happy with. Agents adding themselves to the fray won’t help the situation any. I love the concept of self-publishing, but I don’t like seeing so many authors who are unhappy after spending thousands of dollars and not getting the results they were hoping for. Literary agents becoming yet another self-publishing storefront aren’t going to help that.



  54. Ilima on July 27, 2011 at 5:08 AM

    I truly feel for agents struggling to find their path in this changing landscape — as we all are. But I do think there is no escaping the conflict of interest this particular path presents.



  55. marion on July 27, 2011 at 4:43 AM

    P.S. I guess I feel a little strongly about this.

    Because I might the eventually be a self-pubber benefiting from an agent.

    I hope to get an agent and a publisher. But if not, I hope to get an agent and “self-publish”. [A little bit of an inaccurate term if you’re teamed up with an agent.]

    My book is just the type publishers would be afraid of:

    “What books are like your book?”
    “Well, none really. This mainstream title that came out years ago and sold well is just like it, but totally different. And there’s a young adult title that’s vaguely like it but not really….”

    Publisher backs away in terror!

    No wonder “books aren’t selling”, when the publishers keep doing the same old same old, afraid to try anything new!



  56. marion on July 27, 2011 at 4:32 AM

    Why not?

    Win-win.

    Authors who are less-than-business-savvy (or who don’t have the time to run a business) benefit from the agent’s expertise.

    And the agent gets a cut of the profit on some best-sellers.

    We wouldn’t be having this discussion if publishers weren’t being so timid/short-sighted, missing out on some good books.

    If the publishers are afraid of a book that a savvy agent wants to represent, then–why not?



    • Jackie Ley on July 27, 2011 at 6:04 AM

      Marion, your ref to ‘a book that a savvy agent wants to represent’ raises a point I’m not clear about, even after reading the new Bookends self-pub division info on the subject. Will agents continue to apply their stringent and market-wise judgment about whether to represent a writer and their work or will the standards be eroded? Will books that really don’t warrant traditional publishing slip through the net and end up being marketed under the auspices of a reputable agency?



      • marion on July 27, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        Hi, Jackie,
        Thought I was writing a reply, & it went in as a new comment at 1:37 p.m.
        Sorry!
        Looks like Rachelle has started a huge discussion!



      • marion on July 27, 2011 at 9:45 PM

        Well, Jackie, if you’re still following this, I’m giving it more thought.
        I agree with you that the Bookends thing seems a little weird.
        It does look as if they will “represent” anybody who wants to “self-pub.” as long as that author agrees to a 15% cut for the agent. As some people on the Bookends site commented, I’m not sure if the math adds up to a profitable situation for the author. The whole thing does seem peculiar.
        Wish Rachelle’s comment set-up had that little trash can icon, by the way. Hi, Rachelle, just saying.



  57. Anne R. Allen on July 27, 2011 at 4:02 AM

    I think it’s fantastic, because it gives writers one more choice. Some agents are essentially becoming small publishers, using the reputation and expertise of agents who have been acting as editors for decades. It’s the perfect solution for the writer who isn’t ready to become an entrepreneur.

    The problem comes when people confuse a small publisher with a corporate publisher. They’re not the same animal. As Alice Walker said when she left a corporate publisher for a small press, “As water is to flowers, small publishers are to democracy.”

    People fear change instinctively, but this is a good one. International conglomerates have not been our friends for a long while.



  58. Prue on July 27, 2011 at 4:01 AM

    From an outsider’s POV, my concern would be that, over time, agents who self-publish will lose the contacts, network and credibility of the traditional publishers, and thus end up only representing self-publishing. To me, now, this would be a disadvantage, as many authors still wish to be published traditionally and this would limit the number of agents/increase the competition for an agent.



  59. Lindsay Buroker on July 27, 2011 at 3:36 AM

    I don’t begrudge anyone the right to try and provide a service and make money, but I personally can’t imagine paying anyone a percentage of earnings for helping me self-publish.

    I pay for cover art, editing, and formatting, but these are all done for flat fees, and I earn that money back fairly quickly at this point. It doesn’t cost me anything for distribution since I can upload directly to Amazon, B&N, and iTunes. You don’t even need an ISBN for Amazon & B&N–the two main players out there.

    So… I guess I’d have to see what else an agent brought to the table.



  60. Lori Folkman on July 27, 2011 at 3:16 AM

    Personally, I don’t see a conflict of interest if an agent decides to offer self-publishing services, just as long as the agent is only taking a percentage of the sales, not charging an upfront fee. That way, it shouldn’t matter if an author self-publishes or publishes traditionally. The agent is going to help the author decide which route will be the most beneficial because it means that the agent will benefit as well. It should be the same as it was a few years ago–if an agent charges a reading fee, then you know that you’re not working with a reputable agent.

    I also think that when it’s an already established, trustworthy agency making the switch to self-publishing services,that their reputation should be enough to know that they aren’t out to screw authors. They are trying to adapt to the changing publishing industry, and that’s just good business sense.



  61. domynoe on July 27, 2011 at 3:13 AM

    It smacks of conflict of interest to me. How can you rep the writer when offering your own publishing services to the same writer?



  62. Addison Moore on July 27, 2011 at 3:10 AM

    As a self published indie author I would have to disagree with those people who think agents should stay out of this arena. If you have clients who would like to pursue this route and yet need guidance in how to set up, format, select cover art etc, I think this would be an invaluable service to them. It’s not that easy to vet everything that you need to in order to launch a self published book. It takes time and effort and know how. Everybody is capable of learning the ropes, but not everybody is going to want to. I think it should be offered as a service for a fee to agency clients. I have no qualms about anybody doing this.



  63. Stephanie McKibben on July 27, 2011 at 3:05 AM

    I look at self publishing and traditional publishing (and from a totally amateur view point) the difference I see is traditional publishing is a team that’s a well greased wheel ready to give advice, pad the author from people you may not want to work with and accounting among other things.

    Self publishing seems like the route a very motivated, dare I say controlling, experienced or driven individual would take.

    I see difficulty in both self and traditional publishing. Just in different ways. I come to realize that publishing, self or traditional, is going to take a team. I ask myself, do I want to lose control over my project but have more experienced hands help me along? Or do I want to expend the money, take that adventure of learning how to publish, find an editor, find a printing house, find a cover artist, deal with accounting, be nice to people I may not like and market all by myself?

    I’m not opposed to either one but I actually find that a problem in itself (at least for me) — and it’s not on topic.

    If I had an agent that believed in me, that knew I had the energy to self-publish and could guide me in that direction I could do it. A guide and collaborator is pinnacle in a writing career. I don’t believe agents just market to publishers and count money. They give of their efforts and blimey they believe in their writers. When you have someone that believes in your writing it can have the make-it or break-it difference.

    Agents are more than marketers. Agents are more than accountants. If an agent takes on self publishers then it probably means that they believe in the writers ability.

    We should ask Rachelle how many clients she’s had in which publishers wouldn’t take that great novel her talented client wrote. Maybe she wanted to stand behind a motivated writer that wanted to self-publish after an exhausting round of rejections. That motivation might be the real question behind the post.

    I say it’d be worth it to have an agent that knew the business whatever route I choose.



  64. Charise on July 27, 2011 at 2:34 AM

    The traditional system of writer, agent, publisher seemed (albeit with some flaws) to create a system of checks and balances. It seems this new “venture” by some agencies could muddy the ethical waters. There’s no question that self publishing is an opportunity but will a writer be able to really depend on agent to guide her/his career if the agent sees a way to make money regardless? Murky, murky…



  65. Jenny Lee Sulpizio on July 27, 2011 at 2:26 AM

    I guess I don’t get it. I mean, if you think about it, the point of having an agent is not only to help decode contracts but to sell your book to pub houses. If an agent is queried by an author, how do they decide what should be sold traditionally and what should be self-pubbed? I think there’s going to be a lot of “grey area” on the part of the agent. Maybe I’m wrong…



  66. Jan Cline on July 27, 2011 at 2:18 AM

    My first thought is how can that be? But I guess the bottom line is we are all working for the same thing, and we are all diversifying to accomplish our goals. It would seem though, that I would be even more intent on finding an agent I can trust.



  67. Aimee L. Salter on July 27, 2011 at 2:13 AM

    I’m excited about it. It seems like agents are in the prime position to bridge that pesky gap between unprofessional books and losing control.

    I’m salivating about it, actually. I do think there’s caution to be taken on signing up with an agent for that purpose until one is certain exactly how it will work. But it seems to me like the best of both worlds for the agent AND the writer.



  68. Elizabeth Newmeyer on July 27, 2011 at 2:04 AM

    I personally don’t plan to self-publish, however if I change my mind, I would rather have someone by my side who will make sure my book is in the best possible shape. That said, it is really hard to snag an agent, so I gather most people will choose to go it on their own. Based on the chatter I’ve heard, agents are either considered the scourge of the Earth, or the all-mighty gatekeepers who help decide the fate of most books. Dabbling in the self-pub realm may not improve those images. Either way, I still want/need an agent.



  69. Lisa Marie on July 27, 2011 at 2:03 AM

    I am not opposed to agents who offer new and existing writers a self-publishing option for a specified service or list of services, e.g., editing, cover design, formatting, etc. **But only for books that have never been published before and only for a specified percentage/duration or flat fee.**

    The agents who are pandering to writers with backlists leave a bad, BAD taste in my mouth. I’ve heard a lot of writers in my RWA chapter talk about how much money they made by putting up their backlists themselves. Much more than they get from their print books. So … what, agents want to take books that were already published — which need no editing and maybe not even any new cover art — and sell them for a percentage of the profit —— ? When the author would easily hire someone to perform the same services —— ? What exactly is being “represented” in this scenario? I can construe this in only one way, which is the most obvious: A money grab.



  70. Christine on July 27, 2011 at 1:57 AM

    The one thing I would value an agent the most for is contract savvy. Even if you self publish, it’s good to have someone on your team who knows the legal ins and outs of the biz. So I think it’s a pretty good idea.

    By self-publishing are we talking about e-publishing?
    Or a vanity press?
    And are they providing the publishing only or agent help in self-pubbing?

    Wow, crazy world.



  71. Beth K. Vogt on July 27, 2011 at 1:51 AM

    It seems a bit cattywumpus to me. Or maybe I should say it seems like a bit of the “Have your cake and eat it too” syndrome. When I attended a writers conference back in the “beginning years,” I sat with an agent and showed him a nonfiction pitch sheet and a fiction pitch sheet. He held them both up and said, “Pick one.”
    Seems like a good idea to me. Traditional publishing or self-publishing: Pick one.



    • Cathy West on July 27, 2011 at 8:28 AM

      HA, Beth, what a fabulous word. Cattywumpus. Love it. Is that like higgledepiggeldy? LOL. Can you tell I need another vacation? Glad I’m leaving today. 🙂



      • Diana Douglas on July 28, 2011 at 12:11 PM

        I feel like publishing is in a whirlwind and no one knows where the dust is going to settle. The only certainty is that things are changing.
        I would think that both agent and author could benefit from the experience, but since there aren’t any concrete industry standards for the relationship I’d be very careful about going ahead with it.



  72. Luciana on July 27, 2011 at 1:32 AM

    Oh my.
    No opinion. I’ve just barely entered in this battlefield known as writing.



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