Sixth installment in this new series. This series will be made up of short, sometimes long questions and puzzlements about publishing.
For the longest time, about twenty-two years, actually, I had a series of wonderful agents. In the old world of publishing, they never sold a book for me, not one of about 90 I sold during those years, but I got my value from them and they helped me in numbers of ways that were important in the old world of publishing. I liked and parted company in a good way with all three agents.
But now, here in late 2011, writers are having discussion after discussion about what a traditional publisher can offer them. And it’s a valid discussion. I still feel it is good, as I have said, to do both indie and traditional publishing. I think writers should have the choice and the power that doing both gives a writer.
And in hundreds of blog posts here, I have been saying over and over and over that EVERY WRITER IS DIFFERENT. There is no one right road for all writers. I believe that to my core.
So that said, why would I ask the above question and why would I, in my last post about the new scams of publishing called Book Country, be so black and white about agents?
My reason is simple, actually. I believe the day of the agent has passed. This is a new world of publishing. I just do not believe agents have value to writers. And when an employee is no longer has a job to do, you don’t keep them on and keep paying them. That’s just business.
So that said, let me click down all the myths that will come pouring at me because I said that. Let me poke at the myth with logic and business sense. I know that will often conflict with a myth, but alas, let me try anyway. (And please read the paragraphs above again. I am not an indie publisher and I had great agents in the old days.)
Myth #1: You need an agent to sell to a traditional editor.
Nope. I have done twenty posts detailing some of the ways to sell to a traditional editor without an agent. It is so common to sell books without agents as to be scary. I know of at least twenty first-sale authors who just sold without agents. In my last post here I detailed out how to do a submission package to an editor. (And that’s saying nothing of indie publishing.)
But why not have an agent sell the book for you?
Well, first off, you have to get the agent to like the book. Second, the agent needs to have one of their six or seven editors they know have a space for your book. (Agents know very, very few editors.) Third, the agent needs to think your book, in their opinion, is marketable.
In other words, to get an agent to sell a book for you, you have put up an entire world of road blocks in front of your book that just aren’t needed. And if the agent then does sell the book, (or under some agency contracts even just submit without selling) you are paying them 15% for the life of the book.
So why put up more roadblocks to selling and then pay money for those roadblocks for the life of the book? Why not just sell the book yourself? It’s easy and will take less time than the time you will spend dealing with an agent.
Myth #2: You need an agent to sell your book overseas (or Hollywood).
In the world of e-mails, this is just silly. When your book is published, an overseas editor will see your book (or you might even send it to them) and contact you. All contact and contracts must be in your language per copyright convention. So no language problem. In fact, Kris and I are selling a ton more stuff overseas now that we no longer have agents blocking us.
But why not have an agent sell your book overseas?
First off, instead of problems and roadblocks with just one agent, you now have two, or in some cases three agents if your agent ships off your book to an agency only dealing with overseas agents. Agents in the states work with overseas agents, and now charge you 20%. However, when you get paid, the money goes to an overseas agent who then sends it to your States agent, who then sends it to you.
This works when you know the money is coming, such as an advance on a contract, but you will almost never see the money if it is royalty payments, money you don’t know is coming. It tends to get “lost” a great deal of the time in the overseas agent’s office and no one knows unless you are always on top of all royalty statements owed you. If you have an agent, you can’t track the money without a huge fight.
If you deal directly with an overseas publisher without an agent in the middle, the royalty statements and money comes directly to you, often in direct deposit to your bank account. Stunning how much more money Kris and I are making without overseas agents in the mix. We actually see overseas royalty reports now. Also stunning. And your IP lawyer can check the contract for you if you need it, but often the overseas contracts are so simple you won’t need help.
Myth #3: I need my agent to take care of me so I can just write.
I have trouble even responding to this myth because having someone take care of me is just alien to my way of thinking.
Not knowing and being in control of my own business, the very business that puts food on my table and a roof over my head, seems so wrong in so many ways. Yet I know people who never escaped their mother. And I know writers who feel an agent can take care of them like their mother.
Why wouldn’t you want an agent to take care of you?
First off, this agent is a stranger. This agent has bills to pay and upwards of fifty other writers or more to take care of as well. They don’t know you or what you need. And you don’t know them.
Then there is the money problem. If you are just letting them have all your money without checking on it, they will take your money when they need it. If you believe that they will take care of you when your next book doesn’t sell, just ask to borrow your next mortgage payment from them and see what they say. (Old days that actually was a practice, but again that ended in the old world of publishing.)
If you aren’t making them a ton of money, good luck having them return your phone calls within a short time when you need a pat on the head and an “attaboy” cheering section.
If you want someone to take care of you, being in a national business might not be the place for you.
Myth #4: My agent can publish my books or my backlist for me.
This myth is growing quickly and has so many problems with it, I can’t begin to tell you them all. In part, it comes from wanting someone to take care of the poor struggling “artist.”
And for the moment let me just skip the massive conflict of interest I talked about in the last post, since most writers don’t understand agency law or what is even required from their “agents.” Let me just skip to the logistics and costs.
Some agents are making a writer front all costs for this “publishing program.” Now, for most of us in indie publishing, there are little or no costs.
Also an agent will take 15% to 50% of the net and also handle all the money before you see it.
Can a young agent out of an English degree program design a cover for your book any better than you can? Nope, so they will hire it done, just as you could do. And you will pay either way in most cases.
Can they proof a book, all of the books they are doing? Nope, so they will hire that done just as you could do. And you will pay either way.
Will the agent give your book personal attention? Nope, they have fifty or more other clients they are working for as well, some with a large backlist and more selling power than you have. Who gets their book up first? Not you.
Can an agent hit an upload button faster than you can? Nope, and you still have to supply the agent all the information for Kindle and Smashwords.
Do you want an agent writing a blurb for your book? Nope, you know your book better than the agent does and you are the professional writer.
This entire idea of agents being publishers just makes that person your publisher, not your agent. And with a tiny bit of learning, you can do everything the agent can do yourself better and faster and a ton cheaper. Just ask any indie published writer.
Myth #5: I will have respect if I “get” or “have” an agent.
Well, with some I suppose you will, but with each passing month more and more writers and others inside publishing will just look at you sadly as the agent takes your money and holds it, slows down your work, and makes you rewrite for no reason.
But on this one I suppose if that is what will get your family to respect you and your writing, why not? You won’t make it far in this new world as a writer, but you will have respect for a moment or two.
A Solution: A Writer/Agent Bill of Agreement.
Here are my suggestions if you feel you really must have an agent in this modern world.
1. Agent must respond within one week to all manuscript submissions.
2. If agent feels manuscript is not right for her six or seven editors, writer is free to indie publish or submit the book to other editors and does not have to pay the agent anything if/when the book sells.
3. Agent must respond to phone calls or e-mails within three hours during New York business hours (unless on an announced vacation or trip, then by the next business day.)
4. All agents for all sales must split checks. No reason for the agent to hold onto the money. This includes all overseas sales as well. Easy to do. (If an agent objects to this, run!!!)
5. Agent must allow the writer to bring in a IP attorney to negotiate the contract since the agent cannot do so in this modern world. IP attorney fees come out of agent 15% of advance.
6. No agent will give a writer an agency agreement. Only agreement would be this Writer/Agent Bill of Agreement.
7. An author may leave an agent at any time for any reason.
8. Agent will not be a publisher in any fashion, or in any side venture. Agent will act strictly under agency law.
9. Writer will respect the agent for the knowledge they hold, but not treat them like gods. Agent will respect the writer in their position as client and answer questions when needed.
As I said, I had great agents and no bad experiences with my agents in the old world of publishing. I have sold over 100 novels to traditional publishers. I believe writers must learn how to indie publish and keep traditionally publishing to survive in this new world.
I believe every writer is different and that’s a good thing.
But all that said, I do believe that the days of agents are almost finished, evidenced by so many of them becoming publishers. Even they see their own end coming.
I can see little or no value in any writer having an agent in this modern world of publishing. And many, many downsides. I believe the successful writers will be the ones that take control of their own business in all ways.
This is a new golden age of publishing for the smart writer.
And that is just my opinion.