When I was down in Las Vegas last week being a guest speaker at the SuperStars writing Seminar, they put me on a panel about agents. They expected me to bash agents, as it seems is my reputation. I didn’t. As I have said many times, in the old days of publishing, when agents were actually needed, I had three top agents and I liked them and they did as I asked them to do. (I repeated that on the panel as well.)
Mainly, I didn’t bash agents because it’s not an agent’s fault that writers hire them in this new world. It’s not an agent’s fault that writers give them all their money and all their paperwork and then wonder why they got ripped off. It’s not an agent’s fault that a writer signs an agency agreement giving the agent part of the copyright in a work. It’s not an agent’s fault that a writer lets a non-lawyer agent negotiate a contract with fifty lawyers on the other side.
And it’s not the agent’s fault that a writer didn’t notice the agent stopped working for writers and started working for publishers years ago.
I didn’t bash agents on the panel in Las Vegas because it is not an agent’s fault that writers don’t know business.
Granted, agents take advantage of stupid writers (which there never seems to be a shortage of). But writers let themselves be taken over and over and over and then wonder why their career died. Or never got started. So I didn’t bash agents on the panel last week. But I did bash stupid writers.
And I have been doing that here for years now.
I guess that makes me anti-agent, but I am not. I am anti-bad-business. And anti-stupid-writer.
So now comes this week’s events and one more point in the proof how bad agents in general are for smart writers in this new world. Just this week (yet again) the agents themselves gave us even more proof that they work for publishers, the very people they are supposed to represent writers against.
The AAR (a group of agents joining together to pretend to have more power when they have none) just put out a letter asking that all agents and writers and other publishing professionals write the Department of Justice and say that we all don’t like the suit filed against the major publishers on the agency agreement.
Now agents have gone so far as to flat represent publishers. Right out in public. No more hiding their true intent now.
And their organization did this with not one thought on how such a position will help or hurt their writers (at least the midlist writers and indie writers). And the agent organization put out this letter with not one thought on how Department of Justice forensic accountants crawling around inside big publishers just might find some of our money hiding in those cooked books. You know, the money from our electronic sales that are underreported over and over and over.
I’m not going to get into all the details here of the lawsuits and the letter from the agents, but for two great perspectives on all this, in a ton of detail, go read Joe Konrath http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ and Bob Mayer’s post on Digital Book World.
Both are great posts about this topic and the stupidity of what the agent organization did. And I like what Bob basically said in his post that this industry is changing so fast, no one knows where it’s going.
Bob is right. No one knows. Least of all agents who are now trying to protect their partners in the crimes against writers.
What should the AAR have done? Nothing. Or maybe start helping their writers take back electronic money they helped us give to publishers for electronic sales. Yup, one day the agents and all publishers sort of “got together” and decided electronic couldn’t be 50% of cover anymore (as it was in all contracts before this magical agreement), but had to be 25% of net. It was “better for the business” that way.
Just as setting agency pricing “was better for the business” as the publisher’s said, and now the agents want us to support those publishers.
There are great arguments on both sides of agency pricing and wholesale pricing. As an indie publisher and writer I can see both sides. And the good and bad of both sides. Please argue that topic somewhere else because no one really knows where this is heading. And is not the point of all this, really. The point is the clear sign again that agents and their organization work for publishers.
Last week at the SuperStars writing seminar, all seven of us instructors (all bestsellers and long-term writers) were asked where publishing was going. There was a long, long, long moment of silence, then finally someone said, “As soon as we figure it out, we’ll let you know.”
That’s right, from a panel of “old” professional writers, most with over thirty years of experience and hundreds of books each. We don’t know.
But I do know one thing. Smart writers are running in droves from agents. And many young writers are not even going after agents at the moment, but instead going directly to editors and using IP lawyers to help with the contracts. Or indie publishing and letting the dust settle.
So now the agent organization came out asking us all to help protect their small “little” publisher partners being unfairly attacked by the Department of Justice by writing letters of support.
It makes you wonder just how long agents as a class in publishing will survive. Even the most stupid writer has to wake up one day.
Or at least stop giving an agent all the money and all the paperwork for that money.