Another Agent Post

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.

Excuse me??????

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 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.

Excuse me??? 

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.


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61 Responses to Another Agent Post

  1. I swear, Dean, the more I read about “traditional” publishing contracts, the more I’m sure I don’t want one. I think I’ll do just fine on my own, or with an IP attorney that works for me.

    I saw Joe’s post about this plea to the Justice department, and I was just WTF???? :O

    Well I say, keep on snooping into the Big 6, and anybody that does business like them. And if these agents are in collusion with the publishers’ tactics, then they need looking at as well.

    Good post, as usual–keep on knocking us on the head with your experience.

  2. Carradee says:

    Even the most stupid writer has to wake up one day.

    Nah. There’s a new sucker born every minute, and never underestimate the power of self-delusion—particularly when dropping those delusions will make you realize you’ve been an idiot. Folks don’t like feeling stupid.

    Some people don’t want to think. Then they might wake up and feel like idiots.

  3. Bob Mayer says:

    Thanks for the mention. I tried to be balanced in my post, but the one thing that struck me writing it was realizing a fundamental mindset flaw that purveys most agents and publishers: they believe the book, the physical book, is the product that is sold.

    The book is just a medium. It’s the author’s ideas and stories through the medium of words (whether they be printed, digital, audio, braille, flashed using semaphore) that is what is sold. That is so basic yet so misunderstood.

    Anyway, back to my headhunters on the Amazon taking another trophy in the name of Dark One, el Diablo. What fun it is to be a writer.

    • dwsmith says:

      Bob Mayer said, “The book is just a medium. It’s the author’s ideas and stories through the medium of words (whether they be printed, digital, audio, braille, flashed using semaphore) that is what is sold. That is so basic yet so misunderstood.”

      Spot on the money, Bob. And I agree completely.

      Thanks for the great article on the agent silliness.

  4. Barb Hendee says:

    Oh, Dean, I do agree with everything you say above, and for writers like me and JC, an agent in the business formula has become unnecessary. We’re established, we sell books, and we have connections to a number of editors.

    Also, back in 2001, JC and I got our first novel, Dhampir, onto an editor’s desk without an agent–the agent came later. But that was some time ago, and more and more hopeful writers are submitting projects now, and editors have become sooooooo much more hard line on the “no unagented manuscript” policy. It just seems to give them an excuse not to look at a project.

    So I spoke with my own editor on this subject (as some editors aren’t crazy about agents either), and I asked her, “Honestly, how much chance is there that any editor working for your company will even look at a project submitted by an unagented new writer? Do they have any chance at all.”

    She seemed regretful to have to answer, “How much of a chance? Probably none.”

    This was my worry–as I have some friends trying to break into traditional publishing. I’ve wracked my brain, and I can’t think of a way for any of them to get a project “seen” these days unless they fork out a lot of money to attend one of those conferences where they pay for the “privilege” of the chance to pitch an idea to one editor.

    Do you have advice here for new writers (who don’t want to hire an agent) for getting their project “seen” by a New York editor? I just don’t, but my experience is too limited. I sort of fell into finding a New York publisher and then got lucky with a series that sold well. I’m not much help to them.

    • dwsmith says:

      Barb, first off, those conferences are not that expensive in the nature of things. Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR is just a great example of that. There are hundreds and hundreds of such conferences all over the place.

      But what I find fantastically funny is at these conferences, the writers line up for the baby and scam agents, while often a powerful New York editor is just sitting with nothing to do. New writers don’t have a clue how even the most basic things in the system work. Editors are there to find new writers. Yet writers flock to the baby agents. (Older, more powerful agents are NEVER there, while powerful editors often are.)

      So my advice to new writers is ignore publisher guidelines and just mail a submission package directly to editors (submission package is two or three chapters, a short outline/synopsis of the book, a cover letter, and a #10 SASE.) Worse they can say is “No.” Mail to five book editors at a time. Write the next book. After a year or so, indie publish the first book and move on with that book. Always writing the next book and keeping things in the mail.

      And keep learning and getting out to conferences. Students in college to get a four year degree worth little often come out thousands in debt. If a new writer can’t make the same sacrifice in money and time to become in an international-selling fiction writer, not my problem. It’s their problem. And their lack of commitment to learning and pushing.

      Yeah, I know. Harsh. But this isn’t a hobby, this is a business. No one will hold anyone’s hand and tell them where to stand.

      You wanted to know what I tell beginning writers? I tell them to write a lot of books and stories as quickly as possible, never rewrite (because they don’t know how yet), either indie publish or get in the mail to editors, and keep learning as much and as fast as possible. I tell them to read every how-to-write book they can find, listen to every old pro they can listen to, study business and then study small business. And not get in a hurry. Expect the process to take as long as getting a graduate degree would take. Six to ten years. If they work hard at it. If they don’t, it will take longer or maybe never happen.

      Yup, harsh, but alas, true. And I was no exception to any of this either.

  5. I thought Bob Mayer’s article in Digital Bookworld summarized the situation very well with: “The AAR recently sent a letter to the DOJ unanimously supporting the Agency model. I find it odd that the AAR has yet to send a collective letter to the Big 6 asking for higher, and fairer, royalty rates for their authors’ electronic rights.”

    That says it all. Obviously, one =wants= to say a great deal more, to get it all off one’s chest and relieve the ire! But Mayer has summed up the fatal flaw of the AAR very tidily in that phrasing (as well as the wholly misdirected, misguided nature of the AAR letter to the DoJ).

    I also found the AAR letter stunningly naive, further confirming my views that the AAR consists of people (literary agents) who (a) are mostly bad at business and (b) should NOT be negotiating legal documents for anyone, because they don’t understand them sufficiently.

    Because the AAR’s contention here (like the contention in the ABA letter to the DoJ which is also now circulating) seems to be that if antitrust law was violationg… well, that doesn’t matter, because the publisher in question were facing really tough, aggressive, game-changing competition (from Amazon) that threatened their existence.

    Er… do they really think there is NO OTHER WAY to deal with aggressive, game-changing competition than, uh, BREAKING THE LAW?

    And, um… do they really think the DoJ (or -any- judge) will accept “breaking the law is okay in this instance, given that these companies were facing really tough business competition” as a viable legal defense or reason to drop the case???

    And… the org that wrote THIS letter… is entirely comprised of the people whom writers oay 15% of their income to, to DO BUSINESS and NEGOTIATE CONTRACTS.

    Can I just say: Oy VAY!

    And also (wet salmon in hand): THWAP!

    • dwsmith says:

      Laura Resnick said, “I also found the AAR letter stunningly naive, further confirming my views that the AAR consists of people (literary agents) who (a) are mostly bad at business and (b) should NOT be negotiating legal documents for anyone, because they don’t understand them sufficiently.”

      Yup, stunningly silly is how I looked at it, but it also confirmed for me exactly what I have been seeing for a number of years now, and what we have talked about a great deal here.

      Let me think…. I want a Vassar English grad four years out of undergraduate school negotiating my legal contract against a department of lawyers, or I want an experienced IP attorney who knows publishing contracts advising me and helping in the negotiation? Hmmm, tough choice, but sadly, most writers will pick the Vassar English major.

      In my opinion, it’s about damn time writers start waking up to the fact that the agent system is a remainder of an old system that just doesn’t work today. Twenty years ago it worked fine. But twenty years ago there were no computers on New York editor’s desks either.

  6. Great post, Dean. The key factor in all of this, as you and Bob Mayer point out, is the speed at which the entire situation, and therefore the business is evolving. As the landscape starts to shift, people of the establishment reach back for solid rock to hold on to and, as often as not, come up with two hands full of dust. But as long as the situation is in mid-shift, those same people can claim, and maybe even believe that they have the high-ground. We’ll all see plainly enough where we all stand once the quake stops and things start to settle.

    I think I’m one of those new writers you alluded to. I seem to have come along with a good first book at just the right time. I looked into agents and publishers only briefly before I began to think… “there seems to be something seriously wrong with this industry… and what have I gotten myself into…?” Then, the e-book suddenly made distribution available to everyone and… I took the reins myself. I feel very, very lucky about the timing.

    My only issue with this whole discussion is purely selfish. Having no involvement with traditional publishers, the agency model allows independents a big advantage in pricing their books. For people like me, it only helps. That said, I hate the idea of writers in servitude or getting under-valued/under-paid. Of course, what I think and what the AAR thinks is not going to change the real world too much. There is an earthquake still going on.

  7. Wow. Another great post, Dean. I’ve never commented on your blog before — least I don’t think I have — but I’ve been following you for a while and your posts and writing advice have helped me tremendously.

    Thanks so much for offering a different perspective on writing and publishing — I mean, is anyone else out there saying writing is easy work?! — and for sharing so much wisdom and perspective on the industry for us nobodies.

  8. As it happens, British author Stephen Leather has given a long interview to Bookseller Magazine in which he talks about all kinds of stuff, including how ebooks and self-publishing are changing the industry. His comments about the effect of the new era on literary agents are worth reading for anyone still puzzled about why normally-inert AAR has suddenly written to the DoJ in defense of big publishers who’ve been accused of price-fixing (and why the AAR letter -even- justifies supporting and advocating a system under which it says writers’ earnings went DOWN):

    “I think agents will be the hardest hit by the eBook revolution. There is almost no negotiation with Amazon over royalty rates so if you are dealing with them it’s pointless to pay an agent fifteen per cent. It used to be agents who acted as the gatekeepers – more trendy jargon – and they pretty much decided who got published and who didn’t but that has changed. Self-published authors who do well are quickly spotted. The market acts as the gatekeeper – if a hundred thousand people buy an eBook you don’t need an agent to give it a stamp of approval. If publishers realise that they will start to do what they used to do and go looking for talent themselves. The biggest mistake publishers made was to do away with their slush piles and only take submissions from agents. That is already changing.”

  9. Nice post, Dean. I don’t think it’s so much that writers are stupid as it is that they’re laboring under the misconception that they don’t have to be smart about the business end of their career — probably because they figure somebody else can do that for them. I got interviewed about writers and money recently. I’m pretty sure nobody thought I would have anything to say.

  10. Rob Vagle says:

    That was a perfect strategy pointing out business sense on the writer’s part instead of agent-bashing. Writers need opened eyes.

  11. Keep on doing what you do here, Dean. There are writers out there listening, and writers listening to them. You’re making a big difference in their futures.

  12. Stephen wrote: “My only issue with this whole discussion is purely selfish. Having no involvement with traditional publishers, the agency model allows independents a big advantage in pricing their books.”

    But the AGENCY MODEL is not at issue in the DoJ lawsuit. It’s a perfectly legal, valid business model, and many, many, many companies and individuals (myself included) sell ebooks via the agency model without breaking the law. The agency model is not under threat by the DoJ’s case, and there is no discussion of dismantling or outlawing agency pricing as a business model. The agency model ain’t broke and won’t need fixing.

    What’s at issue in the DOJ’s case is an antitrust violation on the basis of alleged collusion and price-fixing among half a dozen major corporations. They happen to be accused of this IN THE CONTEXT of using the agency model; but that doesn’t threaten the existence of the agency model any more than the existence of stock trading is threatened by the fact that some companies and people commit fraud when trading stocks.

    • dwsmith says:

      Stephen, what Laura said. And when looked at in cold, hard light, all the agency model does is take away from the retailer (bookstores and Amazon and so on) the ability to discount. It does NOT change what a publisher makes from a sale. Suggested Retail Price is the model that still works for all of us. We get paid off the amount we list as the SRP. Only a few companies have agreements with Amazon and others in the Agency Model. Small press publishers, indie publishers, do not.

      Again, as Laura said, the lawsuit is NOT about Agency Model or SRP. Its about publishers getting together and agreeing to force retailers to not discount. It’s the getting together part that’s the problem. And that’s what agents want us to tell the DOJ that we don’t mind?????? Excuse me???????

  13. Thom says:

    I agree on the advice on writer’s conferences. It’s a bit different for the TV business–there you still need an agent and they still do you a good service when you have one. But for book writers, listen to Dean and go to these conferences and ignore the agents.

    Here’s something I can’t get out of my mind:

    Writer’s Guild of America collectively bargains a decent living wage for those of us who have or do write film or TV. And if we don’t like what’s going on, we strike.

    I keep wondering just what the heck the Author’s Guild does for book writers? It seems if you are a writer in the book world, you are basically alone, and since agents are clearly working for publishers, there’s no collective muscle at all!

    No wonder agents and publishers are worried about Amazon and ebooks and the Indie movement; for the first time in a long time, writers have power–without agents and without traditional publishing.

    Game changer.

  14. “It’s the getting together part that’s the problem.”


    As people may have noticed, the biggest of the big six, Random House, =isn’t= targeted in the DoJ’s case. RH has nothing to do with the case.

    Not because it doesn’t use agency pricing (it does). Not because it’s prices are lower than the other houses’ prices (they’re not).

    But because it did not act (and/or cannot be proven to have acted) in collusion with any of the others. Whereas DoJ’s position is that the other five DID act in collusion with each other to fix prices.

    As it happens, my opinion (neither unique nor revelatory) is that what really happened here was Apple. I think that the publishers were behaving exactly as they have always behaved, exactly as they are used to behaving, exactly as they have behaved on many other occasions, with regard to many other problems, in dealing with many other issues or challenges or businesses. I think -they- thought this was business as usual. (Even in the case of allegations I’ve read that they were urging each other to double-delete emails, or some such thing, I doubt anything they were doing was new or different for them.)

    I think what WAS new and different is that THIS time, they went outside the “family.” In terms of government and big business, no one particularly cares what happens in publishing. It’s too small-fry, too penny ante, to isolated and obscure an industry to attract the attention of the government. And publishers had always stayed in their own pond before, dealing with distributors, booksellers, etc. Only the digital agem a fairly recently development, led the big book publishers to start interacting directly with the sort of tech/comm giants that the DoJ watches like a hawk–a tech/comm giant like Apple, for example.

    I suspect that what happened was, when they started dealing with Apple’s iBooks… they had no idea they were leaving the minor, entering The Show, and thus coming directly under the gaze of people who’d normally never bother to look at them. I think that, thus, behaving as they had always behaved… almost IMMEDIATELY got them into a whole heap of extremely expensive trouble.

    • dwsmith says:

      Again, I agree with Laura. Even as an industry with billions in sales, until the big publishers started dealing with the really big players like Apple, they were not noticed much. Well said, Laura.

  15. Jon Guenther says:

    Frankly, I have no unbidden desire to submit my manuscripts to a NY publisher or an anywhere-in-the-country agent. The traditional publishing model is disassembling under the noses of its pundits because, quite frankly, it doesn’t work anymore. I’m also in complete agreement with you, Dean, on how writers need to stop being stupid.

    In fact, I recently wrote a blog entry on the very subject, following Joe’s posting of a “recovering” Harlequin author. It was tantalizing, bordered even on the hysterical, that agents tried to start “publishing” the ebooks for many of their authors to keep their doors open. Sorry, but they made their beds and they can sleep in them. Just as long as they don’t try to come sleeping into mine.

    Traditional publishing is dead (or at least whispering death-bed confessions), and the sooner the better in my mind. I shan’t weep over their graves.

    • dwsmith says:

      Jon, interestingly enough, I don’t agree that traditional publishing is dead. Far, far from it, actually. But they are in a huge transition and most of what we are seeing is transition.

      Now agents on the other hand are losing what little imaginary power they had and will reduce in number back to a few like they were in the 1950s and 1960s, working for some writers in certain ways. And, of course, there will always be scam agents taking advantage of the stupid. Always have been, and I see that increasing I’m afraid.

      But you are flat wrong about traditional publishing going away. Not happening. Not even close. Writers and agents giving them 25% of net on all electronic sales saved them. And they will adapt. Will some go down? Maybe one or two, but new publishers will grow into those voids. It’s already happening.

  16. Jon Guenther says:

    Sorry, Dean, I wasn’t clear (bad, bad writer…shame)! What I meant by traditional publishing is dead was in context to your post about agents. In other words, the author-to-agent-to publisher (agents acting as publishing gatekeepers) idea is dead.

    The agent is becoming obsolete–save except maybe for representing authors with Hollywood, although I think attorneys are better suited for that gig. Hope that clarifies.

    • dwsmith says:

      Now that, Jon, I agree with. (grin) Agent as gatekeeper, which was something in publishing that only existed for four or five years in reality, will soon pass as it should. Before that, agents worked for writers. Now I have no idea what they do, to be honest. Clearly nothing productive, from the evidence in this last letter.

  17. Thom says:

    I agree, Dean. I see a shake up in the industry, but most big publishers will survive. It reminds me of when TV came along and the studio system had to adapt. It eventually became an industry about

    We may see a publishing industry that does the same: caters only to superstar authors and their blockbuster titles. It’s already heading that way. YA and picture books will survive, because that’s how the consumer buys–on paper–so there’s still room for profit for the Big Houses.

    But I think the mid list may be an Indie/ small publisher game in the future. We won’t see a Big House publish the number of titles we saw in the past.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thom, I agree. Ramon, actually money on the electronic percentages won’t much matter if you can get the book back in five years. The key is the reversion, not the percentage. At least not until accurate reporting of electronic sales can be guaranteed. Just only sign contracts that have an exact end date and let the money fall where it may.

  18. Lars Guignard, I’ve been reading Dean’s posts long enough to bet that “laboring under the misconception that they don’t have to be smart about the business end of their career” is very close to Dean’s definition of “stupid writer”.

  19. Ramon Terrell says:

    What I find irritating is that the Traditional Publishers are unwilling to budge on the electronic percentages. I would like to work in both camps (indie and traditional) but the thought of such low ebook percentages is not attractive. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this whole thing and weighing the pros and cons of both sides. One major advantage of Trad Publishing meaning access to large bookstore change, but even that is not necessarily a guarantee. Guess I’ve still got a lot of homework to do to continue to better understand all this.

  20. I am an avid follower of your blog, as well as Kris Rusch, Anne R. Allen and Passive Guy. What a great group. I started writing and trying to get an agent 30 years ago. I actually got four agents, and one was worse than the next (and that was in the days of 10% commission, not 15%. But I thought I was just unlucky. Then I sold some romance novels (those ediors didn’t need agents) and in 2008 I finally connected with an agent who could sell–and liked–my mysteries. Two years later, said agent not only hadn’t sold them, I was dumped as a client because I wanted separate royalty checks and asked that my books be offered to publishers who’d been in business longer than six months. Now I’m indie publishing my backlist. Not getting rich, but know I’m doing the right thing.

  21. Thomas E says:

    At the moment is it possible for a new writer to get a fixed term deal like that? My impression is that even long term midlist writers are not getting that kind of deal. If it were possible to get fixed term deals like that it would considerably change my plan of attack.

    I’ve been refraining from submitting to traditional novel markets because I don’t want to get into a deal that has bad noncompete terms / lasts forever.

    I do like submitting to traditional short story markets. The feedback is very useful. In fact, I have a challenge to write a story a day this month: half of them erotica which I am self publishing, and half speculative fiction which I am submitting traditionally.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thomas, in short fiction, all contracts are fixed time for exclusive, from one month to one year. All fair, at least the ones I have seen and signed. Novel contracts, most major traditional publishers won’t yet go for a fixed term limit on the contract for some reason or another. Mostly because they just flat don’t understand I think, and lately that’s what they have been buying. It makes no sense to not give a flat term. The more writers ask, the more they will slowly come to think it’s something that is possible. And if they REALLY want a book, they will be more inclined to bend. You are not asking for more money, just a term limit on the contract. Nothing more. For me, I won’t sign another traditional contract without it. So far I haven’t been able to get it, but some writers have, so I’m holding. Besides, I have indie publishing and smaller companies that will allow my book to return to me after a fair time for the publisher.

  22. Thomas E says:

    Dean, thank you for that interesting information.

    FYI, I just went to Kris’s site and got a Google warning in chrome that it contained content from revival artist ( a “site known to contain malware” ) which is odd because I didn’t have the warning yesterday.

    Thought you might want to know.

    As far as I know it didn’t try to do anything naughty to my system, so it may just be a legacy issue. (I browse in a sandbox, and have malware bytes as a malware blocker and comodo defence + as a behaviour blocker so I am about as safe as I can be). But I thought I would inform you anyway.

  23. Dean, I’ve learned so much from your and Kris’s (and Passive Voice and other) blogs these past months. I’m about to self-pub a YA novel this summer, and have interviewed three IP attorneys and not even bothered to find an agent.

    Instead, I’m working on making my indie book as professional as possible. I have a little experience in the biz, as I’ve been a copy editor/typesetter/proofreader for magazines and book publishers, as well as having a little short fiction published (by the editors of an amazing, now-defunct magazine called Pulphouse). I also have a few good contacts, still, who are advising me. I’ve hired a professional cover artist. I’m getting the novel copyedited by another friend in the biz. I’m looking to hire a proofreader. And I’ve developed a marketing plan.

    Indie writers need to learn about self-employment taxes, quarterly payments, and beginning bookkeeping, as well as finding a decent IP attorney. It really isn’t all that difficult. And it’s a lot cheaper than giving up three-quarters of your ebook royalties.

    We’ll see if my model works for me. I’ll certainly be back this summer with a report. :-)

    I think agents will have no choice but to find another role in publishing. The best of them will open houses where, for a flat fee, they will help indies move forward through the publishing process. The worst? We’re already seeing what they’ll do: Continue to rip off authors.

    • dwsmith says:

      Meryl, thanks for the kind word about my old magazine and company. (grin) Sure sounds like your model is going to work, but same thing I said with David, as the process goes on with one book, I hope you are madly working on the next novel. All the promotion and marketing plan in the world won’t help if you only have one or two products available. Most certainly get those stories from Pulphouse back into print, and other things you have done along the years. That’s the key to all this as I have said before. More product. That’s how New York publishing builds those huge buildings. Lots of product.

  24. David LeRoy says:

    I am a young writer and I don’t believe an agent is in my future. Even if one was in my future, there is so much uncertainty right now in publishing, I can not justify signing a contract with the typical terms and conditions you would expect for a young writer right now. Some people seem to believe that young writers, such as myself, once we climb over each other in the Amazon world, will be happy to sign with an agent. The idea is that agents will cherry pick the best of the best from the Amazon rankings. Why? If someone is smart enough to build their own platform, and climb through the rankings of Amazon, I do not understand why they would suddenly then turn that all over to an agent. When I first started writing my book, these questions were still unsettled. It appeared at that time that traditional publishing would remain strong, and that self publishing still had problems. I have finished my book, it is back from the copyeditor. It should be formatted by the end of the month. All of these questions, and debates in my mind are now settled. It is simple for me to choose self publishing and there is now a long list of successful writers already in front of me. When I first started this journey, my writing coach asked me “why would you not submit to a traditional publisher?” Now that I am finished with the book the question has completely flipped on its head to “why would I submit to a traditional publisher?” Of course, that means I would need an agent, and that is not a game I am interested in playing.

    • dwsmith says:

      David, you don’t need an agent to submit to a traditional publisher. That’s a myth and a nasty one. As I have said over and over here, all one hundred plus books I sold to traditional publishing, I sold on my own. Early on I had agents help with chasing money and a little on contracts, but never to sell a book. I have NO IDEA honestly why this “need an agent to sell a book” continues in the new generation of writers.

      Second, David, I hope you are already mostly through writing and finishing your next novel. One novel does not a writer make. It’s story after story, book after book that is the key.

      And you are right, if you have a book that is selling well indie published, the LAST thing you need is an agent. Spot on with that.

  25. goldhawk says:

    If you’re going to make a living off your writing (or at least a substantial part of your income), you _must_ know the business of writing. Anything less and you’re likely to be ripped off.

    When it comes to e-publishing, I don’t see why anyone would want to deal with traditional publishing. They are trying to fit the internet to their business model rather than trying to exploit it for all they can. They just can’t understand why people would pay for something that’s free. If you want to understand it, look at PBS. It’s free and it survives only on donations. And in this day and age, writers, singers, musicians, and other artists can do the same.

  26. Katya says:

    Not to be cheeky, but how does one go about finding editor addresses to send manuscripts directly to? ;)

    • dwsmith says:

      Katya, start with subscribing to Publisher’s Marketplace (dot) com. (all one word) They have a data base with all the addresses and such.

  27. Thom says:

    As my friend the late (and missed) Vince Gardenia once told me, “Tommy, even if you see them kneeling down in church, remember–they’re still agents!”

    As an actor, he used an attorney, even back then in the late 70s. He was ahead of his time.

  28. Dean and Laura, I understand that the Agency Model and the DOJ suit are two different issues. All I was saying is that, from the point of view of an independent, as long as traditional publishers are focused on keeping prices as high as possible, the agency model that prevents stores from discounting (regardless of whether the price was a result of collusion or not), provides an advantage. Again, this is a selfish perspective, I’m not at all cheering the idea of people being taking advantage of.

    And of course, the collusion issue has no direct effect on those of us who are not under contract. But that’s certainly another great reason why there will be more and more writers simply avoiding those entanglements from the outset. For example, I made what I understand to be the average advance (for a new writer with a book like mine) in the first few months of publication. And of course the book is only just beginning to earn. Very happy and grateful for all this opportunity that simply wasn’t there a few years ago.

    • dwsmith says:

      Stephen, did you and your publishing company sign an agency agreement with Amazon and Apple? If not, you are not in agency pricing, you are in warehouse pricing, also called SRP. Sorry, agency pricing does not help indie writers in any fashion. Period. And, of course, Amazon and Apple and Kobo can discount if they want. Smashwords has agreements with many stores to not discount, but even if a store discounts, they still must pay you your percentage (unless price matching, the exception in Amazon.)

      Not sure why indie writers think agency pricing helps them, but I have been hearing that a lot. A puzzlement to me. Can you help me understand where that thinking is coming from? Thanks.

  29. Jim Crocker says:


    Nice hat, dude! Seriously.

    Thirty-some years ago I wrote software documentation as an “independent” contractor for all sorts of companies. No incorporation – just me and my laptop.

    THEN the gubment – in their support for “small business” got all worried about independent contractors not paying their withholding tax and fudging their earnings, etc. SOOO, we all had to work through the big job-shopping houses. And those guys would take 50% or more for doing, essentially, nothing.

    Let’s just hope nothing like that happens to self-published writers.

    Jim in Montana

  30. David, as Dean said, no, you don’t need an agent to submit to a publisher. Of the 30+ book sales I’ve made over the years to publishers, only 5 were instances were an agent submitted the project.

    No matter how many times this is discussed here and elsewhere, I still see this wholly erroneous supposition repeated over and over and over, every day. Despite the numerous writers I know by now who are working without agents, the stats out there showing that about half of all first-book sales are made without agents, etc. “You have to have an agent to submit to a publisher” is a vampire that will not die no matter how often or how publicly a stake is driven through its heart.

    Katy, I recommend you check out my Writers Resource Page:

    Loads of information there about markets, editors, etc.

    David, also links there to surveys showing that making first sales to publishers without an agent is as common now as it was when I got started 24 years ago. (The other oft-repeated myth, that “it’s different now than it was when YOU were new” is also alive and well–and wholly untrue, except for the fact that things are generally much better for a writer today than they were when I broke in.)

  31. Carradee says:

    Dean, some folks confuse agency pricing with Amazon’s price matching, where the author only gets paid based on the sale price rather than the retail. They assume that the wholesale model means the retailer can discount at will and therefore pay the author whatever the heck they want. (I’ve heard some folks actually claim that happened, but I now suspect that the claimants were confused.)

    So it seems to be a combo of being unfamiliar with business and poor at math.

    However, there’s also a detail that indie retailer ToS forbid the author from releasing their book for a lower price elsewhere. Pair that with Amazon’s price-matching feature, and an author might reasonably be concerned that the warehouse model would effectively mean that the retailer would control the author’s gross receipts.

  32. Dean, the second novel is plotted out, a few small scenes written, but I’m still finishing the first. Book Three is also plotted to a degree. When a friend of mine asked me what I was going to do after I finish the novel, I said, “Start on Book Two.” I have several three-book story arcs in mind. Plus, there’s the women’s fiction novel that’s been on my mind for the past few years. That one’s getting written, too.

    I’ve been reading writer blogs for months now. First you learn, then you apply what you learn, then you drop what doesn’t work and improve on what does. These are all the elephants [sic] of being a writer.

  33. Thom says:

    I think many indies think agency pricing helps them because

    1. When the houses upped the prices on ebooks, indies could undersell the houses by pricing at $.99-$5.99. Thus, indirectly, agency “helped” indies;

    2. Under the agency model, publisher sets price. I think many indies feel that the KDP program and the 35-70% royalty rate are a direct reflection of this. I’m not sure when Amazon changed to that royalty scale, but I’ve heard it said that it was when they were forced into agency pricing.

  34. Now after 22 years writing and being published occasionally I am SO grateful that ALL agents turned me down.
    Not only that but I was smart enough to understand that my contracts took ALL my rights, for anywhere – so I asked for and got back my rights to everywhere but where the publisher was actually using the rights – a very small area. Just NZ and Australia on paper.
    Now, given the unlimited time and demands of standard publishing contracts and the poor royalty accounting and lack of financial accountability I’d rather trust than a publisher or agent.
    Amazon likes to please and delight people.
    I’ve never heard or seen evidence that agents or publishers had those goals in mind.

  35. Dean, what Thom said.

    agency pricing helps independents because it keeps the price of competing ebooks artificially high. And of course you’re right, I am not in the agency model. The advantage is not being in it.

    • dwsmith says:

      Ahh, but Stephen, you haven’t been reading the facts behind all the hype. Average eBook pricing from the major publishers involved has come down considerably since agency pricing. That’s the rub on this suit, actually. DOJ is claiming something they don’t have in evidence, and in fact, the exact opposite has happened. Indie publishers would have been better off if the five larger publishers had not forced agency pricing.

      And trust me, as I have said over and over and over, pricing has little to do with sales for novels. If all novels were just the same, then we could argue. But a crappy novel written by a first novelist won’t sell at 99 cents or at $8.99. Each book is different and quality of storytelling is what sells, and the amount of titles an author has helps far more than a discounted price.

      But on that, with beginning writers, I am shouting into the wind. I stand by my statement. Agency pricing has not helped indie publishers in any fashion.

  36. allynh says:

    This is one of those “OMG, NYTimes, how clueless” moments. HA!

    Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking

    • dwsmith says:

      Allynh, I agree. That stupid article has been circulating as a major joke among professional writers over the last few days. Great fun and stupid beyond words. And so full of myths to be sad. But it was in the NY Times, so it has to be accurate, right? (grin)

      And by the way, forget about the hours this writer puts in (more than likely playing Angry Birds), if the writer actually did produce 2,000 words per day, 7 days per week, giving the writer two weeks off, they would produce 14,000 words x 50 weeks = 700,000 words, or about seven novels, not two. Ahh, don’t you love math? (grin)

  37. Dean, just so you know, I had no intention of getting into an argument when I originally commented. And I’m not really ‘arguing” per se right now. This is intended in the spirit of conversation.

    Pardon me for addressing your points a little out of order, but the first point I want to make is important because I feel that words have been put into my mouth somewhere along the line. My original point was, I thought, pretty simple and straightforward, that higher prices of books in general creates a competitive advantage for books that can be priced lower. But for some reason I seem to be drawing fire as a straw man who advocates for some peculiar ideas. So, just to clarify where I’m coming from…

    Dean said: “storytelling is what sells”

    I’m certainly not arguing with that.

    “…and the amount of titles an author has helps far more than a discounted price… But on that, with beginning writers, I am shouting into the wind.”

    No, I promise you’re not. At least not with me.

    However, it is a temporarily unalterable fact that as a new author, by definition I don’t have a lot of books. As it happens, I have one. Nothing I can do about that but write more.

    “a crappy novel written by a first novelist won’t sell at 99 cents or at $8.99.”

    Again, no argument from me. As a consumer, I’m not even interested in crap for free.

    “…as I have said over and over and over, pricing has little to do with sales for novels.”

    Well, I understand your point, but this is where I think you are oversimplifying what I said before. In fact, I think we discussed this on your comment board a couple months ago. It may not be the end-all-be-all, but price certainly matters in every business. Every price point for any given product is a signal to target customers. High prices attract certain people more than low prices, and vice versa. But they do matter.

    Assuming a good book that will attract readers, nothing is more important than visibility. Yes, having a dozen other books is certainly a great want to increase the visibility of each one. But without that, Price, if used effectively can be a terrific differentiator.

    “Average eBook pricing from the major publishers involved has come down considerably since agency pricing.”

    Yes, but it’s still high. Higher than the price of my book. And Amazon since can’t discount them, a big difference still exists. Meanwhile, at 4.99, I can create an expectation of quality, operate in a smaller pool than the 2.99 ocean, and STILL undercut my own paperback version and the traditionally published competition by more than half. It’s a great deal.

    And again, the key thing that traditional publishing is interested in is keeping the price of ebooks high. That’s why they pushed for the Agency model, and why they collude. All I’ve been saying in this thread is that… from a strictly selfish point of view, that can only help me.

    “Indie publishers would have been better off if the five larger publishers had not forced agency pricing.”

    Why? How?

    and “…you haven’t been reading the facts behind all the hype.”

    Okay. Hit me. Other than making the competition more expensive, what difference does agency pricing make for people who aren’t IN agency pricing?

  38. Carradee says:

    But—but you’re forgetting about the rewriting! She writes two and rewrites two novels a year! Four times each!

    *covers laughter with coughing*

  39. Teri K. says:

    I read the letters to the DOJ (the letter written by the AAR, and the similar letter written by the president of a major literary agency.)

    What is interesting about these letters is (1) they do not address the law or make any legal arguments — and this is a legal matter, and (2) they do not do much to address the factual allegations against the publishing house, which was collusion.

    Lawyers like to make the following quip:
    When the law is on your side, pound the law.
    When the law is against you, pound the facts.
    When the law and facts are against you, pound the table — or make policy arguments.

    The letters contain only policy arguments – without doing much to address how these policies affect writers. There is no legal analysis and no analysis of the underlying facts.

    Because, therefore, the letters can’t possibly be a genuine attempt to influence the DOJ, the letters can be nothing more than public relations.

    As Dean pointed out, here we have a major agency and the organization representing agents declaring in public that their interests are more closely aligned with publishers than writers.


    I have to add: The AAR wrote, “Of course we have no way to know if there was actual collusion . . .” Um. The law recognizes a concept called E.V.I.D.E.N.C.E.

    Moreover, juries have long been entrusted with deciding the facts. So yes, it is possible to make a factual determination of whether there was collusion.

  40. George K says:

    Dean you are my hero. THANK YOU for telling the truth.

  41. George K says:

    …because every agent I’ve contacted so far seems to think I can’t see through lies.

  42. Nancy Beck says:

    Thom said, “I think many indies think agency pricing helps them because

    “1. When the houses upped the prices on ebooks, indies could undersell the houses by pricing at $.99-$5.99. Thus, indirectly, agency “helped” indies;

    “2. Under the agency model, publisher sets price.”

    I think Thom has it right. I’ve heard this on Kindleboards and in the comments on Konrath’s blog. (Many, many times.)

    • dwsmith says:

      Nancy, interesting. So indie publishers are stating this false information because of two very wrong details. Wow. To start off with, your #1 is false because when ebooks were put up by traditional publishers, they were always high priced. They did not go up because of Agency Pricing, and in fact, have come down over the last year or so since that was put in.

      And pricing “advantages” work fine when you are putting an apple against another apple, but sadly, no matter how much indie publishers want to think it true, not all books are exactly the same. So having a “price” advantage never helps. And certainly costs the indie publisher more money, since it takes ten more sales at 99 cents to make the same as one sale at $4.99.

      And the false fact about #2 is that publishers ALWAYS HAVE set the price. Agency was only a restriction on a bookstore to not discount. All indie publishers always have set their own prices.

      So you are telling me that I hear this silly statement that agency helped indie publishers because indie publishers don’t even understand how book sales work.

      Sigh, why does that not surprise me.

  43. The notion of agency pricing “helping” or “not helping” self-published writers strikes me as a non-sequitur. Like “dancing about architecture,” as the saying goes.

    Agency was (and still is) an efficient and sensible pricing system for what was a brand new (and is still a very new) kind of market. Prior to the the ebook self-publishing revoluation which was essentially started at Amazon, there had never before been an affordable and practical way for a self-publishing writer to have effective national distribution of a title.

    This was a whole new scenario–and it made sense, especially as the self-publishing market soon filled with thousands and thousands of titles–to have a pricing system that was very flexible. More flexible than book pricing had ever been before.

    Amazon established a floor and a ceiling ($0.99- $9.99) and a split (which it eventually expanded on the -author’s- side of the split to the current 30/70), and leaves room within that range (a range presumably established to protect its own profit margin) for EVERY individual uploader to experiement with pricing on EVERY individual title to find the sweet spot.

    And various writers have found “sweet spots” for their sales, where they seem to hit the sales stream and do very well, across that whole range of available price points.

    I think it’s a pricing model that makes a lot of sense, given how very DIFFERENT this market is than the traditional publishing production, sales, and distribution system had been for decades.

    I think that’s the relevant point of how agency pricing works well for self-publishing. How it works well for self-publishing writers COMPARED TO how it works for traditioanl publishers or major houses–is indeed a case of comparing apples to oranges.

  44. Nancy Beck says:

    And pricing “advantages” work fine when you are putting an apple against another apple, but sadly, no matter how much indie publishers want to think it true, not all books are exactly the same. So having a “price” advantage never helps.

    I decided a while ago not to get involved with any of these pricing comments/ideas/whatever, because it drove me nuts to see people squabbling over the price.

    Everybody has to try different prices to see what works, because who really knows what the “sweet spot” is for any given book? Because as you say, not all books are exactly the same. (Unlike the early Ford cars, which WERE all the same, where you got to choose from the exciting color of black. ;-))

    Now with the DOJ suit going on, I’ve seen a few more people trot out this stuff.

    I prefer not to go that route…which is why I come here. :-)

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