Home » Agents, Amazon, Self-Publishing » An Agent Bashes Self-Publishing and Amazon

An Agent Bashes Self-Publishing and Amazon

9 January 2013

From author, Dr. Debra Holland:

Over the weekend, I attended a wonderful conference on story mastery, which was fun, inspirational, and chock full of interesting attendees. I had a marvelous time–with one exception–the agent who was a guest speaker. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard agents bash self-publishing and Amazon, but since it’s important to me to educate authors about self-publishing, I wanted to write out some of what the agent said, and my opinion of his opinion.

. . . .

First of all, I want to be clear. I am NOT bashing agents.

. . . .

Someone in the audience asked his opinion of self-publishing. The agent responded by giving the audience opinionated, misleading, and sometimes false information, some of which I will detail here.

The agent was obviously against self-publishing, quoting the old statistic that 97% of authors sell less than 100 books. I know there are more recent surveys, and I also know that these surveys don’t tap into much of the self-publishing community. I know a LOT of self-publishers who sell more than 100 books. They sell more than 100 books a year, a month, a week, a day, or an hour. Granted I hang out in the romance author circles, and romance fiction is a big percentage of the market, but I also know authors of other genres who have sold more than 100 books.

I spoke up, not to challenge the guy, but to educate the audience. I stated that I was a successful self-published author who had made the USA Today list and sold almost 100,000 books in a year. The speaker then made his point by saying that I was obviously one of the 3%.

The agent stated that with self-publishing you have to be your own editor and do your own marketing. He said that you want to go with a traditional publisher because they have wider distribution and can get you into brick and mortar stores. All true. But he didn’t present the complete picture–that with self-publishing, you pay others to edit your work, and that no matter how you are published, you have to do promotion. Also most new or midlist authors don’t receive a lot of promotion from their traditional publisher–so it doesn’t matter if the possibility exists for wider distribution and promotion.

. . . .

The agent did grudging admit that a self-published author could receive higher royalties, but he mentioned that you could make 70% on a $10.00 book. (Untrue, you make 35% on a $10.00 book. You make 70% on a $9.99 book.) Granted, I’m being picky here. But if you are educating your audience, you have to give them the correct information.

Someone asked the agent more about Amazon. The audience member seemed to be asking about Amazon’s traditional imprints, but the agent kept referring to Amazon’s self-publishing platform. I spoke up and said that Amazon has traditional imprints. The agent responded by saying, “I would never submit to them because Amazon is destroying publishing. And I don’t know any other agent who submits to them either.”

Wow, really? No other agents submit to Amazon imprints?

I knew some of my fellow Montlakers had their books submitted by agents. Today, I took a survey of my Montlake friends and found a large percentage of authors had their books submitted by their agents.

. . . .

Here is a guy who may be acting to detriment of his clients due to his own ideology. This agent is denying his clients the opportunity to have offers from the Amazon imprints, which may be much better than traditional publishing offers–or at the least spark some kind of bidding war. In my case, I had a big six editor approach me for my Montana Sky series. Her terms weren’t as good as Montlake’s, so I declined her offer. I know several other Montlake authors who had offers from big six publishers, and they, too, went with Amazon’s better offers.

Then there is the potential for promotion and generating sales (and thus making money) that Amazon imprints offer. For example, my two Montlake books have sold about 100,000 in four months and a week.

Link to the rest at Dr. Debra Holland and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Agents, Amazon, Self-Publishing

27 Comments to “An Agent Bashes Self-Publishing and Amazon”

  1. I totally appreciate her advocacy. Good article.

    Agents need to start acting like they are the writer’s representative – you know, the one who pays them – and not in the pocket of the Publisher.

    Although – why is the agent’s name left out? This secrecy thing to protect the guilty should stop.

    • Especially seeing as they were speaking in public, not in confidence.

    • Agents need to start acting like they are the writer’s representative – you know, the one who pays them – and not in the pocket of the Publisher.

      Not every agent feels this way, as the checks they get bear the publisher’s name, not the author’s.

      • They aren’t really “agents” in the legal sense. I think we should stop calling them “literary agents” and start calling them “literary talent-scouts.”

    • “Although – why is the agent’s name left out?”

      I suspect identifying an agent who bad-mouths self-publishing is redundant information. Unless there is information to the contrary, one should assume a literary agent will recommend against attempting to self-publish, some more forcefully than others.

      People think it’s easier to handle competition by putting it out of business directly than to improve one’s own products or services.

    • Agreed on the name thing.

  2. As long as it’s in a professional context, I have arrived at the conclusion that the name should be given. It’s not as though this agent was speaking off the record in private to one person. S/he proudly stood up in front of a large gathering and spoke these words for all the hear. Own them.

    Why protect these people who would not go out of their way to protect us? Heck, they’re mocking us.

    • Dan and Barbara – completely agree about the speaking in public thing. This is a holdover from when writers were encouraged to stay silent about everything. I hope some brave soul starts naming names and holding people accountable!

    • I agree with this. If you’re not prepared to be quoted by name, you shouldn’t open your yap in public. (This goes for my yap, too, on the rare occasions when anything comes out that someone would want to quote.)

      On the other hand, it’s not as if I had any intention of submitting to this agent, or indeed, any agent; just as I have no intention of releasing my books on papyrus scrolls, or illuminated manuscripts, or printing them one page at a time using cold metal type and a hand-powered press. Amusing as it might be to do these things, at this point none of them are really going to help me reach an audience. So I don’t feel that I have lost anything substantial by not knowing this agent’s name.

  3. This reminds me of the investment advisor who ran my former employer’s 401(k) program. This was a year or two into the long bear market after the dotcom crash, and the only things that were doing any good were precious metals and commodities. When I asked why we didn’t have any investment opportunities in precious metals, commodities or producers of same, he said that he didn’t think people should speculate in precious metals or commodities because it was bad for the economy. I said, “So it’s okay for us to lose money in large-caps as long as we do it in ways which benefit the economy?”

    Oddly, he didn’t have a response to that.

  4. Thanks for posting my blog, Passive Guy. I know the information is resonating with a lot of authors. As for not naming the agent… I didn’t name him because it didn’t feel right. That answer may not make sense to most people reading this, and I may even be criticized for it. But I am were I am in my publishing career today because I’ve paid attention to my intuition. It wasn’t until my success with self-publishing that I could look back and see that I’d done so. Therefore, I try to follow my intuition when it tells me something. :)

    Best of luck to everyone with their writing careers!

    • Thanks for your ongoing advocacy and willingness to speak up, Debra!

      Whoever that agent was (and I have my guess), they’re coming from a place of fear. Their job is becoming obsolete, they are no longer revered and sought-after at writer’s conferences and workshops (in fact, attendees actually contradict them, gasp!), and their business model is failing. Those who can’t open their eyes and adapt to the new world of publishing are going to have some serious struggles in the future.

    • You’re welcome, Debra, and thanks for writing a great post. You’re correct that what you have written resonates with a great many authors.

  5. I’ll bet you could smell the fear coming off that guy in waves. That’s what it is that makes agents like this say these things: fear of the change that’s coming … that’s here. He can keep his head in the sand, but eventually that tide is going to come in a drown him. Time and the tide of self-publishing waits for no man! ha ha

  6. Being anti-indy is bad enough. This agent is committing malpractice by steering writers away from Amazon imprint deals. What do you want to bed he/she also steers away from the smaller publishers as well (not a big enough payday). Yeesh. With friends like these, as they say…

  7. Oh, wow. I just went and checked and even though I’m nowhere near the $5K for an advance yet, I’ve still moved more than 500 units in less than 2 years with no promotion and only digital short fiction. I’d say that kills the 100 books statistic because I’m certainly not anywhere close to an elite 3% or even a full living wage yet.

  8. I don’t mind when people don’t name names. Why? Because this isn’t a problem with one rogue agent we should all stay away from. This is a common problem.

    When a writer hears this, she shouldn’t say “Who was that guy? I want to cross him off my list!” but rather “That’s a bad attitude. I’m going to question closely any prospective agent about their attitudes toward self-publishing.”

  9. I think not naming the agent certainly is ok. I respect the author for using her ‘intuition.’ Journos do it all the time with their ‘un-named sources’ or ‘a source said…’ but, it would be good to know if this was a NYC based agent or out of Minnesota or Boston, or elsewhere… and how many years he or she has on the block, and what major leagues he or she has played in, in terms of which books he/she has represented that became bestsellers and were given a 5 or 6 figure promo campaign.

    These would help to evaluate the maturity, or lack of it, the street creds [the only really important thing about an agent, can they deliver?] of the agent who said these things.

    If this agent is one of a slew of hopefuls/ or as many nowadays are, former fired editors or publicity people from the big publishers who felt they could rep books because they’d been on the inside… but with less then 20 years under their belts (back to the time of pubs demanding electronic rights in contracts and later the ‘ebook’ revolution] rather than old guard who has gone to battle many times during the HUGE changes of weather in contracts and promo and media itself…

    I’d eval what they have to say differently in terms of the roots they grow from. It’s harder to make a complete factual analyses without certain facts.

    I’ve also noted strongly that many of the old guard agents, most definitely acknowledge that ebooks are a revenue producers, whether self pub’d or through a big /medium/little press. I think it has to do with the bigger agents seeing the bigger picture, for they already have their nut, and continue to move big deals with big pubs… as opposed to those agents who may not have vast and deep years and years of bestseller sales, and who see indie pub as cutting the agent out because they dont have a strong toehold themselves. I note that the ‘old guard’ usually have many bestselling authors… this certainly greatly contributing to their continuing to stay in business with solid cushions of passive income, literally for life… which newer agents dont have, and may never have, given the state of publishing being so diversified a set of pathways now whereas before it was a single path, only.

    Just my .02

  10. I wonder how many of this agent’s clients are unaware that he is failing to represent them properly by not submitting to the imprint with the most author-friendly contract(s) in the business.

    He doesn’t know any other agents who do submit to them? I don’t believe that’s a truthful statement.

  11. My agent actually gave me a lot of interesting information about Amazon’s imprints, and we plan to submit to one, so this only represents one agent (which I think most people realize).
    She said that many Amazon imprints are doing some interesting things, although a few still seem to be finding their way.

  12. The long-time agent/literary attorney is based in LA.

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