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New Publisher Authors Trust: Themselves

17 April 2013

From The New York Times:

When the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author David Mamet released his last book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” with the Sentinel publishing house in 2011, it sold well enough to make the New York Times best-seller list.

This year, when Mr. Mamet set out to publish his next one, a novella and two short stories about war, he decided to take a very different path: he will self-publish.

Mr. Mamet is taking advantage of a new service being offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, as a way to assume more control over the way his book is promoted.

“Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon,” Mr. Mamet said in a telephone interview, “and because publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

. . . .

Sloan Harris, co-director of ICM’s literary department, said his agency signed a deal with a company called Argo Navis Author Services, a self-publishing service created by the Perseus Book Group, because he decided it was time to give his clients more options than the standard big publishing houses.

For certain clients, Mr. Harris said, self-publishing “returns a degree of control to authors who have been frustrated about how their ideas for marketing and publicity fare at traditional publishers.” Both Mr. Harris and Mr. Mamet said that the big publishers focused mostly on blockbuster books and fell short on other titles — by publishing too few copies, for instance, or limiting advertising to only a short period after a book was released.

“Particularly for high-end literary fiction, their efforts too often have been very low-octane,” Mr. Harris said of the traditional publishers.

. . . .

 If an author self-publishes, what, then, is the role of a literary agency? Mr. Gottlieb of Trident said it made sense for his clients to self-publish through the agency, which charges a standard commission on sales, instead of going directly to Amazon themselves because the agency brought experience in marketing and jacket design. It also has relationships with the digital publishers that give their clients access to plum placement on sites that self-published authors can’t obtain on their own.

. . . .

 Argo Navis’s standard deal, for example, allows for publication digitally and in paperback by demand, as well as distribution, in return for 30 percent of all sales. (It would not be unusual, however, for a big author using an agent to negotiate better terms.) The deal also comes with basic marketing, like listings in digital catalogs.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Robin for the tip.

Advertising-Promotion, Self-Publishing

24 Comments to “New Publisher Authors Trust: Themselves”

  1. Newsflash: That’s not self-publishing. That’s small press publishing with a good royalty and the agency as the small press. You could make a good argument that it falls under the banner of indie publishing the same as someone who does it all themselves since it’s outside traditional/legacy.

    • Yeah, I had the same thought. Just because they aren’t going through a big publishing house or submitting for approval/rejection doesn’t make it “self-publishing”.

      The title should be “New Publisher Authors Trust: Their Agents”

      (ugh)

      • Precisely. And it’s all deeply rooted in “please take care of me” and “I need validation.”

        Not saying it’s necessarily bad for everyone. If I were 75 and wanted to get my large backlist out and I had the money to live comofortably after many years of publishing success, I might let my agent take care of it. I might not want to learn indie publishing and oversee the conversion of dozens of books. Might want to save my energy for focusing on new writing. There are scenarios like that where it *can* make sense. But I think in most it does not.

    • Hey David. It actually is self-publishing – but not a very good way to do it. The company he is using, Argo Navis, are a self-publish service company exclusively for agented authors. Here’s why they are terrible:

      1. They charge premium rates for basic services like formatting and covers (and then do a crappy job).

      2. They charge THIRTY percent of the authors royalties for distro – and that’s after the retailer’s cut of course (compared to 10% for distro through someone like Smashwords).

      3. The checks go to the agent instead of the author – presumably so the agent can take their 15% for doing exactly nothing other than recommending this terrible service.

      I’m also pretty sure the agent gets a kickback for recommending this service, but I’m waiting to confirm this.

      I should also note that it’s leading agencies involved in this racket – ICM, Curtis Brown etc. I should also point out that this is the second time the NYT has given Argo Navis completely uncritical coverage.

      I blogged about this two years ago, but I guess it’s time for an update. It’s funny. I’ve just been at the London Book Fair where everyone is full of talk about putting authors at the center of the publishing industry. I didn’t realize they meant “for a shakedown from all sides.”

      http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/rip-offs-terrible-advice-zombie-memes/

      • To put it another way: let’s assume David Mamet is charging $7.99 for his book (given name recognition, genre, platform etc.). If he uploaded direct to KDP, he would make roughly $5.59 per copy sold.

        Via Argo Navis, he has to give 30% of his sale price to Amazon, 30% of what’s remaining to Argo Navis, and 15% of what’s remaining of that to his agent. Assuming there’s no accounting shenanigans, he’ll only make $3.32 per copy sold – almost half what he could make on his own.

        These guys are leeches.

      • For the first time, I disagree with you on a minor point, Dave.

        According to your research, Argo Navis only accepts books that are agent-repped. That is the antithesis of self-publishing.

  2. ::relationships with the digital publishers that give their clients access to plum placement on sites that self-published authors can’t obtain on their own.::

    Red flag right there

  3. Must be a slow news day in NYC. As I read the entire Times article, I thought, “so, someone with a higher profile joins the hunt. Meh.”

  4. “Trident said it made sense for his clients to self-publish through the agency…because the agency brought experience in marketing and jacket design. It also has relationships with the digital publishers that give their clients access to plum placement on sites that self-published authors can’t obtain on their own.”

    Sigh. And the last couple articles (ads) from agents appealing to indies were starting to lean in the honest and respectable direction.

    Someone wake me when an indie is cheering about how her agent got her on the Kindle main page or one of only ten “New and Noteworthy” spots solely because of who the agent knows.

  5. So he’s giving 30% to his agent, plus another 30% to Amazon? Did I read that right? Does he realize that’s forever, since we’re talking ebooks? I suppose to him, 40% royalties look pretty good.

    • “So he’s giving 30% to his agent,”

      Huh? Since when did any agent get more than a 15% commission?

    • The 30% is for the publisher. I can’t see the original document so I’m not sure if the 30% is from the cover price but I assume so.

      If so he’d be getting 34% [(100-30-30)*.85] of cover for Amazon eBooks if its in the 2.99-9.99 range. Which is roughly double normal royalty rates for authors with publishers but far less than direct.

      I’d be curious if those numbers also apply to print. If so he’d be making much higher royalties than the 8%-10% of cover that’s common from publishers.

      • Yeah–’publisher’ in quotes: “his agency signed a deal with a company called Argo Navis Author Services, a self-publishing service created by the Perseus Book Group … Argo Navis’s standard deal, for example, allows for publication digitally and in paperback by demand, as well as distribution, in return for 30 percent of all sales.”

        So you’re right, the deal is even worse. He’s giving 30% to Amazon (35% if he’s going with BN too), 30% to his self-publishing publisher, and 15% of his personal gross to his agent (unless the agent is actually getting 15% of the total price–been known to happen).

        I would steer my friends away from this ‘deal’.

  6. I say, “tomato” “tomahto”. Call it self-publishing or small publishing. Does it matter? Not really. The point is, they’re not going the traditional publishing route and that’s a good thing for all; especially us indie authors. The more validation this route is lent by the big names, the more the floodgates will open.

    This is good even for those that want to publish traditionally because this means that traditional houses will have to come up with better terms to be competitive with what self-publishers/small publishers can offer. There’s enough pie for all to share. Traditional, self-published/indies and hybrid authors.

  7. Rashkae – I had exactly the same response to this:

    “It also has relationships with the digital publishers that give their clients access to plum placement on sites that self-published authors can’t obtain on their own”.

    Woah. That type of thing makes me very nervous.

    As for agents becoming publishers, which this obviously is, it is completely unethical, imho.

  8. I agree in principle with the title of the article. This new generation of authors do trust themselves first, and foremost. Generation Y authors look at any and all opportunities to compete, and cut corners. They are creative, not just about content, but marketing. Gen. X is sometimes the same way, But, what is really going on now is way above and beyond Generation Baby Boomer, X, or Y. It seems to me like more and more authors of all ages are simply trusting themselves more over the old model of being totally dependent upon the publisher. There will be exceptions in the future, but I think traditional publishing is heading towards some kind of crisis. What happens when the authors no longer show up?

    • This may be a tiny facet of the huge boulder that is rolling down onto our society – social trust breakdown.

      People have always bitched about government, the landlord, evil conspiracies, what have you. But the Internet for all its many virtues – and arguably this is one of them, just with a dark side – has shown us that our institutions really are inept, our leaders really are quite frequently morons and/or knaves, and that all the people we trusted to keep us informed are often just trying to keep us in line. Add to that the oft-cited severance of hard work and company loyalty from the company’s treatment of employees, and people are less inclined to trust anybody. So why should we trust publishers and agents, especially when with the click of a mouse we can learn just how callously they will screw an author over more or less on a whim?

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