Literary agent Tim Bates via ALCS News:
I’m a literary agent not a writer and while I like to take time and care over my words, I do not have the skill to create beautifully crafted sentences or perfectly structured books. That is a writer’s job.
I’m a literary agent not a publisher, and although I spent a decade working in various roles in publishing houses, including as a commissioning editor, I do not have the complete set of skills or the knowledge or the sales networks or the PR and marketing teams to call myself a publisher.
So why is it that more and more writers believe they can do these highly skilled and time-consuming jobs themselves?
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But can anyone be surprised that in an era when digital and self-publishing opportunities mean that writers are questioning the worth or very existence of publishers, they are also wondering whether they need an agent.
The debate about the future role of the large publishing houses is outside the scope of this piece (but, for the record, they are, in my view, absolutely essential to the long term well-being of the professional writer), but in these complex, shifting multi-platform and truly global times, a good agent has never been more necessary.
Can you answer the following questions?
Should you sell world rights in all languages to your UK publisher, or sell the rights directly to individual foreign publishers? What is the industry standard author share for sub-licensed audio rights? What royalty can you expect for special sales? Is 52.5% a reasonable starting point for high-discount royalties? How should you word an out of print clause when the usual threshold of 150 or so copies in the warehouse is meaningless in a digital era? Is it sensible or fair to sell e-books for 20p? Should my publisher control the merchandising rights to my books?
Even if you can answer some or all of the above questions, do you have the time to consider these issues when your publisher is putting you under pressure to deliver your next book, or promote your current work or to increase your following on Twitter?
. . . .
Editors move on. Publishers change direction and the sales expectations are very high – increasingly the large trade publishers are only commissioning books with a real chance of an “upside”, i.e. the possibility of achieving bestseller status. Authors can no longer expect to have a life-long relationship with their editor or publisher.
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Agents are a constant presence in an author’s career. We don’t tend to move on. We don’t shift our focus simply because the market changes. Yes, we can negotiate contracts but more importantly we can offer constant and continuing career advice. We try to help plan for the short, medium and long term. We are in it for the long haul.