SciFi/Fantasy author Sarah Hoyt shares an interesting theory about why so many agents want start publishing operations.
I haven’t been unagented since 97 and every time I dropped an agent before I secured one first. This time I chose not to do so because I think an agent won’t help. I could be wrong, in which case I’ll shop for an agent sometime in the future. However for now I’m alone, working without a net.
. . . .
But for the last year I’ve had a growing sense that something was wrong [with publishers]. Part of it was the response to two novels I sent out. I’m not going to detail the response, but it wasn’t just that they were rejected but that the way they were rejected indicated answering cold submissions was no longer part of an editor’s primary job. If I had to guess, I’d say that the same thing is going on with this as went on with slush two decades ago. In this case it is due to shrinking lists and problems with distribution. Publishing houses are either sticking with their stable (Probably 90% of the new authors you see are old pros with new names) poaching bestsellers from each other, or hiring on the basis of “she’s a friend of, who has done well for us.”
. . . .
I’m not writing off big publishers. I’ll continue working for Baen. However, my relationship with them is of the sort we never needed an agent. (First, I give the publisher Port, then we negotiate – evil grin.) And I’ve got a few novels I’ll be submitting to a couple of houses for highly targeted type marketing that I’m fairly confident of placing, at least if the houses are still there, and if there’s a market for traditionally published books.
And that brings me to the next step. You see, I believe there will be a market. I believe some (though not all) of the large houses will adapt and survive this. However – and this I can’t emphasize enough – the agencies don’t think publishing is going to be with us much longer or that you can make a living off it.
. . . .
Agencies are feeling the pinch from this, and in response they’re doing something which the agency Lucienne works for just did. (To quote my husband who is the sweet side of this association “Well, they’ve got to make a living, somehow. What would you have them do?”) And while I understand it, I want no part of it.
Yep, they’ve started their own digital publisher.
I know I’ve said here in the past that this was the logical next step in digital publishing. Agencies already sift through slush. They already promote their writers, to greater or lesser extent. So, why not transition?
Well, two problems. First, they’re not transitioning. They’re remaining agents and charging you for the privilege of selling things to themselves. (Kris Rusch has written extensively on the conflict of interest present, but it should be obvious to everyone, too.) Second, they are loading the deals with up front costs. (Perfectly understandable, if you’re in a bid to survive, but it makes them much inferior to most micro publishers out there, who will get you cover, proofread and put up your manuscript for a percentage of your earnings which comes out at the same time your earnings do. I.e. you’ll start earning from the first dollar, not after 1k or so is paid back to the “publishing agency.”)
So, agencies who publish you are making a desperate bid to survive and they’re not necessarily the best deal for epublishing. But why do I say this means they don’t think the big houses will survive?
First, because if they thought this was just a trough in sales, they’ve gone through those before without changing their model and they would do so again. Second, because of the conflict of interest. They wouldn’t risk the appearance of competing with the big publishing houses if they didn’t know, in their heart of hearts that the big giants as such are over.
Heck, the big giants think the game is over. Why do I say that? Because they’re not completely stupid. (Individual editors may vary.) They know – they have to know – that if all they keep in their stable are bestsellers, in a year or two the bestsellers will decide that they can make more money self-publishing or from a micro press. They can. And they have the name, so… why not? Publishers have to see this as clearly as I do. So, why go to that model? Unless your whole intent is as a stop gap measure “to keep us afloat just another two years.”
. . . .
So you could say I’m unagented because the agency my agent works for no longer believes the old model is viable, and I don’t agree with their concept of the new model.
Link to the rest at According to Hoyt
So the agents are afraid of two things:
1. Their authors will find self-publishing rewarding financially and artistically, and
2. Big Publishing is beginning to circle the drain so there will be no more large advances and no more need for authors to use agents to get published.
Passive Guy would be scared if he were an agent.
So is the solution to agent’s problems to slither towards some hinkey new business model that creeps out most authors or sign authors to you-are-my-slave-forever agency contracts so agents get 15 cents every time somebody pays a buck to an author?
PG says to agents, “Welcome to the world where lots of people have been living ever since dirt cheap computing power cross-bred with internet everywhere.”
Passive Guy will call this place Disruption World.
Disruption World includes graveyards. All the tombstones have the same inscription. “Here lies the body of someone who didn’t change fast enough or smart enough.”
An entire section of the graveyard is devoted to music studios. There are spots for telephone operators and stenographers and darkroom equipment manufacturers. You might think the graveyard is only for the old, but tombstones also mark the resting places of those who died young, like thick computer magazines and huge computers. Infants named WordPerfect and Lotus123 have their little spots.
Disruption World sounds like a grim place with all these tombs, but that’s not all you’ll find here.
Great palaces line broad boulevards with names like Google and Facebook. Everyone thought Apple would be in the graveyard, but Infinite Loop is the grandest of all avenues, a tale of redemption all the sweeter for its rarity.
The first rule of Disruption World is simple: Add Value.
There are other rules, but if you don’t obey the first one, you won’t have a chance to work on any others.
So, for literary agents, as for so many who have come before, Add Value. Figure out what you’re better at doing than most other people and work to turn it into a business. Disruption World is enormous and growing every moment and since speed and efficiency are mandates, match what you can do better with what fast movers need and you may have a business, maybe a better one than you’re in right now.
Don’t neglect Chinese math. You know Chinese math. If a billion Chinese each give you one dollar or one of anything, you’ll do quite well.
Twitter figured out fast movers need only 140 characters. What a worthless-sounding thing – the ability to take 140 characters and squirt it out onto the net. But at over 200 million Tweets per day, that’s 6 billion Tweets per month, 73 billion Tweets per year. Every day, Twitter users write a 10-million-page book.
One Tweet is worthless, but Chinese math kicks in with enough worthless things. In January of this year, based on prices in specialized markets that sell shares of privately-held companies, Twitter was worth $4 billion. Now, it’s worth $7 billion. All from 140 characters repeated over and over.
Deep, cleansing breath.
PG promises he has consumed only completely legal substances for years on end. He also promises this rant is not the product of any legal mind-numbing liquids. He sometimes misplaces his car keys, but shows no other signs of dementia.
PG probably hasn’t bucked up any agents with this rant, but he does feel better himself, so there you are. One of the benefits of having a blog.
Upon further consideration, he blames this episode on the mental strain accumulated by trying to squeeze great thoughts into 140 characters over and over. It’s great for Twitter, but hell for those who like big words.