What is it with agencies and new initiative announcements this week?
First, Bookends does less than well in announcing its “Strategy for Self-Epublishing” and now The Knight Agency screws up its “Assisted Self-Publishing Initiative.”
Do all you people buy your bottled water from the same source? Are these examples of your online savvy and how well you will do in promoting your authors with blogs and tweets and social media?
You already know about Bookends. Allow Passive Guy to tell you about The Knight Agency.
1. On Wednesday, Sarah Hoyt blogged about deciding to no longer have an agent and go indie.
2. Sarah said good things about her agent, a welcome contrast from previous agents. However, as with many authors, Sarah was concerned about major shifts happening in publishing that we’ve often discussed on this blog.
3. Sarah was also concerned that her agency had started their own digital publisher and specifically concerned about conflicts of interest, just like lots of those who criticized Bookends for doing the same thing.
4. Early on Friday, Sarah received an email from her agent that said, in part, “I’m very disappointed that you’ve said something very publicly that I feel damages my reputation and that of the agency. I do hope you will print a retraction.”
5. Shortly thereafter, Sarah received a phone call from the agency owner threatening legal action.
6. Sarah wrote a lengthy blog post apologizing for any misunderstanding, reiterating her very clear earlier statements of admiration for her agent. She included a copy of the agency email announcing the new business that triggered her decision to be unagented. Sarah helpfully interspersed comments between the paragraphs of the email about her understanding of the email together with the concerns that came to mind about ambiguities in the explanation of the agency’s future new business venture.
7. It appears that Sarah’s greatest sin, in the eyes of The Knight Agency, was saying “they’ve started their own digital publisher” instead of saying the agency had started an “assisted self-publishing initiative.”
Well, of course, everyone knows the difference between a digital publisher and an assisted self-publishing initiative. (For a giggle, PG googled “assisted self-publishing initiative” and found the only people using that term anywhere on the web are associated with the The Knight Agency or Sarah in her clarification blog posts.)
Here are some excerpts from Sarah:
Be that as it may, last I checked, calling someone a publisher was neither an insult nor a libel. Heck, my favorite publisher has it put on her name tag at conventions. So it would be REALLY hard to make that stick. As is to make the idea that I perceive a conflict of interest as being a problem into a libel. It would be fairly hard to make it stick in any case when speaking of a post that labels itself as my reasoning process – i.e. my opinion.
. . . .
So, is The Knight Agency becoming a publisher? According to them, no. I’ll leave it at that. Did I mean to impugn their character? Absolutely not. Do I agree with the path they are taking? No. Does this mean I think everyone should run madly away from them? Positively not.
I was simply explaining my own reasons – and reasoning – for taking the action I did. And everyone informing me by various means that I’m wrong and the Knight Agency is the way to Win The Future or whatever it was, please note I made it a point of saying that making predictions is hard, particularly about the future. While my decisions often cause friends, acquaintances and passing strangers to say “WTF” I don’t think this is what they mean at all.
. . . .
Yes, as in all good Hollywood Divorces, while this marriage could not be saved, due to the party of the first part having decided the concept of agency is outdated, the relationship would have been fine with better communication and if someone hadn’t tried to scare someone else with a lawyer. As is… (Waggles hand) I hope all parties involved can find a way to dismount from the soap box and shake hands and be friends, if not now at some future point.
. . . .
[Following is one of the paragraphs from the Knight email and Sarah's response]
We’ll be taking our standard agency commission of fifteen percent (15%), absorbing all costs except those associated with copy editing. As always in our work as your agents, our objective is to allow you as the author to focus on what you do best, which is writing the most wonderful books possible while we take the time-consuming and tedious business elements off your shoulders. For our fifteen percent commission, we will provide self-publishing assistance in the following areas:
Okay, this was the crux of my problem. They don’t tell me they’re taking the 15% fee to cover the costs, they tell me it is their “standard agency commission.” I am a simple woman who reads these things far too literally, perhaps. “Agency commission, as far as I’m concerned means that they are taking a commission for selling the book. But to whom are they selling the book? Well… to the public. What does a publisher do? A publisher absorbs all costs, cover, etc, then sells the book to the public to recoup those costs and make a profit. Oh, hey, I’m going to be the first to say that 15% is a great deal in relation to what publishers offer. And if that contract has a firm termination date, it might even be a great deal overall. (As someone has noted on a blog, the costs associated with processing a book are arout $300. $1k if you go fancy. While for most small publishers publishing most authors the cost might well never be recouped even at a much larger percentage, the author has to ask himself how much he hopes to earn over the lifetime of the book. Income compounds, see. Suppose your book earns $200 this year but $1k next year and $10k the next… how good the deal is depends on how good your income is. I’m going to say – not just about the Knight Agency’s deal, but about the entire field that an author should insist on any epublishing contract coming with either a termination or a cancel at will after x time.) For all I know the Knight Agency does this. (According to Lucienne, it’s a 2 year term.) I haven’t seen a contract. This is merely a side note for those unfamiliar with digital publishing.
Meanwhile and for the record, the 15% means the agency has to collect it before forwarding the rest to the author, right? Which again is a function of publishers. Again, they say they’re not publishers and I believe it, but do you see the source of my confusion, and the source of my remaining discomfort? I’m perfectly willing to believe it drinks ammonia and eats arsenic, but I hate the fact that this schmerp looks like a bunny, okay? I would never trust it not to dig up the backyard. This is my paranoia and not meant to dispute the opinion of experts.
PG won’t copy the entire letter, but merely pronounce his assessment that the Bookends announcement and the Knight announcement share many of the same shortcomings.
Link to the rest at According to Hoyt
What separates the Knight announcement is the wonderful touch of threatening to sue one of the agency’s authors because the agency’s announcement was so poorly written that it caused the author to fire the agency. My, oh my, isn’t that a wonderful way to launch an assisted self-publishing initiative!
An old lawyer on the other side of negotiations involving PG many years ago had a favorite saying he repeated over and over during our meetings, “If it’s chocolate, you can call it vanilla all day long, but it will still be chocolate.”
PG will update the old lawyer’s saying: If it’s a digital publisher, you can call it an assisted self-publishing initiative all day long, but it will still be a digital publisher.
PG will close with three free tips about online marketing for budding online marketing geniuses at The Knight Agency:
1. Don’t threaten to sue somebody with a blog.
2. Don’t threaten to sue somebody with a blog who has friends with blogs.
3. Don’t threaten to sue somebody with a blog who has friends with blogs when you’re launching a new product.
Remember those three rules and all your mistakes will be new ones.