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An Open Letter to Agents – Must Read

26 July 2011

A killer post by regular visitor and historical romance author Courtney Milan:

You want to know the number one question that authors are asking me about my self-publishing venture? Bar none, it’s this: “How are you dealing with your agent?” I can’t think of a single published author who wanted to ask me questions about self-publishing who has not asked that question, and wanted to talk about it at length. The ratio of questions about my agent to questions about everything else that I’m doing has been about 15:1. I’ve talked to other agented authors who have self-published, and they are also fielding questions about their agents, I suspect at approximately the same ratio.

Agents, I don’t think you have any idea how much your writers are talking about you right now. Seriously. I don’t think you have any idea. I am getting multiple e-mails every day from writers who are worried about what their agents are doing, and who are worried about how to handle agents, and who want to be fair to their agents but also don’t want to pay them a percentage when there’s little to no work involved, and/or the agent handles little of the risk.

Agents, I don’t think you realize how many concerns your writers have about you right now. Seriously. I don’t think you have any idea. I know you think that the lines of communication are open, but they aren’t nearly as open as you think. At least, I assume that’s the case–that your clients aren’t talking to you about their concerns–because when you breezily dismiss certain concerns, and when I’ve already fielded e-mails from clients of yours where they voice those exact same concerns, I have to assume that your clients don’t feel that they can talk to you about what you’re doing. The alternative is that they are talking to you about their concerns, and you just don’t care. I don’t want to think that’s the case.

Your clients do care about having an agent that is free of conflicts of interest. Your clients do care that you don’t create financial incentives for yourself to not fight for a better deal. Your clients do want to feel that you are always, always on their side, that they don’t have to question whether they’re negotiating for the best deal possible, because you will do it for them. Don’t make us doubt you. We want to trust you, but it’s hard to do that if you set up a publishing arm.

. . . .

You’ve got one big thing going for you. As far as I can tell, every published author out there desperately wants her agent to stay relevant. You’ve helped authors build careers. You’ve fought for them. You’ve made authors lives easier. Agents have kept us sane at times when we were ready to scream and burst into tears. Authors don’t want to get rid of you.

But most authors won’t give you 15% to press the “upload” button, either–and we sure as heck aren’t impressed when you pitch us at a 50/50 split. We’re talking to each other. A lot. When someone agrees to a 50/50 split, and then discovers that the work that was done was about $300, and not done very well–that they’re paying someone 50% to undersell their work–they’re not happy. You may not see a lot of this chatter, but authors do–we’re holding this conversation over and over, through e-mail and on loops, and I’m seeing a lot of authors from every part of the list saying the same thing. The number of authors who are saying that they trust their agent, no matter what she does, is vanishingly small.

. . . .

But you’re in a tough spot right now for a second reason. When it comes to assisting authors with self-publishing, agents know less than the authors. Your agent friends can help you if you don’t know something about a particular house. But they don’t know the right answers in self-publishing. There isn’t an agent out there that has the savvy that Bella Andre, Joe Konrath, and Amanda Hocking have in self-publishing. Not a one.

The traditional information storehouse has been inverted. Right now, the people who know the most about self-publishing are authors, and trust me, the vast majority of authors are aware of that. For the first time, authors are having questions about their careers, and their agents are not their go-to people.

Passive Guy was tempted to include the whole thing. This is one you’ll want to read to the end at Courtney Milan.


6 Comments to “An Open Letter to Agents – Must Read”

  1. WOW.
    This fills in a lot of blanks I’d been wondering about. Between this and the link to David Gaughran’s book, your site has become invaluable.
    Thanks and keep it up!

  2. Thank you for posting this! I followed the link and looked at the whole thing and it’s great.

    I fired my agent nine months ago and it was a wrenching decision. But now I’m happy. I did it not a moment too soon.

    • Margaret – I’m glad the information was useful. Courtney did an excellent job.

  3. I think much (all) of the same could be said about publishers by their authors.

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