Home » Agents, Contracts » Another Agent Lectures Authors

Another Agent Lectures Authors

17 March 2012

See Update at end of post.

From agent Sara Megibow via Romance University:

“Dear Sara Megibow, I am the author of a self-published novel receiving great reviews and enjoying very strong sales. I’m interested in working with a literary agent to move on to the next step and sell this book to a major NY publishing house. Would you be interested?”

. . . .

No. As of today, I am not interesting in representing self-published novels. (Ok, go ahead and throw rotten tomatoes, I’m ready).


#1 – “Very strong sales” typically aren’t. Most queries don’t mention a number, but when they do it’s typically something like 500 units in a year. I don’t call that “very strong.” To me, if a self-published title has sold 10,000 units or more in a year, then those are big enough numbers to catch my attention (and that’s 10,000 units sold for money, not 10,000 freebies).

#2 – Platform. Another problem I have with many queries I see for self-published novels is the author’s platform. Often, if I check out who the author is, I find blog posts talking about how awful traditional publishing is and how great self-publishing has been instead.

. . . .

#3 – The contract. Sadly, I can’t copy and paste my clients’ contracts here. HOW I wish I could! But, I will paraphrase. If you’ve previously published your novel and want a major publishing house to acquire you, then you would have to sign a major publishing house contract. Most contracts have a warranty clause that reads something like this (I can’t post directly, so I am paraphrasing here):

Author promises to the Publisher that: (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the Work has not previously been published in whole or in part; (iii) the Author has not granted other rights to this Work that would encumber (iv) etc.

The tricky part is that many self-publishing contracts don’t require the Author to sign away the rights. So, an Author shops this self-published book to an Agent assuming that they own their rights (which they do). Unfortunately, they don’t know or don’t understand that major publishers still won’t want to acquire their book because those rights are encumbered. I know it’s confusing and frustrating, but in essence – even if you’ve retained your rights, that doesn’t mean someone else will want them.

There ARE ways around the warranty clause (primarily by being upfront about where a project exists for sale or online). But, this is a business and it’s important to understand the legal ramifications of self-publishing before doing it. Even if some company says “we’ll make you a book and won’t acquire your print rights”, those rights have been exercised in a way that may prevent re-sale.

Link to the rest at Romance University

Passive Guy will comment briefly on Sara’s item #3.

The tricky part is that many self-publishing contracts don’t require the Author to sign away the rights. So, an Author shops this self-published book to an Agent assuming that they own their rights (which they do). Unfortunately, they don’t know or don’t understand that major publishers still won’t want to acquire their book because those rights are encumbered.

Well, Sara, if the Author terminates a self-publishing agreement, the author’s rights are not encumbered.

“Encumbered” has a legal definition, usually something like, “To burden property by way of a charge that must be removed before ownership is free and clear.” The only people who tend to  “encumber” a self-publishing author’s rights are agents who have set up their own self-publishing service and vanity publishers.

Amazon retains the right to provide replacement copies of an ebook to a customer who has already purchased the book in the event of the loss or damage to the Kindle ereader, etc., but otherwise retains no rights after a self-published author terminates Amazon’s right to publish a book. (See paragraph 3 of the Kindle Direct Publishing Terms and Conditions) In PG’s dependably humble opinion, this does not constitute an encumbrance on the author’s ownership of the book or the author’s right to make any use or disposition of the book.

The “ways around the warranty clause” are obvious to a first-year law student – the author discloses the self-publishing to the publisher and the publisher acknowledges the self-published work in the contract.

The “legal ramifications of self-publishing” exist only if the author or the author’s representative is clueless and/or unwilling to tell the publisher the warranty clause will need to be modified if the publisher wants the book.

Sara acknowledges that this is “confusing and frustrating.”

OK, for Sara and self-published authors everywhere, here is a free PG rewrite of the standard warranty clause Sara (badly) paraphrases:

Author promises to the Publisher that: (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the Work has not previously been published in whole or in part, other than by self-publication by Author, which self-publication has ceased; (iii) the Author has not granted other rights to this Work that would encumber (iv) etc.

PG is certain all the visitors to The Passive Voice are now free from confusion and frustration and hopes this freedom contributes to a good weekend for them.


Pete Morin has a couple of interesting comments to this post:

The first name on the list of “leading clients” in Sara Megibow’s Publishers Marketplace profile is Allison Rushby, whose YA novel, Die Yummy Mummy Die is self-published on Amazon at $2.99 and ranked 495,429. That ain’t 10,000 units.

And that’s the HIGHEST ranked of her 6+ works

Agents, Contracts

90 Comments to “Another Agent Lectures Authors”

  1. I’m not even a first year law student and I could see the way around that one. I have no problem with her first two statements but I wouldn’t want her touching my contract. I can’t quite figure out successful self-pubbed authors wanting an agent but whatever. I love my fellow authors but I rarely understand them.

  2. Oy vey!

  3. If you’re a self published author and are successful I don’t know why you want an agent either. There seems to be more and more of these agents who really dislike self pubbed authors.
    If you want an agent why not submit something new that has not been published before.
    Amanda Hocking got her thrilogy put out there again but then again she was very successful.

  4. Ahh, PG – may the dust of a hundred fairies grace your garden and follow your footsteps.

    (Yep, I drank too much green beer.)

  5. To be fair, PG, I don’t think she meant to talk about “encumbered” in a legal sense. Her overall point was that some publishers balk at buying self published work for fear that the market has already been depleted, though she acknowledges that there are exceptions for books that have done exceptionally well. It’s fine to disagree with her or publishers about that, but I think focusing on the legal definition of encumbered kinda misses the larger issue here.

    I ran across the post yesterday and actually got a pretty good impression from it. She makes it pretty clear that this was just the way she ran her business, and other agents might feel differently. And in the comment section, she seemed very supportive of indie authors, and honest about the pros and cons of traditional publishing. But that’s just me 🙂

    • I’m not sure we have to be fair here and I’m pretty sure she used encumbered in the legal sense but doesn’t know what it means.

      Megibow’s first point was that 10,000 sales would get her attention. So “encumbered” meaning “depleted” doesn’t jibe. More sales shouldn’t make the self-pubber more attractive to her.

      Also her point 2 is rather petty. If I were a fancy-pants agent I would take a certain amount of delight in watching a critical, big-mouth self-pubber eat crow before taking their representation. But ultimately it’s business and I would sign them.

      As for point 3, Megibow is talking about the warranty clause where the author warrants that the title isn’t otherwise encumbered. Because she is talking about the contract (presumably her forte) she is clearly referring to encumbered in the legal sense. She then goes out of her way to snottily explain it to budding authors how confusing publishing contracts are i.e. shut up sheep and let the agent handle it.

    • She used “encumber” in her goofy paraphrased warranty clause, so it’s difficult for me to believe she didn’t intend the word in the legal sense, Livia.

      • You guys might be right about the encumbered. I can’t speak for her intentions.

        But point 2 isn’t petty. it’s common sense. Anybody who goes looking for an agent, while posting on their blog about how stupid traditional publishing is, is an idiot.

        • I agree that it’s stupid to burn bridges and people should generally be more circumspect about what they write online. But … if you’re an Agent and you know you can sell the book but the author ranted on a blog that agents/trad pub stink and you refuse to represent the book on that basis–that’s petty, spiteful, prideful, or what-have-you. We’re not talking about the author criticizing the reader (that may effect the whether the book will sell).

          • Let’s do a thought experiment. You’re an agent, and you get a query letter. All you know about the author is that he has sold X number of books, and that he trashes traditional publishing — not just that he doesn’t like traditional publishing, but that he is publicly trashing it on the Internet in a visible place *while* he is trying to get an agent. Now, based on this information would you guess that he:

            1. Is more or less likely than the average writer to behave in a professional way towards publishers, bookstores, and the press?

            2. Is more or less likely than the average writer to interact in a pleasant and professional way with readers both online and in person?

            3. Is more or less likely than your average writer to react to a bad review in a public and perhaps damaging way?

            4. Is more or less likely than your average writer to be a pleasant and reasonable person to work with in a long term business relationship?

            Now granted, if the author sells enough books to make it worthwhile, the agent just might choose to swallow all those misgivings, take the commission, and deal with any future crises as they may come. But there’s more to life than money. And if given a choice between that writer and another writer who also has good sales and displays a modicum of common sense, I would choose the other writer in a heartbeat.

            I really do think your biases are coming to light here. Note that this agent is giving query advice — educating people on how to write an effective query. And as far as I can see here, everybody here *agrees* that it’s a bad idea to go trashing traditional publishers IF you are currently looking for one.

            If an HR manager of any non-publishing company were giving a workshop on how to write effective resumes and tells people not to trash any company they want to work for in their Facebook profiles, I don’t think anybody would have a problem with that, or attack the HR rep for being petty, or spiteful, or what have you. After all, it’s common sense, and frightfully obvious common sense at that.

            • It’s easy to exclude the extremes. But I guess it all boils down to what that number X is, right? If X is big enough, the author can be a raving lunatic and somebody will take them on. Remember O.J.’s “How I did it” (or whatever it was called) before it was yanked by the Browns?

              Maybe my biases are coloring things? To me, the entirety of Megibow’s post was attempting to discourage self-publishing disguised as how to write a query letter. First, she ruled self-publishers out as a class right off the bat. Then she panned sales numbers, which doesn’t make much sense because a virgin manuscript has no sales at all. She lectured us (badly) on the complexities of publishing contracts. Finally, she concluded that, either way, self-publishing would adversely impact an author’s ability to get a trad. publishing contract. Her post, read as a whole, to me is a scare tactic aimed at authors thinking about trying self-publishing. But that is only my biased view.

            • Wow Josh.

              So I’m guessing by “ruled self publishers out as a class right off the bat” you mean where she says: “There are TONS of great reasons to self-publish.” or in the comments, “I, too, cheer when a self-pub novel sells well. It’s wonderful to have options in this world of publishing.”

              And by “panning sales numbers” you’re referring to where she says “If a self-published title has sold 10,000 units or more in a year, then those are big enough numbers to catch my attention.”

              And by “she concluded that, either way, self-publishing would adversely impact an author’s ability to get a trad. publishing contract” you mean when she says, “And YES – other agents absolutely DO consider self-pubbed novels. I don’t – for the reasons above, but others do.”

              We can agree at least on one thing, that it is indeed “only your biased view.”

            • Don’t you have a dissertation to be working on? 🙂

              Regarding “ruled out”, I mean where Megibow says “No. As of today, I am not interesting in representing self-published novels.” So I meant ruled out representing self-published authors, no more.

              I’ve read her comments to her post and she may be genuinely pleased, but I’m not so sure–remember her Point #2, which essentially boils down to making a good impression. She is a salesperson too. So I view her congratulatory comments with skepticism or as being merely pleasant.

              Regarding sales numbers, strong enough sales should get her attention–but she tried to defuse that with Point #3, the manuscript is “encumbered”. Even so, she is already back-peddling from 10,000 units where she commented that “So far, in my experience, it’s MORE difficult to sell one of these manuscripts (one big reason I don’t do it). The exception *might* be a novel that’s sold 50,000 or so copies in a year.” So her threshold is increasing for what a self-published work needs to do for her to undertake representation.

              Regarding getting a trad. contract, I mean where she says “But, understand all the ramifications before pressing ‘sell’ (the most important ramification being that in most cases a self-published novel will not be resold to a traditional publisher)”. Sure she puts in all the precatory comments about how it might be great for an author, but she ends with a warning.

            • Ha! Why yes, I do have a dissertation I’m supposed to be procrasti — I mean working on. So perhaps agreeing to disagree might be the way to go here 🙂

  6. Thank you for explaining that clause. Also, if a book isn’t in print, but only available as an ebook, does it still retain its first rights for print?

    Maybe I hang out at Kindleboards too much, but I find it odd that so many agents are under the impression that there are only a very few successful indie authors. They’ve all heard of Hocking, Konrath, Locke, etc, so I take it that they think those are the only success stories. I could rattle off at least ten authors who have sold thousands of books but who haven’t caught the attention of the press. Those are just authors I know. I’m sure there are many, many more. Of course, it’s quite possible that those authors aren’t querying agents.

    I had some success with my books last June (20,000 that month sold–not freebies) and thought I’d query a few agents to see if any were interested. I was thinking it could be useful to explore that option because I hadn’t ever put my books in print. A couple of agents requested a full, and one responded a month later with a no thanks. (no response from the others)

    At that point, I figured there was no future for me with literary agents because I’m completely baffled about what they want or are looking for. Besides, I figure that if I sold that many on my own, I really don’t need an agent.

    • Also, if a book isn’t in print, but only available as an ebook, does it still retain its first rights for print?

      From what I personally, not a lawyer, recall from the Bad Old Days, publishers basically didn’t want anything that would detract from the demand for the paper version — so while technically first-print-rights would still be intact, there would be… *cough* Lemme get the voice… there it is… “OMG THERE R ELECTRONIC EDITIONS RUNNING ALL OVER TEH WORLD NO 1 WILL BUY IT NO 1 WILL WANT IT EWWWW, IT HAS READER COOTIES ON IT ALREADY!”

      Or, in other words, publishers wanted (and may still want) a completely virgin manuscript, that they can acquire all rights to.

  7. I find her 10,000 unit threshold of a successful book interesting. If those units sold at $5 on Kindle the author would receive $35,000 (10,000*$5*.70=35,000) That is a generous secondary income for someone with a day job. In many areas one can live reasonably well on one or two such books a year, even after taxes and non diy production costs.


    • But, if someone is making money like that on their own, why in the world would they want an agent or to even sign with a publishing house? This was point of the last agent who scolded authors. I just don’t understand why authors think they need agents or publishing houses any longer. Maybe the new paradigm has just not sunk in yet.

    • I found it funny Megibow didn’t differentiate between the author that sold 5,000 books at $5 versus 10,000 books at $1.

      • Yeah, good point. So, they aren’t looking at overall revenue, just units sold? That’s not good business.

      • To be fair, her hypothetical query letter didn’t mention revenue, and possibly didn’t even mention units sold. So I’m guessing she’ll assume the sales were at 99 cents each, thinking it’s not likely to sell at any higher price. Or maybe she’s thinking in print terms, where knowing how many copies were sold lets you make a good guess as to how much the author earned.

        An author who’s that clueless about query letters has probably made at least one other mistakes that would cause the agent to reject her anyway…

  8. Ya know, if you’re self-published and you’d *really* like an agent, I think PG is still up for being your agent, yes, PG? That way you can always say you had an agent and fired them, instead of plaguing fine agents like Ms. Megibow.

  9. From my reading of how most of these Agents behave and run their business, a number of things strike me from a business stand point.
    Firstly these people have had it too good for far far too long, with easy earnings and desperate authors.
    Secondly it seems clear to me that there is an amazing business opportunity for reformed Agents who can distance themselves from the old business style and tap into the huge changes happening in the business, take advantage of the self-pubbing surge and work with authors to help them sell their titles, looking at building a long term base.
    In parallel with the new kind of Publishing Agency that offers multiple choice services on a mixture of fixed fee and shared royalty, there are huge opportunities here while the whole market is being disrupted.

  10. Sheesh. That does it, I guess. No agent is going to touch me with a ten-foot pen. I’m guilty on at least two of these charges. But at least my manuscript is pretty clean. I don’t think you’ll find the phrase, “I am not interesting” anywhere in at least the first few pages.

  11. PG, you are awesome. I think this at least several times a week. Your newsletter is so helpful. And, you make me laugh. THANKS!

  12. “Who Once Were Called Agents” by GdeM

    Who once were called Agents, by name,
    just gatekeepers though, who’s to blame.
    So, it’s no big surprise
    that they can’t cut their ties
    to the SIX, though they’re losing the game.

    They say they’ve no interest in me,
    Now, the feeling is mutual you see.
    With my seventy-percent,
    their time’s come & went
    now I control my OWN destiny!

    So let’s see, I have to sell a minimum of 10m/year and not preach against agents & the 6 – in order to have the honor of signing all my rights away forever, 15% royalties (paid to the agent minus their split), a paltry advance, no marketing, no control over my product, no control over how many books I can release or when they’re released, no control over graphic design, & having to subjugate myself to the subjective whims of a boorish writer-wannabe agent …

    I think I’ll go another route … Long Live the Mavericks!

  13. Well, you have to admit she’s honest. If you’re a reasonably successful self-published author, and you’re wondering if maybe an agent could help you break through to the next level, the answer is no.

    I have no idea who she thinks her clients are going to be in the next five years, but that’s her problem, not mine.

  14. “The “ways around the warranty clause” are obvious to a first-year law student – the author discloses the self-publishing to the publisher and the publisher acknowledges the self-published work in the contract.”

    The ways around it are also clear to anyone with experience in the publishing industry, such as a writer who hasn’t been dropped on her head.

    I’ve re-sold previously published novels, after all rights reverted, to other publishers. (In fact, I’ve got a reprint coming out from a major house in June which novel, to be clear, was previously published by a different big house.) I’m not in violation of a warranty clause written in indelible stone carved by the uinyielding finger of an Old Testament deity, for goodness sake. We simply revised the warranty clause on the basis that this is a previously published title whereine all rights reverted to me, so I am fully entitled to license them again.

    While I recognize that Ms. Megibow may just have been issuing a blanket statement about why she won’t handle self-published titles and therefore trying to keep it simple… instead she has–perhaps unintentionally–reenforced my impression (created by first having worked with four well-known literary agents, THEN having worked with a literary lawyer for the past five years) that literary agents tend not to understand contracts well or know how to negotiate them, and this is among the various reasons that a writer like me (i.e. one not dropped on head) is FAR better off having a lawyer handle their contractual negotiations.

  15. Once upon a time, and not that long ago, the market for a manuscript — a book in the egg, not yet hatched into the world — was very limited. A writer didn’t sell to people who wanted to read books. He or she sold to editors, and that was the market a writer had to service.

    Editors live a long way away from me, in both Einsteinian and Jungian space. Physically, the vast majority of them are upwards of fifteen hundred miles away, and if I had the kind of resources needed to cover that distance at whim I wouldn’t need to try to make money writing, anyway. Psychically, well, New York is a very different place from the depths of flyover country. I had never met any of those people and was never likely to; I didn’t know their thoughts, their friends, their environment, their tastes, or any way to approach them profitably.

    In that environment an agent would be invaluable. The agent is (at least presumably) close enough to the editors, both physically and in psychic space, to be able to approach them and sell a manuscript on my behalf. That was possible because there aren’t many editors, and by all accounts editors are more like one another than not, so an agent who knew the system could act to my benefit.

    In the New Regime I have access, directly, to a market consisting of readers, people who might want to read my book. That market is much larger than the market consisting only of editors, and my method of access is simple and transparent. It is, however, restricted by the fact that I can only get my Work to them via electronic means; it would still be valuable to me to sell my Work to an editor, who would publish it, thereby making it available to many people who, for whatever reason, don’t have or don’t wish to have electronic access. An agent would still be useful, should I want to enter that much-more-restricted market.

    But what I’ve seen recently from people representing themselves as agents gives me no motive whatever to attempt to engage one from that population. In most cases I don’t see that they actually have access to editors, which is the market I would hire them to reach; in many cases, as here, it would seem that agents are more nearly representing editors, hunting down product the editor might be interested in acquiring, than they are in being my agent, acting on my behalf. It’s certainly possible that such people exist, but none have come to my attention yet.


    • Don’t forget, Ric, about the POD options out there. You CAN make a print copy available to your readers. I do, and I know lots of self-pubbers who do, too. The only thing missing is the widespread (yet quickly shrinking) print distribution that publishers control. And yet, this month I’ve sold 8 print copies in expanded distribution – which means bookstores/libraries. Not a huge number, certainly, but I know I won’t be dealing with any returns. 😉

      • I didn’t forget; in fact, there’s a POD version of my book in the works. Which reminds me: having had the lawyer check it over, it’s time to get the contract back to LSI…

  16. Well, she said it:
    “As of today, I am not interesting in representing self-published novels … if a self-published title has sold 10,000 units or more in a year, then those are big enough numbers to catch my attention.”
    In other words – she’s only interested in representing self-published novels that she’s interested in representing.
    Pah! So quit the scare stuff and just carry on with what you do. And shut up about it.

    • Indeed. As we saw in the very similar post the other day by another agent (I think the name was Lawton? something like that?), agents are typically only interested in what they think is guaranteed, easy success–something they believe they can instantly and easily sell for a lot of money.

      That is not new information. That’s same-old same-old, just applied to a different set of parameters (i.e. self-published ebooks rather than unpublished manuscripts).

      It’s also the mentality which ensures they’re losing working, earning, contracted midlist writers in droves. We have books to sell, books to write, editors to do business with, money to make–we don’t have time to waste on agents refusing to do business on our business because the MS in question doesn’t look to them like “The Next Big Thing.”

      Moreover, they’re frequently WRONG about The Next Big Thing. I was talking just the other day about someone who made #1 on the NYT hardcover list with a project that any number of agents had declined to represent.

    • In other words she is only interested in representing authors who basically don’t need representation and can earn her effortless royalties….. duh.

  17. I don’t have such a problem with this agent’s message:

    She’s not interested in doing the work of selling something which has already been self-published, which is not something she understands. Which is true of most agents. Hey, that’s the job they want to do. Therefore information of value to people silly enough to want an agent OR a publisher, even though they have ‘strong sales.’

    “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” is perfectly good advice in terms of an indie author and traditional publishing.

    Also it seems quite reasonable, given that publishers have such an expensive business, to say outright what kind of sales she thinks would be attractive to a publisher. It IS a bad query which says the self-published book had “strong sales” but doesn’t give the numbers. That’s just SOP: you don’t say “my short fiction has been published in top magazines” you say “My short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker and Harper’s.”

    IMHO, her post is a good one for those authors silly enough to think that the cover letter she posted was a good approach. That is an AWFUL approach. It sounds like someone who learned about the publishing industry by reading a few blogs, and interacting on Kindleboards.

    The problem is only that she gives a lot of trivial information which clouds the one piece of incredibly important information: how much success do you need to have to attract the attention of a publisher?

    If you haven’t had that level of success, then contracts schmontracts, you’re simply not ready to make that leap.

    Don’t worry about getting an agent. Worry about developing your writing and your platform and your career as an indie. (And odds are: when you’re ready, sucky publishers and agents will have already been contacting you.)

    That’s the information the budding writers need to know.

  18. “The problem is only that she gives a lot of trivial information which clouds the one piece of incredibly important information: how much success do you need to have to attract the attention of a publisher?”

    There’s no blanket answer to that question, in much the way that there’s no blank answer to questions like, “How do I sell a book?”, “How do I write a book?”, “How do I get bumped up to lead title?” etc.

    I’ve seen agents like Ms. Megibow and the other one (was it Lawton?) saying you’re only interesting, in terms of being a self-published author trying to make a transition to the traditional publishing world, if you’re already a major success. And we can all name examples of writers who followed precisely that pattern, such as Amanda Hocking.

    OTOH, I’ve also asked editors their thoughts about this, and what I often hear is that, while success means they’re interested in the -author-, who’s built a name with that success, when it comes to a specific -book-, they’re more interested in finding something they think is really good which has had virtually no exposure (ex. 500 sales), because there’s still a lot of potential readers out there for that novel, and a lot of money yet to be made–so that’s a great prospect for their companies. They’re less interested in a title which, by virtue of doing really well in self-publishing, has -already- tapped a large percentage of its overall potential earnings.

    Which is not to say if your book -has- already earned well in self-publishing, they’re not interested. Rather, it’s to say that there is no Right Answer or Blanket Statement about this. It’s always going to depend on the specific book, the specific situation, and the specific circumstances–it’s always a question of the right book getting into the hands of the right editor at the right house at the right time. That takes persistence–something which many writers lack and which, in my own longtime experience and observation of them, most agents lack.

    • True, but this person is looking for an agent, not a publisher. And let’s face it, that makes the agent’s prejudices relevant. And no, I don’t expect agents to tell someone not to look for an agent.

      She is giving good advice on how to impress her with a query. She is setting the bar for people who want to be her clients.

      That’s not career advice, that’s query advice.

      And you know, it may be relative, but honestly, we have a generation of authors who know nothing about publishing, telling each other that self-publishing is the way to impress traditional publishing and get a contract. And that we should go about it exactly as our generation was advised to go about it but instead of mentioning our publishing credits, we mention our self-publishing “credits” (i.e. sales).

      But the ignorance is worse than that, because at least people of our generation were getting the advice about being specific, but not boring.

      But the advice new indies are cooking up among themselves is all generic and speculative. They need to know how individuals react to what they say. They need more experience and sophistication. They need people like this agent — and dozens of others — to give them this kind of response to show them the range of responses any particular bit of information might engender.

      A lot of young writers out there have the idea that the letter quoted by that agent at the top of her post would be a good letter — word for word. I’m sorry. No it’s not. It’s more complicated than that and requires more knowledge of the mindset of the people you’re querying.

      So none of us like that agent’s mindset — guess what? That writer wasn’t querying us. They were querying her.

      There are way better cases of foot-in-mouth for us to worry about.

      • And I *have* heard of indie authors sending bad query letters to agents, who, when they get a form rejection, decided the agent was a stuck up snob, instead of realizing that thier query letter was a disaster. As Camille said, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting an agent, but if you do want one, Megibow’s blog post is helpful.

    • So if you have a serial selling well as self-published author would editors be interested in the next book in the serial?

      Of course, then you would run into the problem that the publishers might jack the price up on the next book, thereby upsetting your readers, and of course then there’s the length of time it takes to publish a book traditionally, and then there’s the problem that they might decide to use your work as ammunition in their turf wars.

      It’s all a bit complicated.

  19. Ref: PG is certain all the visitors to The Passive Voice are now free from confusion and frustration and hopes this freedom contributes to a good weekend for them.

    It has indeed. I race through the excerpts just to get to your rebuttals. 🙂

    • What about my poem?

      (I’m sending query letters to those two agents now – see what they think of it. If they don’t take it, I hope to sell 10m copies of it so they will.)

      Hehehe …

  20. MP McDonald,

    I find it really odd too how so many of our supposedly industry professionals don’t have a clue how many very successful self-publishing authors there are. I have more traditionally publishing friends, than self-publishing ones. But I personally know seven authors who have recently earned or will be earning between $50,000-$200,000 dollars on ONE title in ONE year. I don’t know any traditional authors making this kind of money. These aren’t Amanda Hockings or John Locks. These are self-publishing authors that haven’t made headlines, some are even keeping a low profile.

    I’m sure it’s because the successful self-publishers aren’t looking for agents and if they need a contract assessed or negotiated they hire Dave. (Hi Dave! *Waving*) But still, you would think Industry Professionals would keep better tabs on the Industry and at least check out the Kindle Boards or the Kindle Store’s bestsellers lists. How can anyone advocate for a client if they don’t see how the industry is shifting?

  21. First thought: “if a self-published title has sold 10,000 units or more in a year” …why would I need you to represent me?

    I see that my thought has been expressed by Melissa and Laura et al. C’mon! This is basic. Well, if the writer knows how much 10,000 units sold earns him/her in the first place.

    I assume the segment of the writer population that doesn’t know that is this agent’s target audience.

    • David, that would be the most relevant comment, except….

      That IS the audience she is talking to. Authors who send her queries touting their self-publishing experience — and as Dean Wesley Smith has pointed out, such authors are not in the minority. The fact that nobody HERE would want an agent is irrelevant.

      This is not a case of yet another agent making asinine statements about how important she is to us. It isn’t a case of her leading on a writer and treating her bad. Quite the opposite — she’s saving both her time and that of the writer by stating up front what she doesn’t want.

      It’s her business what she feels comfortable representing. She could also say that she doesn’t want to have clients who wear jewelry because the glitter is distracting. Or that she doesn’t want to see horror fiction.

      It would matter if she were telling the person that a writer must drop indie publishing if she ever wants to make it in this business. But she didn’t.

      She said, “I don’t represent self-published authors.” She doesn’t actually have to justify that, and the fact that she did only gives the prospective client more information about what kind of agent she would be.

      This just feels like a case of “Ooh, there’s an evil agent saying something traditional! Let’s pile on!”

      There are much more deserving targets out there.

      • Well, of course it’s her right to choose her clients. But that’s no reason that this statement can’t be a ‘teachable moment’ for those clients who’d consider choosing her.

        That is, they should ask themselves, based on this sample of her thinking: What is she bringing to the deal to earn her keep?

        • It would be, except… how?

          Who are we teaching? She is rejecting out of hand the people who shouldn’t choose her. They won’t get the chance to choose her.

          I think PG gave us the teachable stuff here: how should you phrase that warranty bit to cover self-published authors? That’s a teachable moment.

          Other than that the lesson is: “Don’t bother with people who don’t want you for a client. They won’t do a good job.”

  22. I’ve heard this about giving away rights a number of times, and I think she’s just parroting the party line. But don’t you think it’s really about fear and not about the fact that none of their lawyers could figure out wording? (And I loved your addition, by the way.)

    They are so afraid for their jobs that they aren’t adapting. It’s kind of ridiculous and short-sighted, but they’d rather scare authors than make any money from successful self-publishers. Silly.

  23. So nobody noticed my subtly snide remark about her editing abilities????

    • These commenters on this blog are Obviously anti-traditional publishing selfpublishers, of corse they don’t care about editing. (snark)


      • That’s a snide remark if I ever heard one. 😉

        • Yet it is an attitude that is pervasive in the Trad Pub community.


          • Oh my God, you are so right about that! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people review my book and the first thing they say is that it needs to be edited. The book has been edited over and over and over again by many different people. In my view, at this point, I really don’t think it needs to be edited again and yet people see that something is self-published and the first thing on their mind is: it needs to be edited. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is!

            • It feels almost as bad when a reviewer mentions how well the book was edited and how surprised they were to find few/no mistakes. When I think about those sorts of things for too long, I realize (again) that people have low expectations for self pubbed work, still.

              Yes, as a matter of fact, I can find clouds in silver linings!


            • I’d be inclined to add, in a review, that a self-published book was well-edited because there is such a spread in the quality of editing in self-pubs; I wouldn’t want someone to pass up a good story based on an assumption. (I wouldn’t say it as a “surprise” thing, more than a “matter-of-fact” thing. At least, that’d be the intent. Can’t vouch for how everyone’d read it.) I also mention poor editing in anything that claims to have a publisher, because people like me, who get very distracted by poor editing, should have that warning.

            • That’s very interesting. Are these general readers, who are complaining about the lack of editing?

            • I guess that everyone becomes an expert when a) you are self pubbed and b) they are asked 🙂

              I find far far more typos and errors in the big 6 eBooks than self pubbed ones. I have zero tolerance for them because any reasonably educated 16 yo should be able to pick them up in a few hours. If an authors gives a damn about their readers then they should have enough respect for them to have their title checked and double checked.

  24. *raises pitchfork*

    Oh, wait, I don’t really need to make a snide remark. So many people did it better, including the original author herself.

    Can’t we all just get along? Oh, please ignore my pointy stick.

  25. Having made it through first year law (and second, et cetera) I do think her contract concerns are unwarranted. And I think agents often don’t understand the contracts they negotiate… at least in terms of the legal underpinnings. I mean, res ipsa loquitur! And the rule against perpetuities! Not to mention de gustibus non est disputandum! And sempre ubi sub ubi! (That’s fancy Latin legal talk that only P.G. and me and other Esq’s can translate doncha know.)

    O’ course, Realtors (R) also negotiate contracts and are a little dicey with legalese, so… it’s not just agents.

    I couldn’t resist going over to the blog and commenting, and supplying the URL for that excellent thread on the Kindle boards about the numerous self-pubbed authors who have sold over 50,000 ebooks:


    while also calculating the amount of money such authors have likely made, at a minimum. I started out all nice, but got a little snarky, may St. Patrick forgive me. It was the beer.

    I think we’re getting a two-party system here, much as in politics, in which communication between “sides” has broken down. You either read Joe Konrath (aka Jon Stewart??) or you read Kristen Nelson, et alia (Rush Limbaugh??) — not to malign any of those folks as Right or Left/Right or Wrong — simply to point out that we are in an echo chamber, or rather two different chambers chattering back and forth to each other about what we each know to be true.

    Of course… WE’RE right.

  26. I think she’s mistaken in saying that publishing houses won’t be interested in a series (or book) that’s already been self-published. I can think of 4 examples off the top of my head that indicate otherwise:
    1) Amanda Hocking’s previously self-published Trylle Trilogy bought by St. Martin’s.
    2) John Locke’s books being put in print by Simon & Schuster
    3) Michael Wallace’s books Righteous Series was originally bid on by a publisher, but it looks like Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer picked them up.
    4) The Breakthrough Novel Award that Amazon puts on every year. The prize is a publishing contract with Penguin Books, and the book CAN be self-published.

    I don’t think there is a publisher out there who will pass by a successful book that was previously self-published. And I think this agent needs to pay more attention to her own industry.

  27. The first name on the list of “leading clients” in Sara Megibow’s Publishers Marketplace profile is Allison Rushby, whose YA novel, Die Yummy Mummy Die is self-published on Amazon at $2.99 and ranked 495,429. That ain’t 10,000 units.

    • And that’s the HIGHEST ranked of her 6+ works

      • She definitely knows how to pick ’em, Pete.

        • Maybe Megibow fell for a great pitch from Rushby and has become disillusioned?

        • I queried her back before I self-published my first book. I received a form reject. That book reached #15 in the Kindle store in June and is currently in the 500-600 range. Hmmm…kind of makes me feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when the snooty saleswoman wouldn’t help her find something to buy, and then Roberts character comes back later, beautifully dressed and carrying bags from other stores, and tells the saleswoman, “Big mistake. Huge!”

          Okay, maybe it wasn’t a *huge* mistake, but I do have to wonder how agents choose manuscripts. I can’t be alone in feeling like the Julia Roberts character, and I guess if I’m being honest, that is probably where some of my animosity towards trad. publishing is coming from. However, being honest about that has now made me an untouchable according to Megibow. Of course, that works both ways. Now that I know how she feels, I wouldn’t every query her.

    • Pete,

      So I’m not quite sure why that’s such a scandalous finding. Most likely, the author queried her with a new manuscript, which she then took on, while the author continued to self publish the previous books. That’s most likely the case, since she doesn’t seem seem to resell self pubbed work. And if she HAD indeed resold that work, it wouldn’t be on Amazon anymore, and you wouldn’t be able to find the sales rank.

      If you look in the comments of her post, it’s pretty clear that Megibow respects self published authors and their accomplishments. I’m a bit puzzled about the pile on here.

  28. I find #2 to be stretching it a little. Because trust me, if Amanda Hocking had ten thousand posts about how much she hated the Big 6, she still would have gotten her $2 million traditional contract. If you have a highly salable work, New York will bend over backwards and ignore everything you’ve said in blogs BEFORE you got a contract.

    I’m just trying to imagine what New York editor would say, “OMG, this book is fantastic! It’s going to be huge and we’re going to make millions and millions of dollars! Oh wait, six months ago they said they though self-publishing was better than traditional publishing and thought the Big 6 were a bunch of idiots. Okay, never mind, no contract.”

    • Well, I look at it this way. You can do business several ways : 1) Watch what you say so you don’t burn bridges or 2) Act like a jackass and bank on your moneymaking potential to convince people to work with you anyways.

      One strategy, is, IMHO, riskier than the other.

      • Someone (Scott Adams, I believe) said that when your boss is deciding how much of a raise you deserve, or deciding who to fire when it’s downsizing time, you can have a bad attitude or bad performance, but not both. I’m guessing most people will find one easier to avoid than the other.

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