Home » Agents » Agent Sara Megibow On Whether You Still Need an Agent

Agent Sara Megibow On Whether You Still Need an Agent

16 April 2013

From Paranormal Point of View:

For me personally, when someone says “rapidly changing market” my thoughts go to electronic book sales and subsidiary rights.

What does “rapidly changing market” mean in terms of ebook sales? Growth. We’ve seen huge growth in the ebook market since I started working in publishing in 2006. The impact of that growth affects my job in many ways – this won’t be an all-inclusive list, but here’s an overview:

In 2012, Stefan Bachmann’s book sales (remember – he writes middle grade fantasy) broke down to 94% print sales and 6% ebook sales. Conversely, Roni Loren’s book sales (for contemporary erotic romance) were 33% print book and 67% ebook sales. How does this affect my job? Well, I need to know this stuff. It’s important to know the numbers, the trends and the impact for my clients and their books. We see ebook sales growing tremendously, but it’s also important to know in which genres that growth occurs and in which segments growth is perhaps plateauing.

. . . .

What does “rapidly changing market” mean to subsidiary rights? Opportunity. Subsidiary rights (to an agent) means film, foreign rights, audio rights, gaming, merchandise, etc. Possibly as a side result of the growth in ebook sales (or possibly due to the gigantic increase in pop cultural success coming from books like HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES) – I’ve seen tremendous increase in opportunities for my authors to make money on subsidiary rights. I have more interest from Hollywood for film and TV sales than ever before and for a wider range of books (romance, erotica, New Adult, middle grade – etc.).

. . . .

As a side note, many times when writers ask agents about the “rapidly changing marketplace” they are asking about self-publishing. Self publishing is a wonderful trend that has seen tremendous success in the past few years. This trend doesn’t affect me much though as I don’t tend to represent previously self-published titles. My inbox is still stuffed full of authors looking for traditional publishing deals and that’s the model I, personally, tend to prefer. For example, Jaleigh Johnson came to me via the traditional email query letter in December and we sold her debut middle grade fantasy in 12 days in a significant deal to Random House. So, self publishing works for a lot of authors, but it’s not a trend that’s affecting me much right now as the traditional model is still working for me very very very well.

. . . .

As an agency, we provide serious and thorough contract negotiation. However, anyone can hire an entertainment lawyer (just make sure to hire one that specializes in publishing contracts). If you are self-publishing, then there are fewer contractual issues to worry about. But if you are print and/or e-book publishing with any publishing house – big or small – then the contract is a complicated document that most people need explained and/or negotiated for them.

I provide editorial feedback, career planning and publicity/promotions help – but an author can hire an editor, make their own career plans and pay for a publicity team.

Link to the rest at Paranormal Point of View and thanks to Abel for the tip.


54 Comments to “Agent Sara Megibow On Whether You Still Need an Agent”

  1. “Self publishing is a wonderful trend that has seen tremendous success in the past few years. This trend doesn’t affect me much though as I don’t tend to represent previously self-published titles.
    So, self publishing works for a lot of authors, but it’s not a trend that’s affecting me much right now as the traditional model is still working for me very very very well.”

    So, Self-publishing is just a trend, something that’s just currently popular and not prone to last.
    Oh I see, and here I thought that it was here to stay.
    Foolish me.

    • Well, of course it’s not going to last. If we admitted it was going to last, we wouldn’t be able to prove that you still need an agent. The conclusion we want to reach dictates which facts we allow ourselves to accept.

      Ned Ludd,
      Literary Agent

    • Um… calling something a “trend” does not equate it with something being “temporary.” A trend is essentially a direction. The agent essentially said “I’ve noticed this thing is growing, but it hasn’t affected me much right now.”

      You’re reading in your own baggage.

      • I kinda have to agree with this point of view. Not that I’m not usually ready to believe the worst of agents, but she seems to be pretty gracious about the thing.

        • PG didn’t part of her interview where she explicitly acknowledges multiple times that you *don’t* need an agent these days unless you think their services would be useful to your particular career trajectory. That might’ve headed off the inevitable “#$%##$% AGENT CAN’T FOOL US, WE STILL DON’T NEED YOU!” responses. Or maybe not…

          • Agents have the same problem that any other professional group (like lawyers) has. A few high-profile jerks/incompetents taint the reputation of everybody else.

            It’s also my suspicion (based solely on anecdotal evidence) that, like lawyers, agents as a group have a higher incidence of substance abuse problems than the population as a whole.

          • “That might’ve headed off the inevitable “#$%##$% AGENT CAN’T FOOL US, WE STILL DON’T NEED YOU!” responses. Or maybe not…”

            I’ve really respected you and enjoyed your posts in the past, Livia, but was this part really necessary? For the most part, the conversation here has been calm and respectful.

            I think the trigger word here was “trend.” I admit that when I first saw it, I raised a brow, but that’s because I was framing it in a connotative context (a lot of people use the word trend to mean temporary or passing) rather than the denotative context (where it means going in the general direction of). I’m glad someone brought the difference up, because it did change my perspective of the quote.

            I think it’s good to challenge thoughts and ideas and opinions, but it’s possible to do that respectfully. Only one person so far has hinted that agents are unnecessary, and no one has said they are completely unnecessary in all circumstances for all writers. This, from what I’ve gathered from some of your more recent posts, is something you object to (one-size-fits-all), and I agree with you. 🙂

            The reason I enjoy this blog is because, for the most part, the tone is generally agreeable. I don’t agree that “#$%##$% AGENT CAN’T FOOL US, WE STILL DON’T NEED YOU!” is an inevitable response. (Critically examining something and discussing what works on a personal level isn’t the same thing.) It hadn’t really been much of a response at all until you brought it up. I agree that one of the comments was on the snarky side, but adding more snark doesn’t diminish the problem. It only adds to it.

            • It wasn’t my intention to be overly snarky, Danyelle, and you’re right. The discussion so far on this post has for the most part, been measured, which I should have stepped back and taken note of before I dashed off a response. Part of my comment was motivated by frustration over what (I perceived) to be unfair attacks on (what I perceived) to be fairly reasonable articles written by agents in the past on this blog, but it is unfair to carry all that over into this new post with this new group of people. So yes, reason, critical positive discussion is great, and apologies if my snark undermined that.

  2. I provide editorial feedback, career planning and publicity/promotions help

    I’ll take a wild stab and guess I’ve had a dozen agents (including The William Morris Agency) in my career and not one of them has done any of that. Ms. Megibow is a rare treasure I dare say.

    • Editorial feedback isn’t necessarily a good thing when it’s from an agent. It could be, but for most it likely isn’t. Unless they have significant editorial experience on the publishing side of things.

    • “‘I provide editorial feedback, career planning and publicity/promotions help.’

      “I’ll take a wild stab and guess I’ve had a dozen agents (including The William Morris Agency) in my career and not one of them has done any of that.”

      I’ve had four agents and none of them did any of that, either.

      (And among the hundreds of writers I’ve known, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone whose agent actually provided promo/PR help–apart from instances where an agent says to a client, “Don’t blog in public anymore about your problems with your editor; it’s causing you MORE problems with her,” or something like that.)

      • I know that Diana Fox will blog-post her clients’ publications on release day, though I don’t know how many people follow her blog. She also apparently provides editorial feedback for her authors. (Which, if you agree with her style, and she “gets” yours, is likely to be useful — I know that Seanan McGuire seems to include Fox in her list of “readers who made this better,” when the topic comes up.)

    • Most agents in kidlit put an emphasis on editing their clients’ manuscripts before they ever send them out to editors. At least, from what I’ve seen. 🙂

  3. Considering that two years ago, this question wouldn’t even be asked, much less answered thoughtfully, means that we’ve come a long way in a very short time.

    • Margaret–yep, that was actually my first thought on reading this. When I quit the agent-author business model 6 years ago (as detailed in a post below, it was probably the single best business decision I’ve ever made), it was like stepping off a cliff. Everyone I knew thought it was somewhere between risky and crazy (and some just thought it was stupid).

      Now “is an agent still needed?” is an increasingly common subject–and will become more so, as more and more writers do well without one. BIG sea change there!

    • I agree – we’ve come a long way.

      Not that long ago, writers were tarred-and-feathered for questioning the status quo.

      We’ve also seen the other end – agents tarred-and-feathered for their destain for DIY publishing.

      It’s cozy here in the middle ground, debating the pros and cons.

  4. I have to say, I’m impressed. 🙂

    One of the things that’s driven me crazy about self-publishing is how many people in the industry comment on it when they have no first hand knowledge and/or interest. So many are just repeating what they’ve been told, and the spread of misinformation continues. :/

    I really respect that Sara stated up front that this wasn’t really an area that she was knowledgeable or interested in, and yet wasn’t negative or dismissive about it. And if she didn’t know something, she said so. Very refreshing. 🙂

    I don’t have any practical experience with trade publishers or trade contracts, but I’m not sure I agree that an agent is on equal footing with a lawyer who specializes in publishing law. From my very limited understanding, if it’s not a “the”, “and”, “a”, or “but”, it means something, and that meaning can be changed by context. Publishers have their own set of lawyers drafting these contracts, it only makes sense for an author to have at least one on their team. Especially as the publishing landscape continues to change and morph, and as publishers change direction (Disney Hyperion), go bankrupt (Nightshade), or purchase vanity houses (Penguin, etc.). If something is in the contract, I would assume the publisher can exercise it, and I’d want to make as sure as I can that I wouldn’t be signing something that would hurt me later on.

  5. I am impressed with her responses as well. Since she works for the agency that handles Hugh Howey, I am not surprised that she supports the truth that agents are not necessary. Agencies like hers seem to be rolling smoothly forward with the new dynamic and will hopefully work towards making themselves useful for both traditional and self-published authors (in some cases).

    Perhaps more lawyers should focus on IP and hang a shingle.

    • There’s tons of IP lawyers, relatively speaking. This is a pretty complex area of the law and should really be practiced by people who are familiar with it and/or are under the supervision of same. (Not like law has any simple ones, but still.) The problem is getting the writers together with the practitioners, not supply of the latter, IMO. 🙂

      Our gracious host could probably speak to that better than I. I am a GC and when I want a specialist I pick up a phone and order one, like a pizza with wing-tips. My view of the supply (“Too high, they won’t stop emailing me”) may be skewed. 🙂

      • Agreed about there being plenty if IP lawyers, Marc.

        Violet – Intellectual Property law covers a number of different areas.

        The largest, in terms of number of practitioners, is patent law. Most patent lawyers are involved in writing and filing patent applications, then assisting the inventor in going through the patent examination process which often takes a year or two. Some patent lawyers are focused on patent litigation.

        As far as a publishing contract, an attorney focused on patents might not have that much relevant experience.

        The smallest group of IP lawyers (probably) focus on trademark law. This also involves filing trademark applications and working through the trademark examination process. Trademark litigation is a little less of a specialty than patent litigation is, but there are also trademark litigation specialists.

        The middle group is copyright lawyers. Since there isn’t really an examination process for copyrights, filing copyrights is not a big deal for these attorneys. Drafting and reviewing copyright licenses is where most of the action is. Software licenses are one large area, probably involving more attorneys than the publishing business because the software business is much larger. Publishing agreements between authors and publishers, which typically include a copyright license, are another area.

        Copyright litigation is a little like trademark litigation. There are attorneys who specialize in this area, but business litigation specialists also handle copyright cases.

        • Thank you for this information 🙂 This is one of the best blog for indie writers.

        • An excellent response, thank you. I’d just add in passing that to practice before the patent office, you need a special (additional) law license, which is issued by the Office itself. Referring to one’s self as a patent attorney when not so licensed is, at the very least, highly unethical and in many cases might be outright illegal.

          There is *no* such licensing or restriction on trademark or copyright law – the trademark division of the Patent and Trademark Office will allow an attorney licensed in any state to appear before it on behalf of clients, and the Copyright office (which is actually a division of the Library of Congress, and my this gets complicated quick) has similar requirements.

          I mention this so that I can give the following caveat: if a person says they are a patent lawyer, they probably have some reasonable certification and training in that area. (Or they’re just a liar.) A person can claim to be a copyright, trademark, or intellectual property lawyer with much less basis in fact and much more basis in wishful thinking.

          While it’s unethical for an attorney to hold themselves out as competent to practice in an area of law they are not familiar with, what constitutes “familiar” (“Hey, I read the CO circulars!”) is somewhat ambiguous in this context.

  6. You know, Livia won’t like this, but I believe Sara’s responses here are most likely spin. Let’s deconstruct.

    First, though, it’s always important to remember that agents, first and foremost, are salespeople. If you read an interview like this, and don’t, on any level, have a mild to intense yearning for that person to be your agent, then the agent hasn’t done their job very well.

    Most agents are VERY NICE. They seem trustworthy. They seem pretty awesome actually.

    And the reason that low royalties and draconian non-compete and reversion clauses are being challenged in contracts is because WRITERS are challenging them. Agents did not challenge these clauses, they encouraged their clients to sign them. Sara has, in her career, encouraged her clients to sign contract terms like these.

    So, in all of her open-mindedness about self-publishing, there is an underlying message in this interview that I feel is QUITE worth mentioning:

    “Go ahead and self-publish, doesn’t matter to me, who cares, traditional publishing is very, very, very healthy. I have incredible writers dying to work with me in traditional publishing, with the contracts as they are, which means, at the heart of it: I. Don’t. Need. You.”


    So, what is the point of putting that message out there so strongly? It creates a feeling in the reader that:

    a. traditional publishing is healthy (it’s not)

    b. lots and lots of writers are choosing traditional publishing, so traditional publishing must be a good way to go (it’s not)

    c. the fact that publishers bypassing agents, going directly to best-selling indies, is irrelevant to her (it’s not)

    d. you, as a writer, have an astounding amount of competition, and agents don’t care if they work with you or not, so you should be both humble and worried. You are not very valuable, you are just one in a crowd of a zillion. (not true, good, sellable writers are extremely rare)

    e. making an offer to a writer who queried is a normal thing that happens (1 in 2000 queries gets an offer).

    Quite the spin, and, on top of that, she’s very likeable.

    So, you might ask me, well, what did you expect her to say, Mira?

    Well, this:

    “Traditional publishing with the Big 5 is a path that should be boycotted until contract and royalty terms are reasonable. Until that date, I, as an advocate of the author, refuse to have any dealings with them. I will, however, assist you in your career with any independent publisher who has decent terms or with selling subsidiary rights for your self-published works.”

    That would work for me.

    Anything else is still feeding off the backs of authors who are being taken advantage of by the Big 5.

    • Good points, Mira. 🙂

      I don’t know Sara personally, so I can’t really comment on her motives. To me, the post didn’t read like a spin so much as being focused on something that Sara said she didn’t have much experience or interest in.

      Unfortunately, because there is a greater supply of writers than demand (in the trade model), a single writers is likely to be somewhat irrelevant. I didn’t ever get the feeling that she was saying “I. Don’t. Need. You.” It was more a matter of she isn’t really looking for writers in the self-publishing pool, because she has plenty of talented authors querying her.

      I agree mostly with your a-e points. 🙂 I do have to say that while many agents do come off (and some have been quite open about it) the point you outlined in d, there are some who don’t come across as elitist too. Agents, like any other profession, have their mix of good and bad. Do I think the current agent-author relationship is healthy? Not in the terms many couch the relationship in–author: having someone to take care of me; agent: leave the business stuff to me. But I don’t believe that all agents look down on their clients. However, many who blog and tweet and make disparaging remarks at conferences do make it very easy for authors to come to this conclusion. >.<

      In my opinion, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. I think it is possible for agents to work for change from within, although until the influx of new writers dries up enough that no one can deny there's a problem with how things work anymore, I'm not sure how likely that will be. But who knows? From the time I started in this industry (about 6 1/2 years ago), everyone in publishing was assuring authors that publishers only publish the best books, and that if you have a great book, it will eventually find a home. But after the Snooki thing and a few other high advance/poor quality/unspectacular sells, I don't really hear anyone touting that line anymore. For me, that change only took about 4 years. Hopefully, as the publishing landscape continues to morph, change for the better will come faster and faster. But the only way I really see that happening is if the majority of authors treat this like a business and walk away from bad/unfair contracts instead of accepting whatever terms it takes to be published. In such a situation, the industry wouldn't have any choice but to change.

      I would love it if more agents took a hard line against unfair contract and royalty terms. And I agree with you there. I'm pretty sure I couldn't sign with a house that was subsidizing their bottom line with money made through vanity presses they've partnered with. Unfortunately, while in theory agents are supposed to be the author's advocate, in practice, from what I've been able to see from things that are happening to other people around me, the agent is going to look out for their own interests first, and usually their interests are more closely aligned with the publishers than with a single client.

      • “From the time I started in this industry (about 6 1/2 years ago), everyone in publishing was assuring authors that publishers only publish the best books, and that if you have a great book, it will eventually find a home. But after the Snooki thing and a few other high advance/poor quality/unspectacular sells, I don’t really hear anyone touting that line anymore.”

        I think this quote is key for this discussion. The truth is that just because you’ve written an amazing book doesn’t mean that it will find a home at a large publisher, or that any agents will have interest in it. Conversely, you could one day be writing a One Direction fanfic online, and the next day be the proud owner of a gigantic advance check.

        For the first time in a very long time, big players in publishing–editors, agents–are being more straightforward with writers. Whether spin or not, Ms. Megibow’s iterview was refreshing in that it acknowledged the existence of self-publishing in something other than a negative tone. It’s not that big of a surprise. Hugh Howey himself is represented by Nelson Literary, so I’m pretty sure they’re apprised of the self-publishing landscape.

        This is quite a marked change from even three years ago. Self-publishers should take solace in the fact that, if nothing else, they have to be taken into consideration.

        Still, there’s something comforting about assuming that agents like to awaken from their chthonic slumber from time to time, shove pithy, dehumanizing insults onto wannabe authors, and then slink back to R’lyeh where they dream of non-Euclidean geometry. But it’s not true (in most cases, anyway). Agents, like writers, are learning how to navigate the sweeping changes of the industry. And frankly, they’re in for a MUCH more treacherous ride than we are.

        • Reinhardt – I guess I give agents less credit than you do for mentioning indie publishing. I think they realize they have no choice.

          For many, it’s a new tactic, because there is alot of money moving into indie publishing.

          Although some may be sincere in their support of the author.

          But just as I don’t trust the Big 5, who try to take advantage of authors in every contract, frankly I also don’t trust agents. Even the best agents were the ones who encouraged (and many still encourage) writers to sign the contracts – contracts the agents drafted – that had terrible contract clauses.

          Why do we give Publishing houses a hard time, but let agents off the hook? Because they are charming? Doesn’t work for me.

          • Mira, believe me. I feel ya. It’s through gritted teeth that I force myself to take a more measured stance. With some of the high profile stories in the last couple years about lit agents being despicable human beings, I’m much more inclined to wade into the fray blindly swinging a chainsaw and screaming “Who’s laughing now?”

            I guess I believe in karma, and that’s enough for me to get by. Besides, I only got one chainsaw, and one can of gas, and I need both for all these g****** zombies.

            • Reinhardt, I feel ya, too.

              Whenever I ‘go’ for an agent on this blog, I secretly feel bad about it. I would guess that Sara is reading this, and I imagine she finds what I said hurtful and feels misunderstood. I do feel bad about that, I don’t like to be hurtful.

              I also know agents are scared and struggling, but here’s the thing:

              They are all still dealing with the BPHs who screw over authors on a regular basis. They have not acknowledged their own culpability. And they are continuing it, they are continuing to draft terrible contracts for authors to sign.

              I have to pick sides, because we really are not on the same one.

              And sometimes pressure needs to be brought to bear.

      • Danyelle – I think it’s a nice idea, but I honestly doubt agents have enough power to work from within.

        I think if they could do that, they would have negotiated higher royalty rates, since they suffer from low rates almost as much as the author.

    • Mira, I just re-read her interview, & while I believe you set forth accurately what she likely believes, it’s not exactly what Megibow wrote.

      Agents, like all middlemen, are always under pressure to justify that they deserve a piece of any deal. Sometimes justifying their part is a no-brainer: for example, if it wasn’t for the agent, neither party would have met & done business. Other times, the agent is simply a parasite without whom business would have functioned much more smoothly.

      Megibow’s argument here is that an agent has a role, & she lists the circumstances where that is true. “There are publishing houses and imprints that only accept material from agents.” — Not sure who these imprints are, nor why a writer wants to work with them over publishers who are willing to work directly with a writer, but maybe they are a company a writer does want to work with. “I provide editorial feedback, career planning and publicity/promotions help” — This is a point that has been discussed elsewhere. “The big question is subsidiary rights. Can an author shop their own foreign, audio, gaming, film, TV and merchandising rights?” — Subsidiary rights, IMHO, is fast becoming the only area a writer needs to consider hiring an agent. That’s because the average writer has no idea the proper terms & advance for, say, German-language rights. It won’t always be the case, but it is at this moment.

      Which means agents need to explain how well they know the foreign market. Not only how much Arabic or Spanish language rights are worth, but the literary contract law for the countries where those languages are used.

      And then there is Hollywood law. That is an even more vicious environment, which makes used car salesmen look honorable.

      So there are areas where a writer could benefit from an agent. I’ll leave it to someone else to decide whether Megibow provides a convincing case she could help a writer in those cases.

      • Geoff – you’re right, I think she was working with a dual hand here. She was making it clear she didn’t need any individual author, because they are beating down her door for traditional publishing, and the “traditional model is still working for [her] very very very well”.

        While simultaneously promoting what an agent can do for writers, including indies.

        Maybe my analysis seems harsh. But I think agents owe authors a HUGE apology, and I’m not letting them off the hook just because they seem ‘nice’ and are worried about their jobs.

        It’s called Karma. How many authors signed contracts that Megibow drafted with terrible clauses? It’s not just the Publishers who are liable here.

      • “So there are areas where a writer could benefit from an agent.”

        Not so much, really. Literary agents generally know nothing about Hollywood/films, which is an entirely separate world. And if someone wants to make a movie of your book, you don’t need a Hollywood agent, you need a Hollywood lawyer–out there, it’s common to have lawyers negotiate the contracts.

        Literary agents also generally now nothing about the gaming world or nerchandising. These are areas where it’s very rare (no example that I can think of, after 25 years in the biz) for a literary agent to generate the business, and most agents don’t know enough about it to represent the writer effectively in such matters.

        That leaves audio rights and foreign rights. Yes, literary agents have traditionally covered these areas…

        But my own four former agents did so little for me in these areas (no audio sales ever, and very little foreign rights business) that losing that aspect of agenting when I shed agents from my business model 6 years ago was a VERY minor matter for me (my foreign subrights income averaged about $500/year during the years when I was agented) compared to how much money I save by NOT paying an agent 15% of my US income (as well as how much better my contracts, advances, sales frequency, responses times, and overall career health are since I stop letting agents get in the way). So I’d be disinclined to hire an agent again even -just- for my subrights…

        ESPECIALLY now that things are changing so much that the subrights advantage is already a slimmer margin than it used to be, and this trend seems likely to grow. For example, Audible.com acquires rights directly from writers, and audio opportunities are growing (including options to produce the audio version of one’s book onself), so agents are increasingly just an accessory there.

        Similarly, more writers have more direct access to foreign markets and editors than ever before, thanks to the internet, which will facilitate self-representation in foreign sales. (Joe Nasise, who’s done very well with self-representation in foreign sales, is offering an online workshop in the subject.)

        One -can- use a foreign agent for audio sales, but it’s not necessary. One -can- use a foreign agent for foreign subrights sales, but it’s already less necesssary than it used to be, and seems likely to keep continuing in this direction.

    • I don’t “know” Sara, personally. But I paid attention when I saw that her clients like Roni Loren and others whose work I respect sang her praises on Twitter, so I followed her myself.

      I have seen her always be professional and encouraging of writers, and not dismissive of indie/self-publishing, as some other agents are. Last year I saw her present a workshop at a conference I attended and she was part of the q & a that followed. Afterward I found her alone for a few moments and thanked her for her time, and she was gracious, professional, and yes, very likeable.

      I’ve met agents who were trolling for clients – there’s a whole different vibe.

      I already have an agent, and if I choose to make a switch, there are a couple others ahead of her on my short list (and other agents who wouldn’t make it on my list at all). But I think one could do a lot worse than deal with Ms. Megibow, *if* you decide the agented route is the way to go. She is very straightforward about “here’s what I can do for you, and here’s what you can do on your own,” rather than promising the moon and the sky.

  7. My concern on the subject of agents is, as ever, on dismantling the long-held, widespread, and completely erroneous myth that you need an agent for a traditional publishing career.

    I shed agents entirely from my business model 6 years ago and have, since then, had the healthiest career I’ve ever had in traditional publishing.

    I also sold my first 8 books on my own in traditional publishing =before= I ever hired the first of my (4) agents (1 of whom dumped me, 3 of whom I fired).

    During the years I was “represented” by agents on-and-off, I still made sales by myself on a number of occasions to traditional publishers, with material that my agents wouldn’t send out. (And that was sometimes very EXPENSIVE for me, since agents have a tendency to demand 15% of your earnings whether they were involved in the sale or not.)

    My repeatedly-stated position is that having an agent is ONE possible choice for running a writing career in traditional publishing, not the ONLY choice, and certainly not necessarily the BEST choice. There are some writers for whom, with a specific agent with whom the writer is ideally paired, the agent-author business model works out very well and fruitfully. There are many for whom it doesn’t. I went through four agents before realizing it was such a consistently bad business model for me that I needed to eliminate it entirely from my career in traditional publishing–which has turned out to be possibly the single best business decision I’ve ever made.

    What I like about Ms. Megibow’s commentary is that she seems to be acknowledging that hiring a member of her profession is -a- choice for running a writing career in traditional publishing, rather than -the- only viable way to go. If this impression of her comments is correct, then I’m very glad to see an agent saying it. I hope more of them adopt the realistic view that they are -a- choice, not THE choice.

    I think agents are going to be part of publishing for a long time, though I think there will be fewer of them. There’s an oversupply that I don’t think the business can sustain, given how many writers are self-publishing and eschewing traditional publishing, or how many traditionally published writers are leaving their publishers (or being dumped) and turning full-time to self-publishing, and how many writers in traditional publishing are realizing they don’t need an agent to sell books to publishers.

    Because of the decreasing need of a market that’s already over-supplied, I think we’ll see more agents pursuing self-publishing writers more, trying to elbow their way into the earnings of someone who’s doing very well even without hitting Kindle bestseller lists; more of agents launching “e-publishing services” of one kind of another; more egregious agency agreements, attempting to lock in clients or their intellectual property rights for the agent’s benefit; more hair-tearing problems emerging for writers in their agent-negotiated contracts as publishing contracts from major houses grow even more complex and even further beyond the abilities of agents; more agents involved in scandals of one sort of another (ex. fee-charging; embezzlement; kickbacks and double-dipping [ex. an agent advising you to hire a particular “freelance editor to make your book submission ready” while neglecting to mention that the “recommended editor” is the agent’s spouse or silent business partner], etc.) while the toothless and useless AAR stands on the sidelines not doing or saying anything about all this; and agents leaving the business because they can’t make a living at it.

    But they won’t all leave or all wind up in scandals. There will be agents who remain in the business and those who do well. I don’t think they’ll disappear, though I do think their numbers will shrink.

    • I think you are right, Laura. In addition to what you said, not everybody has it in them to negotiate their own deals, just as not everybody is suited to indie publishing. While self-publishing has empowered many authors, if it ends up meaning the meek were no longer able to be authors, it would be a sad state of affairs.

      I also think you are right about agent numbers shrinking and diversifying. In the UK, several agencies are already changing shape and restructuring. I’m sure the same is true in the US. With any luck, this changing landscape may help get rid of the shysters and low end agents. Although, I may be being a little optimistic.

    • Speaking of indies who need to take care of their own business: I just used Mr. TurboTax Business to file my first-ever sole proprietor income taxes. It took about the same time as it takes to file my personal taxes. I expect it to get more complicated as my career progresses, but I’m here to tell all you indies out there that it wasn’t all that difficult.

      However, you need to read up on the tax code a bit. For instance, if you pay more than $600 to any single freelancer providing services for your book(s), you will need to send that person a 1099 the next year.

      Also, keep accurate records. Receipts are important if you’re going to claim a home office deduction.

      • EXCEPT I believe if you paid a provider via Paypal (solely) that Paypal reports all the income that flowed to that particular business/individual, and that the extra 1099 is superfluous. Don’t quote me on that, but it’s my understanding that the government put that measure in place to keep track of payees who were getting multiple, smaller payments too low to trigger 1099s, but in the aggregate quite a LOT of money.

      • Is that $600 in total, or $600 per project? Because I paid for 3 covers — that total above $600, but individually were all below $600 — and didn’t do that report. I did pay through PayPal, though.

        • I am a lawyer, this is not legal advice, etc.

          Generally speaking it’s $600 in total payments to any given person or entity in any given year which triggers the 1099 requirement. Your mileage may vary.

          My own employer has a rule *ahem* that anyone who is to be paid more than $200 for any single thing has to fill out a W-9 and will be advised that they will get a 1099. This is based on analysis of our AP over many years which indicates anybody who gets paid that much or more in one shot is reasonably likely to get more payments and has a significant likelihood of breaching the $600 mark in a given year. Anybody who gets less probably won’t. Again, your mileage may vary.

          You *can* 1099 somebody for a $0.01 payment. It’s usually better to err on the side of getting the information, especially with a business entity. With a person you’ll get their SSN and there are recordkeeping/privacy requirements which can be onerous, and that can be a factor in your decision.

        • $600 total to each individual. But yes, if you pay something through PayPal or a credit card, the credit card company or Paypal assumes the responsibility of filing the 1099.

          If you have more questions, do a search at IRS.gov for the 1099-MISC instructions. To be on the safe side, get a completed and signed W-9 form every time you contract with a new individual, and keep them in a folder or binder.

          Also, in many incorporated cities (like Los Angeles) if you file a Schedule C for a home-based business, you MUST have a current business license. Even if you make no money or operate at a loss. If you wait to apply for a business license after they cross-reference your schedule C and “catch” you, it can cost several hundred dollars.

    • I think for most of us Laura R there’s the issue of not knowing which lawyer would be a good lawyer for general pub of books.Most authors Iknow whohave agents freely tell names of their agents. Not sure about their own specific lawyer’s name being offered as freely by some authors.

      The road is long, and I am weary

      • “I think for most of us Laura R there’s the issue of not knowing which lawyer would be a good lawyer for general pub of books.”

        Well, for example, there’s the Literary Lawyer Directory on my website, with names and contact info for literary lawyers whom I recommend personally or who were personally recommended to me for this list (and which lawyers I then contacted about it) by writers I know who’ve worked with them.


        (My own attorney is currently not on that list, since she’s not taking new clients at this time. When her caseload lightens, she’ll notify me and I’ll put her back on the list.)

  8. Just as a point of discussion, this is taken directly from the Nelson Literary Agency website which is where Ms. Megibow works:

    “one of the first literary agents to hire a full-time software engineer as an employee to run NLA Digital for clients looking to digitally self-publish.”

    Now, perhaps this particular agent doesn’t work with anyone who chooses to self-publish, but her agency sure does. It doesn’t negate her comments, but it is something to remember.

  9. Phyllis Humphrey

    I started writing in the dark ages when agents “were required.” And I had four bad ones and thought I was just unlucky. Then I was rejected by 39 agents even though I had sold five novels to trad publishers on my own. By the time I got an agent who seemed reliable, it was 2009 and suddenly I didn’t need one anymore. Oh happy day!

  10. Agents are acknowledging self-publishing? I doubt consumers care.

    • I’m with you Terrence. I have spoken to many avid book buyers in my time and many of them actually thought only actors had “agents”, and all of them couldn’t care less either way.

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