Agents vs editors

3 June 2014

From The Bookseller:

Back in Ye Olde Days, when the pickings were rich for agents (and authors) and six-figure advances were commonplace, publishers used regularly to complain that agents had too much power. Uber-agents strode the publishing landscape filled with a sense of their own importance. When they rang, junior editors stood up to take their calls. Even the senior ones sat up a little bit straighter.

How the mighty have fallen. These same colossi have been royally humbled by the events of the last five years, and the twin squeeze of recession and structural change. Books—and authors—they would once have waltzed into deals for significant sums of money, they are now struggling to sell at all (I say “they”; I mean “we”). Those they do sell are, on the whole, sold for greatly reduced advances.

As the balance of power has shifted, so standards of behaviour have shifted. It was once important for editors to stay on the good side of agents (or else they wouldn’t send you their best stuff); now calls go unreturned, submissions languish unread. It isn’t just a question of the move from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market, there is also more than a whiff of the boot being on the other foot now. Or should that be neck?

. . . .

Agents are merely proxies for authors: and authors do matter. So while we all understand that times are tough, here is my list of suggestions for editors:

  • Just say no. If you’ve had something for a month and you can’t make up your mind, that is a no: put the poor author out of their misery and say so. The best, most successful and most senior editors say no quickly—they are on top of their reading and they know their own minds.
  • Be efficient. The number of examples I have of editors rejecting the same thing twice is depressing. I have one priceless instance of an editor buying a project they had rejected six months earlier, without any memory of having done so.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Agenting Mega-merger as Carmen Balcells Joins Andrew Wylie

2 June 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Consolidations among the world’s biggest publishing companies has become commonplace, with Penguin joining Random House two years ago and Random House absorbing Spain’s Santillana’s trade divisions earlier this year. Now, the literary agenting world has it’s own mega-merger, as Barcelona-based literary agent Carmen Balcells — the super agent of the Spanish-language literary world — has announced a memorandum of understanding to merge her agency with that of Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie. Together the agencies will represent more than 1,000 writers and will represent 13 Nobel Prize winners between them.

. . . .

Balcells and Wylie have fought over authors in the past, most recently Robert Bolano, sometimes coming to blows in the press.

Yesterday, it was all kisses and roses. “We have followed and admired each other for years, and we want to work closely from now. Our goal is to give greater strength, scope and duration to the representation of clients, and we are excited and fully committed to the opportunities before us,” said the two agents in a joint statement.

“The impact of the merger will be to empower the top authors, who will need powerful representation to maintain their status with the increasingly powerful global companies that influence publishing and bookselling decisions,” Spanish publishing consultant Javier Celaya told Publishing Perspectives.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives


Amazon: Hypocrite. Customer is not Always King

24 May 2014

From agent Kristin Nelson at Pub Rants:

I could tell Hachette and the editors that my authors and I were firmly on their side and hugely supportive of what they were having to face.

Amazon – I have been very appreciative of the many changes you’ve already created in publishing but now you are just being a big old fat hypocrite.

Because your motto is customer first, always.

Well, this kind of hardball in no way serves your customers.

Link to the rest at Pub Rants and thanks to Big Al for the tip.

PG wonders what Hachette buys from Amazon.

Hachette is a supplier, not a customer. Amazon is Hachette’s customer, not the other way around.

To be more specific, Hachette is a supplier that is also a self-confessed price-fixer who wanted to illegally increase the price that readers (also known as customers at Amazon) pay for ebooks much higher than it would have been otherwise.

PG tried to think of a suitable analogy. The best he could come up with is that Hachette is like a bank robber who gets out of prison, then walks into the same bank and complains because the reception is a little chilly.

Amazon is a little like those companies who hire ex-cons to help them get back on their feet.

PG is sure that visitors to TPV can create much better Amazon and Hachette analogies than he did. Have at it in the comments.


“I am against Amazon because they are a monopoly,” says Andrew Wylie

10 May 2014

From Melville House:

Andrew Wylie is traveling to foreign countries to warn them about Amazon. Not too long ago, he waswarning the Germans that they ought to “pick the plague” over Amazon’s new German publishing program. This week he was in Argentina attending the Buenos Aires Book Fair andtalking with reporters about Amazon’s role in the DoJ case.

In an interview withAndrew Graham-Yooll for the Buenos Aires Herald, Wylie says flat-out that Jeff Bezos “encouraged a U.S. Department of Justice suit against the publishing industry.” He explains how difficult it was for publishers to fight these accusations:

“The nature that was relevant in the law was that the government did not have to prove conspiracy between publishers, they only had to prove the possibility. So publishers who had dinner together could be faced with allegations that they were conspiring to set prices. And the guilty would be so for hundreds of millions of dollars because of the possibility.”

He says without a trace of doubt that Amazon was behind the whole thing:

“The DoJ was fed by Amazon. They offered documents, evidence, and they had so many lobbyists that the DoJ became Amazon’s toadie. So I am against Amazon because they are a monopoly, they have the government’s support, and unlike the music business, I think that if you destroy publishing, you destroy culture.”

. . . .

We can only hope Wylie has other pithy monologues planned for his next trip. This reporter seemed very impressed with his delivery. “He has a crisp voice and a no nonsense manner, a precision handed down perhaps through the bankers on his mother’s side of the family…. Agent Wylie may be all that is attributed to him, but he comes across as affable, informative and very pleasant, ready to answer any question.”

. . . .

Later, Wylie admitted he wants his ghost to linger in the industry a while longer than he does.

Link to the rest at Melville House and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Are Literary Agents Really Worth Their Commission?

7 May 2014

From Digital Book World:

I compare the gross income authors reported from their latest publication projects for authors with and without agents. The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey asked 2,834 published authors about their views of agents as well as their income from their most recently published books. While the voluntary survey sample may not be representative of the experiences of all published authors, it does provide us with a large number of interviews and a potential comparison of the experiences of authors with and without representation from a literary agent.

The survey asked authors how much they had earned on their latest traditionally published book and on their latest self-published book. Authors with a traditional publication were also asked whether they had received an advance and how much. In addition, authors were asked about their annual writing income, which might differ from the overall earnings on a specific book. For purposes of this analysis, we have excluded the responses of authors who elected not to report their earnings by indicating “rather not say” on the survey.

The results indicate that the greatest advantage from having an agent may accrue to authors when they traditionally publish. Authors who only traditionally published and hybrid authors both saw substantially higher median advances and total earnings on their most recent traditionally published books when they had agent representation.

. . . .

 In contrast to the results for traditionally published books, there was no advantage for authors who were only indie-published from having an agent, while hybrid authors saw higher median earnings on their most recent self-published books but not by the same margin. In terms of annual writing income, agented authors reported higher annual writing income, only if their publishing history included traditionally published works, either alone or in concert with self-published ones.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Another survey based upon a non-random and, thus, non-scientific and almost-certainly non-representative sample from DBW, so PG says take the results with a grain of salt.

PG likes the idea that DBW is doing research on these topics, but suggests they’re doing it on the cheap and not producing the quality information that they could by spending the money to do it right.

The Future of Literary Agents in a Digital World

2 May 2014

From Amanda Luedeke, an agent with MacGregor Literary:

All this talk about hybrid authors and self-publishing, and there’s one question that is bound to surface:

Are agents a dying breed?

Maybe. I mean some freakish thing could happen that changes everything and puts the final set of nails in the Literary Agent coffin, but the way things are shaping up, my answer would be “no.” We aren’t a dying breed, and here’s why…

. . . .

The typewriter, and later email, made it ridiculously easy for any schmuck to pound out a terrible novel and send it to the best editors the industry had to offer. Those terrible novels would fill up the queue, thus suffocating the really great publishable novels. Editors, whose time is valuable and limited…and who also have a tendency to spend much more time analyzing a manuscript than an agent does…eventually turned to agents to help weed through the bad and find the good.

While we tend to think that indie and small houses are there for the unagented, the fact of the matter is that these publishers are more than willing to work with agents. In fact, they many times welcome it. They love when someone else has vetted the material before they even have to give it a look. And consequently, an agent can many times get a faster response from them than your typical unagented author. Why? Because there is a sense of professional responsibility. The small house is usually thrilled that the agent considered them, and they want to respond in kind by offering a speedy decision.

. . . .

Every contract that I’ve seen that has been analyzed by a separately paid lawyer comes to us with not much changed except the wording. Nothing is ready to be negotiated. Clauses aren’t flagged and suggestions aren’t made. Nope. Instead, the lawyer has focused his/her time on striking out words and phrases here and there and occasionally adding in a few new ones. They approach is as if the contract will one day need to hold up in court, and they want the terms to be either ridiculously clear or very vague. Agents, on the other hand, approach it as if the contract is the author’s livelihood, and we need to get him/her the best deal possible. We don’t worry about the specific words used so much as we worry about what the author will come away with. See? There’s a difference.

. . . .

Many feel that the self-pub business model is the one that needs agents the least. But I wholly disagree.

There are a number of successful indie authors out there, telling everyone else that indie publishing is the best and that they should go it alone and forego agents and professionals altogether. But I’d like to offer a reality check…

Being a self-published indie author is like running a business. You’re in charge of accounting and marketing and publicity and packaging and design and editing and writing and formatting and sales and EVERYTHING. Ask any successful indie author how they spend their time, and they’re likely to tell you that managing their business takes up a majority of their day. Writing, then, is done at night or squeezed into the wee hours of the morning. It’s exhausting. But moreover, there’s a big piece of truth here that the overly anti-agent folks fail to tell you…

It requires an entrepreneurial mind and attitude to make something like this work. And most authors don’t have that. Most authors are creatives, who can’t tell you the first thing about marketing and publicity and bookkeeping and managing  and … taxes. They just want to create. And when it comes to figuring everything else out, they need help.

Link to the rest at MacGregor Literary and thanks to David for the tip.

PG observes that agents may not be much better at selecting attorneys to help them than they are in attempting to act as attorneys themselves when negotiating contracts that won’t hold up in court.



Agents going off the rails

10 April 2014

From Janet Reid, Literary Agent:

A while back I posted a question from a writer who seriously wondered if her agent was dead or abducted by aliens (no contact for months on end.)

In my reply I mentioned that kind of thing has been happening more often. That observation sparked some interest and some requests for elaboration.

. . . .

Back in the day, and I mean back before email, the internet and Twitter and, let’s face it, transparency, the career path for becoming an agent was starting as an editor at a big publishing house, and learning how the biz worked. There are those who traveled a different route of course, but they were the exceptions, not the norm.

That has changed almost completely.

Many younger agents are starting as agents. Or assistants who are allowed to sign clients. Or interns who are sure they learned everything they need to know and set up shop as agents when their internship is completed.

. . . .

And they’re often alone and unsupported. By alone, I mean they work as sole proprietors or in remote offices from the main agency. By unsupported I mean they do not have someone sitting five feet away who can help them get out of trouble or stop them from getting in to trouble. Of the five cracker jack young agents I know best, ALL started out sitting close to an agent with more experience, an agent who considered it his/her job to guide the younger agent.

And there’s another component to consider. Recently I tallied the lists of tasks I had for each client in 2003. Then I tallied the tasks I had for clients in 2013.

By my count there is three times the work now for each client/book that there was in 2003.

. . . .

So if you’re an agent who’s been doing this forever, and in the last ten years your job has tripled, and your income hasn’t, and all of a sudden there’s this new transparency and people are talking about you on the Internet like you can’t see it, well, sometimes just not dealing with the problems seems pretty much like the avenue of least resistance.

I don’t say this to excuse the behavior. It’s bad behavior. It’s very unprofessional. I’d like to say I’ve never been guilty of behaving this way, but it would not be true.

But what this is has a name: burnout.

. . . .

If you’re an author you’ll want to avoid signing with an agent who is headed down Burnout Ave. How to tell? You ask her clients. Not “is s/he burning out?” but “how’s the communication?” Agents who are burning out generally aren’t communicating well.

Find out how much support an agent has. If things go south, is there someone there to pick up the pieces? A sole prop who goes off the rails leaves her clients in a bigger mess than someone backed by an agency with people who know where the files are.

Link to the rest at Janet Reid, Literary Agent and thanks to Amy for the tip.

PG says a lot of businesses/professions (including lawyers) have a high incidence of burnout.

It’s always a bad idea to deal with a professional who is burned out.

Most state bar associations have resources plus the means of intervening if a lawyer is burning out. None of the associations has a perfect system to the best of PG’s knowledge, but, at least in California, if the bar receives complaints from clients that a lawyer is not returning calls or delivering quality work, the bar will intervene with varying degrees of assertiveness, depending upon the nature and severity of the problem.

PG understands the medical world has similar tools to help a burned-out doc.

However, literary agents are effectively unregulated, except via litigation. As Janet’s post indicates, anybody can offer his/her services as a literary agent. Just released from drug rehab? You can be an agent! Coming out of prison and your parole officer says you need a job? You can be an agent!

PG does not mean to slander skilled, honest and diligent agents. They certainly exist and provide useful services for their clients.

However, when one agent burns out, screws clients and the news hits the internet, all agents collect a little soot.

Where are literary agent licensing laws? Where is the formal, enforceable code of ethics?

Demonstrating some minimal competence and following strict rules for the segregation of author’s funds from agency funds as a condition of receiving a license would set a licensed agency apart and above others. The threat of losing an agent’s license would certainly provide some deterrence for bad behavior. Arbitration of agent/author disputes would be a valuable service a licensing entity could provide.

PG thinks some licenses (pedicurist or interior designer, for example) are silly, but agents receive money, sometimes a lot of money, that belongs to their clients. If publishers won’t talk to authors, the agent is the only avenue through which information flows between authors and publishers. Sometimes this information is very valuable and professional consequences for authors can be severe if the information doesn’t promptly and accurately arrive for them.

Some agents do quit providing services for their clients while still holding onto their right to have the author’s royalties flow through their bank accounts. Or maybe not flow, but rather sit in the agents’ bank accounts for a month or two or three. Or provide a short-term “loan” to cover the rent or cocaine payments.

8 ways to know if you have a good agent

8 April 2014

From Nathan Bransford:

The author/agent relationship can be a tricky one. There are good agents and bad agents out there, and yet from the author’s perspective it can be very difficult to know which type you have. Many authors talk themselves out of their reservations about their agents simply because it’s hard to know if your concerns are warranted. And, of course, many writers just feel lucky to have an agent in the first place.

So how do you know if your concerns are justified?

. . . .

2. Your agent should be a good communicator.

By good communicator, I don’t mean that they necessarily reply immediately, though that is always appreciated. Agents are very busy, and even some very good agents can be afflicted with publishing time. The publishing industry can sometimes move slower than a line at the DMV. (For the record, I always tried to get back to my clients within 24 hours and I know many successful and busy agents who stick to a similar timeframe).

What’s more important than punctuality is that when you have a question, your agent answers. When you ask for something, your agent delivers. When you want to have a serious conversation, the agent is there to have it.

A good agent doesn’t dodge, doesn’t hide, is straightforward with you and tells you things you may not always want to hear. If you feel like you are constantly pulling teeth to get the most basic questions answered, you may not have a good agent.

. . . .

6. Your agent should pay you on time and send you contracts in a timely fashion.

Most agents have clauses that stipulate that publishers send payments to them, then they take their commission and send you the balance. This is normal.

However, that means it’s all the more important that they send your payments and contracts to you on time. Be very wary if you encounter strange delays.

. . . .

At the end of the day, having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. You have to be able to have faith that your agent has your best interests at heart and is good for your career.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG says the agent should only receive money to which the agent is entitled by way of commission. All payments belonging to the author should be sent directly to the author from the publisher without passing through the agent’s hands.

The agent adds no value by handling money that belongs to the author. At best, there is an unnecessary delay in the author receiving his/her royalties. At worst — you can fill in any number of disastrous scenarios.

Even if your agent is on the fast track to sainthood, during the course of a typical New York publishing contract – the life of the copyright which is likely the author’s lifetime plus 70 years – your agent will go to her/his heavenly reward and somebody else less saintly, probably someone the author doesn’t know, will start handling the author’s money.

The Rise of the Hybrid Agent

1 April 2014

From Good Ereader:

In all of the recent debate surrounding traditional publishing versus self-publishing, both models appear to be emerging as valid options for books. But while the Big Five aren’t closing up shop entirely any time soon–despite recent mergers and rumors of future mergers–and self-published authors continue to earn accolades and income, one entity in the publishing industry has been largely overlooked: literary agents.

Agents, once considered the first-round gate keepers to getting your book published, have had to look for new ways to continue their relevance in a rapidly changing book market. Some agents, such as Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency and Scott Waxman of Waxman literary, were the first to embrace digital publishing as a viable option for their clients, citing the desire to get a client’s book “out there,” regardless of the interest from publishers. Ebook-only or digital-first became an opportunity to not cast aside a quality book that just hadn’t found its place in the market.

What first grew out of a desperate need to not dismiss a book that agents felt strongly about has now grown into a viable first option for many authors and agents.

. . . .

Paper Lantern Lit, grew out of a desire to work with authors to develop their books in a way that would appeal to a larger readership. “We wanted to come in and work with really talented writers and help them to develop their stories,” explained Hillyer.

Once the work was complete, PLL would then shop the books to publishers, just as any literary agency would do. But with the advent of ebook readership, the company realized that a much more streamlined process would be to release the ebooks first in order to build a following for the books, just as those same publishers once did with hardcovers. But unlike self-publishing services, PLL’s The Studio works with authors in the same type of royalty structure that a publisher would, absorbing the cost of services to later be compensated by royalties from the sale of the books.

. . . .

“There’s a space in between self-publishing and traditional publishing where we can live.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader

Spread ‘Em Wide

27 March 2014

From an agent via Brillig:

One of the reasons I have spoken a lot this week about royalties:  well, information is the mother’s milk of literary representation, and along with the quality of the book itself, the three most important pieces of information we can use to sell an author are (1) the author’s bibliography and biography (2) reviews (3) sales history.  Furthermore, if you want to gauge how much the market might pay for an established author you have to have a handle on actual expenses for printing books vs. actual revenue from selling them rather than royalties paid. And how do we figure out what an author’s sales history is or how much revenue and expense the publisher has in printing and selling books, in both print and electronic forms?  Well, we gather that information from royalty statements.

And I learned early in my career at Scott Meredith that sales information isn’t well kept by stacking piles of paper in a filing cabinet.  Those Penguin statements I was telling you about, that told you only the quantity of books “sold” in any given six month period — well, back then we had many Ellery Queen books available in Penguin doubles, and if someone wanted to figure out how many Ellery Queen novels were sold, it meant collecting years with if little sheets of paper and manually adding up columns and columns of figures.

Suffice to say when I finally had a computer at my desk in the early 1990s, things changed.  I could at least put the figures into a word processing document so they could be added without having to retrieve little pieces of paper from the filing cabinet.  Eventually that gave way to tables within the word processing program, and eventually to tables in a spreadsheet.

And for a variety of reasons, not just out of habit, we continue today to process every incoming royalty statement on to our computers, just like I started to do over 20 years ago when I first had a computer on my desk.

. . . .

Publishers make mistakes.  It doesn’t hurt to check their math, and spreadsheets enable us to do this.  Assuming, of course, that we set up the spreadsheets correctly.  There is this tendency to trust that the computer generated very official looki royalty statements the publishers provide always have the correct royalty rates.

As discussed in my previous post on current royalty statements, most are still seriously lacking in cumulative information on copies shipped and copies returned, and it’s still very 1989 in needing to track that information someplace other than on piles of paper hiding in a file drawer for years or decades.

. . . .

Each publisher’s royalty statements are different, and the royalty scenarios can be different within a publisher for mass markets, trade paperbacks, hardcovers, audios and e-books, so we have to have lots of different spreadsheet formats.

The benefits are invisible.  The company that is doing the Mistborn video game needs to go to its bankers and needs information on Mistborn copies sold for Brandon Sanderson, or the screenwriter with an option on Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population needs some information to present to producers with her screenplay, or we want to rough out a profit & loss statement to try and guess how much money DAW books can pay for the new Jim Hines, and we can do those things quickly and easily because we have impeccable spreadsheets.  But it is very easy to separate out those benefits from the time, heavily concentrated during the twelve weeks of royalty season, when it seems like we do nothing all day but spreadsheet royalty reports.

. . . .

High maintenance.  The information doesn’t flow up-hill on its own, so every time a publisher comes out with a new edition of a book we have to set up a new table and then plug the information from that table into at least one location in a summary table.

Link to the rest at Brillig

Yet another way Big Publishing is stuck in the Seventies. In the 21st century, friends don’t make friends key numbers into spreadsheets.

They’re not fancy, but Amazon provides monthly royalty reports in the form of spreadsheets. You don’t have to be much of a numbers guru to set up a master spreadsheet that will update all sorts of analyses, complete with graphs, when you load another month’s worth of sales data from Amazon.

Then suck those numbers into a database where you can really rock.

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