It’s Time to End Free Agent Labor

From Bookends:

Nearly every week an agent at BookEnds receives a request to speak at an event, conference, or group meeting. Almost universally there is an expectation that the agent will do so for free. While this has been the norm for generations, it’s time to put an end to free agent labor.

As publishers are raising starting salaries, the rest of us need to do our part. That means dispelling the myth that conference work is a favor to the agent. It’s not. It’s work. A full weekend of exhausting work, missed family time, and travel costs that are not, let’s be honest, worth the reward.

. . . .

Most conferences offer to pay travel expenses–specifically hotel, flight, and most meals (not all) But as anyone who has ever flown knows, that’s never the extent of true travel expenses. You also need to get to and from the airport, eat meals (or snacks) that aren’t included, and you’re expected to schmooze with conference attendees that can often amount to at least a moderate bar/food/snack bill (depending on how you like to schmooze).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while conferences say they pay travel expenses, very rarely have all my travel expenses been covered. There’s always something that isn’t factored in (a $200 airport parking bill anyone).

. . . .

In the era of Zoom, many see this as a real boon to their agent networking. Now they can have agents attend without any costs. Those pesky travel expenses are a thing of the past.

They are. That’s true. But time is money people and asking an agent to spend an 8-hour day, or a 16-hour weekend, working in front of Zoom is ridiculous. 

. . . .

It’s a myth conference organizers have told themselves for years that conferences benefit agents. A myth that paying travel expenses is beyond generous. Sure, it’s expensive to pay travel expenses, but these agents are driving people to your event. It’s worth the cost, as is paying them for their work.

In my 20 years as an agent, easily over 100 conferences, I can count on one hand the number of clients I’ve found. Most clients come through connections I make after reading or hearing about their work or, truthfully, through Query Manager.

Link to the rest at Bookends

While PG doesn’t do this any more, he used to command nice speaking fees for his presentations at conferences.

For unpaid speakers, as the OP implied, the speaker has to decide whether it’s really worth the time and the hassle to accept these invitations.

Compared to in-store book signing sessions, however, conferences are a gold mine.

Quite often, somebody is making money from a trade conference. Usually, it’s the conference organizers.

5 thoughts on “It’s Time to End Free Agent Labor”

  1. When I saw the headline, I thought they wanted to prevent labourers from being free agents. How that would work I had no idea; some combination of serfdom, compulsory unionization, and OGPU?

    Upon reading, I discovered that it was not about labour by free agents, but about free labour by agents. Well, I actually have no objection to agents performing labour for free; most of them are pretty damned bad at doing the labour they are paid for, so they might as well be doing something. I’d rather see them speak for free at conferences than practise law without a licence.

  2. The author of the piece makes it clear it’s not worth her time. Given the success rate of, “I can count on one hand the number of clients I’ve found,” over 20 years, this is not only a cautionary tale for agents, but for those writers vying to get in their stable, as well.

  3. If they aren’t willing to pay you to appear, that tells you something about how much they actually value your contribution.

    • Another literary myth shot to smithereens. I thought agents worked on spec the same way writers work on spec.

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