A recent blog post by a well known NY agent has created some heated discussion on the writers’ loops that I belong to. Without pointing fingers or naming names, I’ll summarize that the basic point of his post was that authors can’t rely on agents to read their contracts or guide their careers for them. Authors have to do it themselves. It seems like this is just the latest in a stream of recent post by agents that have a lot of indie authors scratching their heads and asking, “Wait a minute…if I have to read the contracts and negotiate on my own, and I’m not submitting work to traditional publishers… what do I need you for, again?” A good question.
Personally, I do have an agent. And I love my agent and honestly would not feel comfortable publishing – either traditionally or self-publishing – right now without one. Clearly there are bad agents out there, just like there are bad editors or bad authors, but there are also good ones who are worth their weight in gold. Why do I have an agent? Bottom line – because she makes me more money than I could make on my own.
1. She sells my ancillary rights. There is a lot of money to be made in ancillary rights. While I’m not opposed to going all indie with foreign works, I just don’t have time to get translations of my work made for every country. And, in some cases, the cost to benefit ratio is such that I’d rather go with a foreign publisher who pays a decent advance than shell out the money up front myself and gamble on the idea that my books might work for that foreign market. On my own, I would be clueless as to where to start subbing my work for foreign publications. Ditto audio. My agent has done an amazing job of fighting for great terms for me with audio deals. And, between her and my manager, we also have a TV deal in the works (can’t say much more about it than that yet). So, without her, I’d be losing a lot in ancillary sales.
2. She knows contracts. She looks over mine, she negotiates for me and ALWAYS gets a better deal than the one first offered, whether this has been in traditional publishing venues or indie ones. I know that publishers (traditional, foreign, audio) are more willing to negotiate with an agent – who has the perception of knowing her stuff – rather than an “insignificant little author” on her own. :) Having said that, I do read over every contract myself, go over every clause, and usually come back with some points I want changed even after my agent negotiates for me. But my agent is always happy to re-negotiate (or at least try to) for those clauses that give me pause. She has certain things she knows about contracts and is specifically looking for when she reads a contract, and I have the things I’m looking for as I read the contracts. So between us I feel like the contracts I’ve signed lately have a far less screwed-over-by-publishers feel to them. In fact, I actually feel pretty good about some of them.
3. She’s a career consultant. She has a big-picture approach to my career and knows that when my books are doing well – even my indie books – she’s going to do well, too. (I can tell you that she’s made more this year off of my ancillary sale for indie books than she has off my traditionally published books.) She has insight into what’s happening with the traditional publishers that I don’t, so we can make really good informed decision together about what the best route for me right now is, and what might be the best route in the future. She knows which publishers are supporting indie-crossover authors, which ones are open to print-only deals, and what my alternatives to going indie with any given book are. At the moment indie publishing is the most beneficial to my career, but I certainly want to be the first to know if that shifts or if tides in traditional publishing start changing. And I feel like my agent has her ear to the ground on my behalf.
I totally understand what a scary time it is for agents. Their roles are changing as author needs change, and it’s not always clear cut what those new roles are. I think a lot of the head-scratching blog posts we see from agents right now are coming from a fear of losing their place in the publishing world. But if they can change with it – like my agent has – I think they can still be very relevant and very needed. And still make a tidy profit as well.
BOND GIRLS – first book in a brand new series!
coming to Nook June 25th
releasing everywhere else July 25th