Are Literary Agents Dinosaurs?
May 3, 2011
I have two agents, one that handles (if that's the right word) my fiction and one that is currently sitting on a nonfiction book proposal that's awaiting a Foreword/Endorsement before she'll market it.
There was a mention today that in the UK e-books are now 6% of the market, but grew 300% in 2010. In the U.S. it's more like 15% and growing.
I haven't heard much about what percentage of that is self-published e-books. And even for a moment if you set aside the original novels published as e-books, you have to wonder what percentage of those e-book sales are formerly out of print books now made available by established authors.
I'm reading here and there about agents that are offering themselves up as sort of quasi e-book self-publishing channels, although why you'd need an agent to do that and take a percentage is completely lost on me. This is not a difficult process and there are plenty of people out there doing affordable cover art and layout.
[My e-book cover art is done by Matt Elliott or Judy Bullard and layout is done by Natasha Fondren, all who do great professional jobs at a reasonable price].
Author Dean Wesley Smith, who is rather outspoken on this topic, argues that you don't need an agent anyway. One of his more interesting arguments to me is that you get the contract negotiated by a literary attorney for a flat fee, rather than the 15% commission an agent demands. Also, as he argues - a position I tend to agree with - most writer/agent relationships are all screwed up. The author is supposed to be the employer, the agent working for the author. But all too often the author ends up behaving as if they're the employee of the agent and the agent, once there's an author/agent relationship in place, doesn't advise, but dictates the nature of the business relationship, only marketing what materials they want to, controlling the monies, etc.
And along the lines, for you writers that have agents, here's a question for you. Does your money from your publisher go to the agent, who then pays you? Doesn't that sound as if you work for the agent? Why, if you're the employer, wouldn't you get the money, take out 15%, and pay the agent with a "Thanks, keep up the good work."????
But as more and more publishing seems to be shifting toward e-self-publishing (and no, I have no idea if this is a long-term thing at all; I keep wondering if 6 months or 6 years down the road this current wave we're all riding is going to hit the shore and disappear), agents in particular would seem to become somewhat irrelevant.
Hell, I wonder how they make money anyway, given how every agent I've talked to for the last year or two (or 10 or 20) always says, "Well, with the current state of the industry, advances are worse than ever..."
Which, on the one hand, is just them setting up the author to have low expectations and not be shocked when your advance sucks like an Electrolux (or Dyson, if you prefer). Although, do you accept that at face value, do you perceive then that your agent is lying to you, and if so, do you trust them? Or are they getting you good and warmed up for their failure to do a good job of sales and negotiation on your behalf? Hmmm? Or is it just the same old refrain, blah, blah, blah?
Anyway, what are your thoughts?