If an agent or publisher came calling

With electronic self-publishing becoming the latest tulip mania, one of the questions hashed and rehashed in publishing circles is whether authors who are finding success in this venue would be willing to give it all up in order to be published by a “traditional” publisher. E-publishing evangelists deny that there is any point or desire to go back to the shackles of mainstream publishing. Why would you sell your art for pennies and let agents and publishers take the bulk of your earnings, they query. Take your work back, do it yourselves, and make 70% of the income, they encourage the masses.

We publishing types have been losing sleep lately over our own future. Gatekeeping has gone out of vogue in this new democracy. Also, we worry that our services may become obsolete now that anyone with an internet connection can upload their work and start getting their check from Amazon or Kobo within days. Even enterprising houses are getting into the self-publishing business and calling it community building.

So, over our coffee and bagels on a recent morning, the staff of DGLM wondered whether all of the above is incontrovertibly true. Anecdotal evidence leads us to believe that many people who self-publish (including some of those who are making nice money doing so) are actually interested in traditional publishing as an outlet for their work and value the services that an agent, editor, production team, and sales and marketing force provide. Many are excited when we offer representation and seem to feel that the most important thing we agents bring to the table is allowing them to focus on their writing instead of the “business” side of the business. (This, by the way, is something I think all authors appreciate, as finding the time to be creative can be difficult even in the best of situations.)

Clearly, the future of publishing is electronic media and we love a literary success story, whether it’s generated by Random House or by a self-published author. But amidst all the greatly exaggerated reports of traditional publishing’s demise, here’s an informal survey. Would you still go the traditional route even if you were making the big buckaroos doing it yourself?

16 Responses to If an agent or publisher came calling

  1. Melissa says:

    Well, it depends. If I self published and was truly making excellent money in that venue, then I might be interested in an agent who was willing to focus solely on selling print rights. Would I give up a steady stream of cash in favor of more sales/less money and really, really, really delayed payment? Not likely.

  2. josin says:

    Even the current “face” (Hocking) of self-publishing mega success has noted the problems with the system – editing and distribution being the big two. She’s said she had the problem of even hired out editors not producing a professional level product and people who have wanted her books in print form can’t get them. People without e-readers can’t just have a copy ordered and shipped.

    Right now, self-publishing is about as safe a bet as the gold rush. A few early commers made it big, but the bulk of the crowd pays more for the hype than they earn in revenues.

    You also have to consider the foreign markets where ebooks aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are stateside.

  3. Silver James says:

    I originally published with a small press, with a focus on ebooks but offering novels over 65K words in print. I currently have two “long” novels (print & digital) and two novellas (digital only) with them. At the same time, I still want the “cushion” that comes with the advance and preferred placement that comes with publishing through a large house. To achieve that goal meant attracting the attention of an agent, which I managed to do. She now handles getting my manuscripts in front of editors and I handle writing and revising new projects.

    While I am relieved I no longer have to fight that battle, it’s been a period of adjustment. I’ve had to go from the enter-this-contest-to-get-before-that-agent/editor or must-send-query to oh-DON’T-Secret-Agent-Lady-is-in-charge-of-that-now mindset. It’s an odd juxtaposition.

    The marketing I have to do with the small press is enough to drive me bonkers. The thought of being a self-published author gives me hives. The time and attention required for the marketing is staggering if an author has any hope of becoming a “name.” (Provided they weren’t already a name to begin with. *looks at J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler* There are too many variables to self-publishing. I know far more authors who are making a pittance than I do those who are paying their way.

    While I embrace the E-volution, I’m not ready to give up on “traditional” publishing.

  4. evilphilip says:

    I would go with the realistic answer: I would traditionally publish if the money was right. Right now publisher Angry Robot (a Sci Fi/Fantasy publisher based in the UK) is giving an advance of around $10,000.00USD.

    I hated to break it to them, but I’m making money from one SHORT STORY on the Kindle than they offer in advance for a novel.

    Let me break it down for you into simple numbers. A $10K advance is $3333 up front, $3333 upon completion & $3333 when the book hits print. That process takes around 24 months and you have to less the 15% of your agent.

    $3333 becomes $2833 after the agent cut or $8500 total. $8500/24 months = $354.00 per month.

    As I said to my friend at Angry Robot… I’m making more than that now from one short story. I can’t even fathom handing them over a novel in the face of those kinds of numbers.

    I have a great respect for traditional publishers and for Agents (at least those Agents who don’t get all snarky on their blogs about submissions…) and I am 100% behind the idea of getting to see my book up on the store shelves where everyone can see it (even those people *gasp* who don’t own a Kindle/nook), but the money is going to have to be there before I would consider a deal.

    A bird in the hand… if you want to go all cliche.

  5. Tammy says:

    Money is wonderful and instance cash may seem like the way to go, but for me I would much rather go the traditional route. Anyone can self publish but it really says something when an outstanding agent likes your work. What I’m really looking for is someone who’ll love my work and has the potential to get my stories out to as many people as possible.

  6. I don’t like dealing with the business side of things any more than I absolutely have to, so I’d much rather go the traditional publishing route. Self publishing–meh!

  7. I suppose it depends on what you want out of being an author. Sure, monetary success would be wonderful, but I have a different measure of “making it.” For me, if I can walk into Some Random Library twenty years from now and still find my book rotting on a shelf, reaking of a hundred different households, and worn from use, then I’ll consider myself successful. Since self publishing seems to be drifting towards digital-only, I don’t see my dream being fulfilled without publishing in the traditional way. Maybe I’m a romantic, or even naive, but there’s just something more permanent about paper and binding.

  8. Lance Parkin says:

    The days when a writer just wrote novels, if they really ever existed, are long gone. I think authors will find all sorts of media to write in, and all sorts of strategies within those media – small press, self publishing, ‘traditional’. The ‘novelists’ I love – like say Michael Chabon – are also writing essays, film, television, comics, plays. The model of write a novel, sell a novel, write another novel, sell another novel probably to the same editor at the same publisher just isn’t viable.

    Agents should be fine – navigating that and making sure the contracts authors sign are a good deal is going to be *more* complicated for authors in the future.

    Readers should be fine – more choice, and there will be filtering and gatekeeping, but post-publication. We’ll all gravitate to the ones we’ve heard are good. But, well, don’t we do that already? It’s not as if every single traditionally published novel is the height of awesome now.

    Traditional publishers … well, they’re the ones that need to adjust. The deal at the moment seems to be that to adapt to the new reality, they want more rights and fewer obligations, they want the author to do it all and aren’t fast enough to exploit success. The deal for a novelist was never exactly brilliant – if you’re meant to do all the marketing work but get none of the marketing budget or decision-making power …

  9. GoodAgBill says:

    If e-publishing pays off so much more than traditional publishing and representation, even with the additional headaches, I would have to take on the additional DIY work. As I understand it, even represented and published authors are now EXPECTED to maintain a regularly updated blog, Tweet their inner-most thoughts and do the business work to market the product anyway. I would rather concentrate every moment on my craft. That said, if it takes 18 -24 months for a book to hit the shelves at Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart, vs. getting a check next month from Amazon.com, and making more in the long run, it would be foolish to wait in the printing line for a traditional publisher to validate my work with a check. I would love the verification that a “traditional” publisher would give me as an author, not to mention the talents of the agent who works for my best interest (because it’s in their best interest). But unless that all too elusive dream of the monster advance – against future sales – pays the bills while I am doing my “writing thing”, then the practicalities of regular eating are going to trump the warm fuzzy feeling of being a “traditionally” published author.

  10. Lisa Marie says:

    I’m one of the “enterprising (publishing) houses” betas, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experience thus far. This has ultimately led to valuable input from those trusted in the field and professional editing contacts. Whichever route I take, I’ll have my current novel edited.

    If I’d not been published before – ever — I suspect I’d probably seek validation through agency representation. But I don’t need validation. The reason I’d prefer to work within a traditional model is because I don’t want to take care of all of the time-consuming minutiae. Right now, I’m weighing my options while I do one more round of revisions. I’d like to see how things pan out in the publishing world in the next six months or so before I make my decision. Self-publishing should be for writers who know with a fair degree of certainty that they have a marketable product on their hands. ☺

  11. Lance Parkin says:

    I don’t see traditional publication as ‘validation’, and I don’t think it’s psychologically healthy to think of it in those terms at all.

    The point of the current process – impress an agent with your book, together you hone it, when it’s honed you impress an editor, you hone it, then when it’s ready you publish – isn’t the *impressing*, it’s the *honing*. You don’t do it to feel awesome, you do it *to make your book better*.

  12. An Author says:

    Sorry for an anonymous post, but I’m going back to contract with one of my publishers (one of the big 6)…

    As a mid-list author who has self-published some backlist, the money I’m making from that means I have to very seriously consider whether it makes sense for me to continue with my print publishing. If I elect to self-pub those front list books instead of re-sign with my pub, there is every indication I will make a LOT more money. On the order of 3x more.

    I’m not the only mid-lister looking at the numbers that way, and I won’t be the first, (should it happen) to walk away from a print deal.

    Amanda Hocking was offered major money. Her decision makes sense.

    The traditionally published mid-lister, who gets essentially little to no support from his publisher is already doing on his own pretty much exactly the same promotion that has to be done for an eBook.

    In my opinion, this is a major shake up headed in the direction of the Big 6 who, I believe, are going to see their mid-list shrink not because they’ve dropped them, but because those authors can now make more money without them.

    Maybe those publishers will instead end up getting their new authors from the DIY self-pubbers — but they’ll have to offer more money than they currently do and probably under much different terms.

  13. April says:

    I write what I know about, after that I’m in unfamiliar territory and I need help in getting from point A to point B, C and D.

    On the other side of things, when I’m searching for something to read I get very leery of where I place my time and my money. Even if its only a dollar, I will still invest my time reading it and do not want to be disappointed. This is true whether it is through a publisher or being self-published. As a writer I know that people aren’t going to purchase a piece of work just because its up on the web. I also know that a blog won’t help you sell books if people aren’t reading, or finding that either.

    If internet publishing is an option, shouldn’t that be a discussion between the writer and their agent? Publishing houses never used to use agents. People created a career where there was none by recognizing a need and utilizing talent. Wouldn’t a literary agent be able to take what they know and do and tweak it for better internet publishing? I’m sure there is a danger of severing relationships with publishing houses, but I don’t think they will be going anywhere and I don’t think the agents will be going anywhere either, as long as the writer wins and the readers trust.

  14. Pingback: More on E-books and E-publishing » Better Than Dead

  15. Brandon Alston says:

    Hello, my name is Brandon Alston. On March 29th, 2011, I self-published my novel Grey Eyes through Kindle Direct and it has wildly exceeded all expectations. It sold over 1,000 copies in April, and now in May, it sells over 200 copies a day (closing in on 300). It is #2 on the children’s hot new releases and # 14 on the overall childrens list. It’s #195 on the Kindle Bestseller’s list. That said, I would still jump at the chance to have an agent, and to be published traditionally.
    First off, it would provide me with the ability to reach a wider audience. From what I understand, ebooks are still a considerable minority in the overall book market. And second, being the traditionally published is still the dream. At least for me it is. I can’t imagine that I would make more money, as I’m a first time novelist, but the sense of pride that comes with seeing your book on the shelf of your local bookstore is still something I hope to experience one day.

  16. It seems like so many of us are arguing about whether to catch a ship that’s already sailed. As in all other sectors of society, we are witnessing broad scale decentralization of power and information. I’d love to be published traditionally, both for the prestige of having that stamp of approval on my book and for the possibility of getting my books in libraries. I’ve been querying like mad to that end. However, as the lake dries up, there are fewer ships being built. So I’m prepared to go the E-pub route at some point because I truly believe this will rapidly overtake the market and eventually penetrate even print libraries. I’d be happy to pay agents, editors, book cover designers, and publicists on a flat-fee or per-hour basis to provide their expertise; however, paying a commission would be a no-go unless they risked capital, too.

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