Answering questions

And we thought that in the sultry days of summer no one was reading our blog.  Well you are and we’ve gotten a tremendous reception to our “Announcement,” not just on this site but in several industry publications.  So, instead of blogging on Wednesday (my usual day) I thought I’d address some of your comments here.

Most of the feedback thus far has been very positive.  But there has been some confusion as well and, of course, some folks have accused us of being money grubbing ambulance chasers.  We love the supportive, kindhearted folks who are rooting for us to make this work, and you all know we also relish the snarky naysayers who call us names because they challenge us to keep it real.

Again, we don’t see a conflict of interest in this opening up of our business.  We provide services for our clients that have always gone far beyond selling their books to a traditional publisher.  As we have said time and again, selling is the easiest part of our job.  Making sure your book is published well, that you get paid (accurately), that you’re not signing away your hearth and home in your agreements, that there is someone who is willing to listen and advise you on your creative (and sometimes personal) dilemmas; selling rights and following up on those sales—ask Lauren Abramo if trying to get a $500 advance from a foreign publisher who refuses to answer phone calls, e-mails, or carrier pigeon messages isn’t a soul-crushing job; cajoling and browbeating when necessary to get you to join the 21st century and start blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc.; being the voice of reason when you think that the genius idea for a novel about a poultry farmer with a phobia of chickens is going to make you the next John Grisham (even if we know you’ll scream, cry, and curse us when we tell you it won’t work).  These are just some of the other things agents do every day.  So, helping our clients get their books published electronically, if that’s the direction they choose to go in, with all of the above still part and parcel of what we will continue to do for those clients, seems to us a natural extension of our roster of services.  If we don’t offer this service, our clients will either miss out on the opportunity, go it alone (which some may do, but many will not want to), or be forced to seek out another company that might not have their best interests at heart, as we know we do.

So no, we’re not running out on to Fifth Avenue to yank unsuspecting writers posing as bicycle messengers off their rides and force them to e-publish and pay us 15% for the privilege.

We will also not be forcing any of our clients who want to self-publish to work with us on it, and if they do choose to, we will not be forcing them to choose our cover designers, copyeditors, etc.  Because, as some of you have pointed out, this is self-publishing (and, again, we are not publishers) the client has full control over these issues if s/he wants it.  We have a project manager whose job it is to coordinate, advise, and make sure that the process goes smoothly with minimal work on the part of the author.  This, because we want our authors to write, not have to engage in a 47-e-mail exchange with someone about font size.   Everything is subject to the author’s approval.

Which brings up the question posed by several of you, both here and on Joe Konrath’s blog: what are you people doing to earn that 15% commission?  Pretty much what we do now to earn that 15% commission.  Our commitment to this is more than just uploading and watching the dollars trickle in.  In addition to all we do as agents, managing self-published properties will be part of our job: updating metadata, copy, next-book excerpts, etc.  It’s not just vague managerial duties, but concrete tasks that we will be adding to our other duties.

For some authors it will be the beginning of building a publishing career which may eventually include a traditional publisher because of the success generated by the e-book.  For others, it will mean making worthy books available that are out of print and which still have potential readerships.  And, we will want to try to exploit subsidiary rights whenever possible, with the understanding that even with traditionally published books some of these rights do not get picked up.

If you don’t think an agent’s services are worth that fee, this post will not change your mind.  And we sincerely wish those of you the best of luck doing it yourself or with another kind of company.  Really.  We never begrudge an author success and we can’t represent everyone.

The last question everyone seems to be asking is whether they can terminate their agreement with us if they’re not happy with the job we’re doing.  Yes.  Of course.  With proper notice, we can each go our separate ways with, hopefully, no hard feelings.  (In that event, we will continue to collect our commission on properties we still manage.)  We’re counting on people wanting to keep using our services not just because we make their lives easier but because we have a lot of experience and know-how and we’re hoping that the books that we represent in this way will reflect that level of professionalism.  Some of you have accused us (and our publishing colleagues) of being “gatekeepers.”  Yes.  We will not be representing anything and everything.  We will continue to do a certain amount of gatekeeping.

As this new electronic publishing world evolves (at the speed of light, it seems) we will continue to find ways to earn our 15% commission.  As many of you have rightly pointed out, some self-published authors don’t make a ton of money and so neither will we.  But, you know what? Some of our traditionally published clients don’t either.  That doesn’t keep us from going to 40 publishers with their proposals/manuscripts.  Or from working on their projects on our evenings and weekends.  Or from writing encouraging notes to their sixth grader who wants to be a novelist when he grows up.  You get the idea.  Most of us didn’t get into this business to get rich.  We did it because we love and believe in the written word.  Whether it’s on vellum or an iPad, the written word is still our stock in trade.  All we can vouch for is our effort and our hard work.

18 Responses to Answering questions

  1. Jennifer Schubert says:

    This is sure getting a lot of eink! I think it’s a fabulous idea. Thanks for writing this post–it answered some of my questions.

  2. I think this is an excellent endeavor, and as a client, I can assure anyone out there with doubts, my agent has earned his 15% many times over.

  3. Thank you for helping set to bed some of the intense questioning going on over at Joe Konrath’s blog. If I may, I’d like to ask some pointed questions? I know this is still a new venture for you, so if the answer is “maybe” or “we don’t know yet” or even “we can’t announce that yet”, that’s OK. :) Folks are simply trying to get a feel for what exactly this IS, in the modern and so-rapidly changing thing that is publishing today.

    Please understand, I’m really not trying to be rude – but I know I’m being very direct here. But these are the questions folks are really dying to know the answer for.

    So, questions:
    1) It is implied in your posts so far that you will be uploading writer’s books to your account at ebook retailers, and then paying the authors their shares out of the money the retailers send you. True or false?

    2) If you are uploading to those retailers, it is assumed that you will be acquiring rights (via a contract) from authors. What rights do you intend to contract for? Do you intend to immediately execute on all rights you acquire?

    3) If you are acquiring rights, what term of those rights do you intend? For example, some publishers today are making it increasingly hard for writers to get back rights, as books can stay “in print” effectively for the duration of copyright. How do authors re-acquire their rights if they feel at some point down the road that you are no longer giving them adequate service for your 15%?

    4) You posted: “With proper notice, we can each go our separate ways with, hopefully, no hard feelings. (In that event, we will continue to collect our commission on properties we still manage.)” This is a little confusing. If you “go separate ways”, then how are you still managing any properties for that author? Sorta related to question #3. ;)

    5) What does the 15% commission pay for, and is that spelled out in the contract? In other words, is the writer paying for the editing, cover, and possibly formatting, and still paying 15% as well? That seems…odd…to most of us. ;) Actually, paying 15% for editing, cover, and formatting seems to most of us like gross overpaying, so the assumption exists that you’re offering other services, but although you’ve mentioned some examples above, they seem a little vague.

    Thanks very much for any responses. And again, if there’s some of that you just can’t answer yet, I understand – but these are the answers I perceive folks are looking for.

  4. Catherine Whitney says:

    Excellent explanation, Miriam. I appreciate the fact that you’re going out on this spindly limb for us.

  5. Curious says:

    I have a question, but it’s only a question, not an implication or accusation. You’re all pros with excellent reputations, but there’s a particular point everyone’s dancing around without mentioning, or maybe you haven’t noticed it as a potential landmine.

    How do you define the point at which you stop shopping a MS to publishers and go for this option?

    Getting 15% off the full Amazon royalty translates to a much higher percentage for you than what you would receive from a regular book deal. Potentially an exceptional amount higher, so where’s your incentive (or the next agent who decides to go this route) to sell to a commercial press?

    • How do you define the point at which you stop shopping a MS to publishers and go for this option?

      This is the main question I had left, and I thank you, Miriam, for making this post to answer all of the other questions. I think I still need more time to process the implications of this service before I can form a full opinion of it, but as expected, I’m glad the writers can make their own decisions on whether to take you up on this. But as an aspiring writer planning to query you someday, the question posed by Curious is very relevant to me. I realize, of course, that the answer may vary depending on the manuscript, but I just haven’t reached a point yet where I want to give up the pursuit of a traditional publisher for self-publishing.

  6. Lisa Marie says:

    After thinking about this for a while, I’ve come up with one conclusion: I would feel more comfortable with this arrangement if agents did not handle authors’ backlists. This is quite obviously the cash cow, because formatting and uploading these requires little to no effort at all, with the exception of perhaps updating the cover, and even that might not be necessary. The books are already edited and in hard copy format, so all you need to do is drop it by Kinko’s and have the sucker scanned along with the cover art. You know … stuff that the average administrative assistant does.

    If agents want to work with existing unpublished clients or writers who have been dropped for some reason but who want to get back in the game and have new books in the works, well, go for it. But backlists? That gets my “NO” vote. This is perilously close to the black hat tactics used by ebook scammers who upload books in the public domain for profit, with the exception that the (rather gullible, IMHO) author gives them his/her blessing to do so.

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  8. Paul Pender says:

    I want to be a novelist when I grow up, just like the sixth grader you mention. Can you please send me an encouraging note too?

  9. Ryan Field says:

    I think this was a good follow up post.

    Thanks…

  10. Aaron Niz says:

    Calling people who disagree with your platform “snarky naysayers” is a nice little jab, but it’s not even close to accurate.

    The idea that you are entitled to fifteen percent of an ebook for doing your “regular” duties really makes no sense. You show a real lack of understanding of the ebook industry, because the sorts of things you bothered to mention such as uploading books and changing metadata are not time-consuming or difficult and certainly don’t warrant fifteen percent.

    Your inability to elucidate clearly what activities earn you fifteen percent on ebooks really tells the whole story. As you’ve doubtless told many an author, I’d say it’s time to do a serious revision on that business model and go back to the drawing board.

  11. Janice Palko says:

    Curious. Will you be re-entertaining queries on manuscripts you considered, but ultimately rejected?

  12. James says:

    Let’s get to the point – who pays for the cover editing, formatting, etc.?

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  14. Great post. Very informative. I support this direction wholeheartedly.

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