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Curiouser and curiouser

Last week Publisher’s Marketplace as part of the E-books for Everyone Else conference at NYU ran a panel for agents and others who are involved in the new digital publishing revolution and Michael Cader and Michael Shatzkin invited me to participate to explain how we are navigating this exciting and, to many, confusing  new world.  I was very honored to be included with agents Scott Waxman and Robert Gottlieb on this panel and pleased that the DGLM online publishing initiative has garnered so much great attention.

Our panel was attended primarily by agents—I ran into my old friend Bob DiForio, saw Barbara Lowenstein, and Lois de la Haba—but I was delighted to see others like Mark Coker, who we once represented and who is the founder of Smashwords, one of the new e-tailers.  There were lots of people there whom I hadn’t seen in a long time.

It was clear to me from what was being said by some, that many of those in attendance really didn’t fully understand or embrace the ramifications of what is happening.  For instance, one agent was amazed that it takes Amazon 90 days after a digital book is uploaded to begin paying authors.  But, wait a minute, traditional publishers take six months and many of them longer to begin sending statements after they publish a book.

During our lively panel discussion, I pointed out the value of backlist and how these books, properly marketed by their authors, are going to be the meat and potatoes of our digital publishing program along with original manuscripts which clients, both old and new, are asking us to help them self-publish.  Scott, because his backlist isn’t as deep as ours, is depending more on original titles and he is actually publishing them for his clients as opposed to helping them self-publish while acting as agents, as we are (for this, the author pays him 50% of receipts).  Robert didn’t talk very specifically about the topic at hand (perhaps because his agency had just announced a program and there had been a detailed press release about it).  He did tell some entertaining stories about Cary Grant, about why the big agencies used to charge a 10% commission for so long before they went to 15%, and about the importance of  authors having insurance when they self-publish (he illustrated this with a story about how the deck of his house collapsed as a result of hurricane Irene and that his insurance company claimed that though his house was protected against hurricane damage, his deck wasn’t—I think I need to review my home owner’s policy.)

In any case, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a whole new area for many authors to explore and maybe find great success.  Next week I plan to blog more about this; meanwhile, though, I would love to hear what your current thinking about authors self- publishing online is.

3 Responses to Curiouser and curiouser

  1. Kim says:

    Several interesting points in this post, particularly the part about having insurance when self-publishing. I know a traditionally-published writer who is looking to self-publish a couple of books that her agent couldn’t find a publisher for and she would be very interested in this point.

    Looking forward to hearing more…

  2. Ivan Pope says:

    So why did all the agents go to 15%? Hive mind? Greed? Distortion in the reality field?

  3. Catherine Whitney says:

    Jane,
    I’ll look forward to hearing all your insights on this brave new world. I think it’s important to define exactly what kinds of books (and authors) are best suited for self publishing in an Ebook format. I’ve heard authors talk about it eagerly, as if it were the great new hope for books, but the reality is probably more earthbound. I can definitely see a role for backlist/ out of print titles, although authors need to be prepared to “launch” the books and do a lot of the PR work and publicity that is usually the publisher’s domain. There is going to be a lot of sifting of wheat from chaff as we learn how to do this. The Ebook universe offers the potential for every author to become published, but the brutal sifting of the marketplace still prevails, so there’s always the chance of having a readership of one.

    I do think it’s absolutely essential that self-publishing an Ebook not be viewed as publishing on one’s own. The Internet makes it seem so easy, but I for one would not want to do this on my own. Your efforts and those of Ebook publishers and others will be crucial in shaping the healthy sellers. Unless an author has a ready-made following or an amazing PR operation, it’s the rare self-published Ebook that will make a wave if it’s just dropped into the mix. Since you’ve put yourself on the edge here, it will be great to hear your further reflections.

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