I spent part of Friday at the PASIC Power conference, a gathering of published romance authors right here in midtown. I’ve done quite a few conferences, and for the most part they’ve long been the same. Agents and editors chatter on about how to go about convincing agents and editors to work with you, move on to listen to authors’ plea for consideration, and then retire to the bar confident in their feelings of superiority.
There’s been a change in conferences lately, and it’s a fascinating one. The tone has gone from attendees asking, “How do I get you?” to the less ego-boosting, “Why do I need you?” Or, as someone in Friday’s audience queried, “What can publishers and agents do for me that I can’t do for myself?”
I happen to believe that agents do play a vital role for all authors and will continue to do so. I’m sure that will come as a complete shock and that you can all acknowledge that I have no bias whatsoever in this debate…
Okay, I have a huge bias, but a) I can admit it, and b) I still think I’m right. Because the role of the agent has long been as author’s advocate and manager. And however your career is going, I think there’s room for a partner in this process.
That said, I think this moment, wherein everyone’s worth is called into question, is a valuable one for all parties. It allows authors to really demand that they be paid attention to and that they be serviced properly. Obviously that’s good for the authors. But frankly, it’s also good for agents because I believe that being questioned on these topics makes us consider our work in very real ways and forces us to strive to do better.
Something else happened at Friday’s conference. I started wondering out loud. Is it possible that as more and more people start self-publishing, there will be a flood of books that aren’t actually ready for publication (either because they’re just not very good or because they’re by authors who still need to develop and probably should have waited until their second or third or fourth manuscript to share it with readers)? And if that’s the case, what is the effect on the reader? How will new authors get started if they’re competing for attention with a million other novels that possibly shouldn’t be out there?
That’s when I threw out an idea that wasn’t super popular: is there a chance that publisher branding will play an increased role in reader decision making? One less than thrilled attendee muttered in the back of the room that no one pays attention to who publishes novels. Another agent went on the record to disagree with me and state that author branding is what counts and not publisher branding. Certainly, those things are true. But for new authors trying to rise above the morass, it’s an idea that intrigues me. Is it crazy to think that the lay-reader will start paying attention to publishers? Could other publishers brand themselves as successfully as Harlequin has?
Or is it just as simple as the fact that word of mouth will drive people to (and away from) new fiction?