Blogs

An agent's manifesto

It feels like a perfect storm is brewing; publishers battening down the hatches, retailers at war with one another, e-tailers deactivating “buy” buttons as if it’s a game of Call of Duty.

One person has been forgotten in this unholy maelstrom: the author. Remember, we don’t have a job without him or her. For those of us still working in the legacy business of publishing books, here’s a reminder of the primary mover in this chain—an Agent’s Manifesto, as it were, to All Those in the Business of Publishing Books on Behalf of the Author:

» 
The author is the expert. Why assume that the one person who has spent the past 12-18 months on the subject, the story and the world of their work, knows least about how they should be represented to the trade and to the reader?

» 
The author is not an object which a publisher has to step over in order to achieve a successful publication. If they have a problem with the cover, blurb, copy or format, then something isn’t right.

» 
The author loves bookshops. Bookshops need to learn how to love authors again. We need to bring them back together.

» 
We publishing professionals are the ones who bear the risk—agents with time; publishers with investment; retailers with space. Authors risk only their whole life, self-esteem and their babies.

» 
Publishers need to understand that “Author Care” is not a euphemism for “Care in the Community”. Authors who are valued, understood, appreciated, included, nurtured and spoken to like an adult will experience a phenomenon called Trust. Trust breeds loyalty; loyalty means longevity; longevity means sales.

» 
Authors will endeavour to understand better what a publisher does—e-books are not created after two minutes of scanning and ticking a series of boxes on Amazon’s self-publishing program.

It’s not exactly the Independence Charter, but hopefully a reminder of where the core of our business lies.

I recently attended a conference, happily entitled “Disintermediation—who will be left?”, and the clear inference was that agents would be “disintermediated” out of the picture. I’m not so sure. Which author truly wants to close their Lithuanian rights deal (at midnight) while updating their blog (at 6 a.m.), revisiting the copy edit for the fourth time (a whole morning’s work) and keeping an eye on the hourly change of their book’s pricing? As Amanda Hocking, a returnee to “legacy publishing”, recently said: “It drove me nuts.” J K Rowling didn’t publish her adult novel on Pottermore or a variation thereof, and Vintage US has just bought the erotic sensation Fifty Shades of Grey after 250,000 downloads of this independently published novel. Authors need publishers; they need experts to guide and protect them.

However, the arguments I heard on a recent trip to New York suggests publishers are still focused in on themselves. An Amazon surge in sales of one of their backlist publishing titles was greeted by the same question: “yes, but at what price?”. The answer is “several thousand more sales than the previous five years”, but publishers don’t want to hear that. They are, understandably, agitated about the falling prices of their products (a concern shared by every agent and author I know), but publishers must understand that their inability to offer viable alternatives to the “publish or not publish” offers available will drive more authors to self-publishing initiatives.

The book industry needs to listen to authors and readers more so we can win back the argument that publishing is filled with skilled professionals seeking excellence in their fields, determined to publish works of commercial and cultural significance. Amazon is not the devil, but a different route. Booksellers need support; but they, in turn, need to bring a higher level of service to their customers. I’m sure none of the above applies to you, but if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, do pass it on.
 

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

By posting on this website you agree to the Bookseller comments policy. Comments go direct to live please be relevant, brief and definitely not abusive. Report any "unsuitable comments by clicking the links"

Authors also need to take responsibility for their careers. The days of the magic cheque in the mail are over. Time to embrace new media (which they are doing), diversify their careers (no one wears one hat anymore), and stop suffering agents and publishers who drink coffee and hit 'send' on emails in place of actually promoting and selling work.

Here's how I see it - and please note, this is factual, it is not meant to be emotive or judgemental.

Publishers need authors.
Agents need authors.
Authors don't need either of the above. It may be preferable to work with them but they don't actually need them.
So it would be nice if publishers and agents could treat authors with a modicum of respect. Many do, of course, but equally, many publishers and agents treat authors in a way that is downright rude. Particularly if they have had the nerve to successfully publish a book.

Amazon at 60% of the eBook market down from 90% ... apparently ... but they publish no sales data, and it would be in their interest to claim the lower figure at present. But it matters little.

Amazon/eBooks is/are: open to piracy big time, give amusing royalties, boycotting distributers, discounting which is aimed at making them the only publisher in the world, them and their house "authors". This will kill literature.

Booksellers are the only other sales point.

Hardbacks and/or paperbacks in store are the only way to promote books.

Obviously the author will now have to deal directly with ONLY booksellers since Booksellers: are/will have to boycott eBooks, are the only way to promote literature.

There will become two market products.

The death of libraries is an added feature.

My bet? No choice, deal with the Booksellers, any who can weather this storm.

And my agent? Seven novels and still looking.

What do I want in an Agent? Expertise in placement of my product to both our profit and the profit of their recommended sales path services. I do not need my ego stroked.

If Amazon came to me with a deal that had dollars up front would I take it? Of course ... it's first in first served at my place.

Writers create the product. Readers consume the product. Everyone in between needs to add to the process or get the hell out of the way.

I spent 20 years in the trenches of traditional publishing where I was treated as an easily replaceable part. I now can sell more eBooks in one day than a traditional publisher can in 6 months with titles that were NY Times bestsellers. So they're doing something very, very wrong.

My agent got three publishers to look at my book over the course of 18 months.
The first one should never even have seen it -- it was a complete genre mismatch.
The second was a straight turn down. I expect these.
The third acquisitions editor said of my book (I quote) "I read the whole thing, and I don't usually do that.I just kept going because I loved it!" Then she turned us down, saying that unless I was a celebrity, or had a sure-fire sales chain already in place, they couldn't publish me.
Immediately afterward, my agent told me he could no longer represent first-time authors, and quit me.
Does anyone have a problem with my towering disgust and general contempt for the publishing industry?

I certainly don't share your reaction there Tom. It is not the industry that is disgusting or contemptible IMO.

For my part I enjoy writing. That's really the end of it for me.

I very much doubt that my product will appeal to an Agent or a Publisher in terms of sales potential so my first notion to go for a Hardback or Paperback release is unlikely. I will continue to invite Agents and Publishers a chance to consider my product for a while though. Whether I then try eBooks, knowing that I have not had the promotion that a Bookshop can give is uncertain but since it does not cost much I might.

My own experience of an agent is limited to one - Sophie Hicks from the Ed Victor Agency. You could not put a price on the work she does - and it is work I am very happy that I no longer have to do. It leaves me free to write and takes all the hassle out of everything else. So,I would not and could not agree with the statement that authors do not need agents - cannot speak for anyone else but this author does, and damn happy to have the one I have. Again, experience with only one publisher, Walker Books and to the question did they add value to the process? Yes, yes and yes again.

I have a problem with any author who paints the entire industry with the same brush due to their own unfortunate experience.

In my experience, the way publishers treat authors varies massively depending on many things, including size of publishing house and the genre you are writing in. I have worked at companies who work tirelessly to promote and sell an author's work, with the author as a central and respected part of that process.

I have also heard of other, usually much larger publishers, where authors are treated not so well.

The myth that authors don't need publishers or agents is becoming a rather tired one. Self-publishing can and does work for many authors, but here we are usually talking about ebooks, where bringing your book to readers is much more straightforward and pricing has a direct correlation on sales.

I work my backside off, day and night, trying to get our author's represented on the bookshelves of Waterstones and WH Smith, as well as in many non-traditional channels like the gift market, department stores, garden centres.

If any author out there thinks they can do all of this off their own backs, then ok, I will admit defeat and jack it all in. And wish you all the very best of luck...

For Jonny Geller to presume what writers do or don't want is a generalization that does nobody any good.

I agree with Chris Roberts. I mean, what does one of the most respected agents, working at one of the best agencies in the business know about any of this stuff?

I find it simply preposterous that his internationally successful list of bestselling clients are foolish enough to pay 15% commission based on his presumption of knowing what is good or bad for them.

Authors also need to take responsibility for their careers. The days of the magic cheque in the mail are over. Time to embrace new media (which they are doing), diversify their careers (no one wears one hat anymore), and stop suffering agents and publishers who drink coffee and hit 'send' on emails in place of actually promoting and selling work.

Here's how I see it - and please note, this is factual, it is not meant to be emotive or judgemental.

Publishers need authors.
Agents need authors.
Authors don't need either of the above. It may be preferable to work with them but they don't actually need them.
So it would be nice if publishers and agents could treat authors with a modicum of respect. Many do, of course, but equally, many publishers and agents treat authors in a way that is downright rude. Particularly if they have had the nerve to successfully publish a book.

Amazon at 60% of the eBook market down from 90% ... apparently ... but they publish no sales data, and it would be in their interest to claim the lower figure at present. But it matters little.

Amazon/eBooks is/are: open to piracy big time, give amusing royalties, boycotting distributers, discounting which is aimed at making them the only publisher in the world, them and their house "authors". This will kill literature.

Booksellers are the only other sales point.

Hardbacks and/or paperbacks in store are the only way to promote books.

Obviously the author will now have to deal directly with ONLY booksellers since Booksellers: are/will have to boycott eBooks, are the only way to promote literature.

There will become two market products.

The death of libraries is an added feature.

My bet? No choice, deal with the Booksellers, any who can weather this storm.

And my agent? Seven novels and still looking.

What do I want in an Agent? Expertise in placement of my product to both our profit and the profit of their recommended sales path services. I do not need my ego stroked.

If Amazon came to me with a deal that had dollars up front would I take it? Of course ... it's first in first served at my place.

Writers create the product. Readers consume the product. Everyone in between needs to add to the process or get the hell out of the way.

I spent 20 years in the trenches of traditional publishing where I was treated as an easily replaceable part. I now can sell more eBooks in one day than a traditional publisher can in 6 months with titles that were NY Times bestsellers. So they're doing something very, very wrong.

My agent got three publishers to look at my book over the course of 18 months.
The first one should never even have seen it -- it was a complete genre mismatch.
The second was a straight turn down. I expect these.
The third acquisitions editor said of my book (I quote) "I read the whole thing, and I don't usually do that.I just kept going because I loved it!" Then she turned us down, saying that unless I was a celebrity, or had a sure-fire sales chain already in place, they couldn't publish me.
Immediately afterward, my agent told me he could no longer represent first-time authors, and quit me.
Does anyone have a problem with my towering disgust and general contempt for the publishing industry?

I certainly don't share your reaction there Tom. It is not the industry that is disgusting or contemptible IMO.

For my part I enjoy writing. That's really the end of it for me.

I very much doubt that my product will appeal to an Agent or a Publisher in terms of sales potential so my first notion to go for a Hardback or Paperback release is unlikely. I will continue to invite Agents and Publishers a chance to consider my product for a while though. Whether I then try eBooks, knowing that I have not had the promotion that a Bookshop can give is uncertain but since it does not cost much I might.

My own experience of an agent is limited to one - Sophie Hicks from the Ed Victor Agency. You could not put a price on the work she does - and it is work I am very happy that I no longer have to do. It leaves me free to write and takes all the hassle out of everything else. So,I would not and could not agree with the statement that authors do not need agents - cannot speak for anyone else but this author does, and damn happy to have the one I have. Again, experience with only one publisher, Walker Books and to the question did they add value to the process? Yes, yes and yes again.

I have a problem with any author who paints the entire industry with the same brush due to their own unfortunate experience.

In my experience, the way publishers treat authors varies massively depending on many things, including size of publishing house and the genre you are writing in. I have worked at companies who work tirelessly to promote and sell an author's work, with the author as a central and respected part of that process.

I have also heard of other, usually much larger publishers, where authors are treated not so well.

The myth that authors don't need publishers or agents is becoming a rather tired one. Self-publishing can and does work for many authors, but here we are usually talking about ebooks, where bringing your book to readers is much more straightforward and pricing has a direct correlation on sales.

I work my backside off, day and night, trying to get our author's represented on the bookshelves of Waterstones and WH Smith, as well as in many non-traditional channels like the gift market, department stores, garden centres.

If any author out there thinks they can do all of this off their own backs, then ok, I will admit defeat and jack it all in. And wish you all the very best of luck...

For Jonny Geller to presume what writers do or don't want is a generalization that does nobody any good.

I agree with Chris Roberts. I mean, what does one of the most respected agents, working at one of the best agencies in the business know about any of this stuff?

I find it simply preposterous that his internationally successful list of bestselling clients are foolish enough to pay 15% commission based on his presumption of knowing what is good or bad for them.