If agents are selling publishers to authors, does that mean publishers should pay agents commission?

In ye olde days it was simple. Publishers were the marketplace, their only competition was themselves and agents were the conduits through which authors reached publishers.

It was the agents’ job to enrich the feed before publishers selected the final elements to refine and use. It was all reassuringly linear and straightforward.

Self publishing changed all of that. Now publishers do have competition. The question of whether to accept a publisher’s offer is now discretionary. Or, to put it another way, all authors already have a publishing deal available to them if they are ready to make the effort to pick it up.

Some authors self publish tremendously successfully. They REALLY do not need publishers – they are already A) finding readers and B) making money. Of course, the majority do not and publishers mention this all the time as if it is some sort of magic prophylactic against the threat of self publishing. You rarely hear them talk about the proportion of published authors who also sink without trace.

All of this is hardly new, people have been saying it for years, but publishers still have not fully woken up to it. It is not just that creating digital-only lists of doubtful merit in many ways adds to the significant sense of hostility towards publishers that exists in the minds of increasing numbers of authors.

It is also that much more fundamentally publishers are still failing to articulate the reasons for their continued existence with anything like the passion or conviction that is needed. I spend an amazing amount of my time telling authors how good publishers are ‘really’. The perception that they are not very good at what they do is horribly widespread.

I am aware of several recent examples of highly successful self-published authors talking to publishers about potential deals who have either been staggered by the derisory sums of money offered them or by the teeth-pulling reluctance publishers can show to actually flesh out their publishing plans.

That mindset that they are still really the only game in town and that all authors, no matter how successfully they self publish, secretly yearn for a publishing nanny so they don’t have to worry their fluffy little heads about anything other than their writing is still massively pervasive.

Well, it just isn’t true. Not only are there plenty of authors who are confident, successful people who love having an active role in the business of their books, but self publishing gets easier and easier. There are more and better services to authors. The added value publishers represent isn’t static, it is being eroded daily.

Publishers need to understand that even if they are the only publisher to offer, they are not, as they once were, blessing that author with their munificence. The reality is that for every single book that they offer for, they are pitching for the opportunity to be able to commercially exploit that work and they need to make that case with total conviction.

The willingness or ability to put their own case with passion and conviction is, for whatever reasons, all too often absent. I for one am getting very tired of putting it for them.