The Society of Authors has said it is “very uncomfortable” about agents offering information to prospective authors on publishers who will publish their work in exchange for money.
Nicola Solomon, chief executive of The Society of Authors, advised writers to find out “exactly what interest” an agent has in any company he or she recommends.
The advice came after a letter sent by Guy Rose of agency Futerman, Rose and Associates, in which he gave an author information about two routes to publication – the first via an organisation which for £950 offered Kindle publication, and the second via a publisher who would charge £4,500 to publish, refundable after sale of 2,000 copies. The advice offered in the letter, which was published online by the recipient, does not breach the Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA) code of practice, even though some online commentators interpreted it as an endorsement of vanity publishing.
Rose said he had checked the publishers he recommended “most carefully”, and that authors who had acted on his recommendations, made over the last two years, had been made “fully aware in writing of my dealings with the publishers involved”. None of them “has or will be charged commission by this agency”, he added.
AAA president Sam Edenborough said authors should be “crystal clear about the terms of any arrangements with a literary agency” and that “as a general principle agents should be only recommending services and companies that are effective at what they do”. However he continued: “I think the vanity word has been re-examined in these days of self-publishing. I think the old-fashioned black and white idea that if the author has to pay to get their book out there then there is something shameful about that has been kicked into touch. We are left with a spectrum which allows for multiple different routes to market."
But Solomon said she was concerned because “many people who approach agents are vulnerable, unrepresented and in need of advice”. She said: “They may well have written a manuscript and be keen to publish. They may be new to the publishing world and think that such arrangements are fair or standard. They may have heard that it is difficult to find an agent and be flattered and excited by the interest shown and therefore sign whatever is offered to them.
“They know that it is the role of the agent to offer impartial advice but in my view there is a real risk that the advice given in such letters is neither impartial nor in the best interests of the author.”
Solomon advised authors to “ask whether the agent obtains any financial benefit from the arrangement with that company” and to work out exactly what aspects of self-publishing they need help with, and obtain quotes for those from a number of companies.
While she said that the letter from Futerman Rose did not show the agent offering to act as publisher or work as agent, "in any case where they do I would strongly advise that there is no place for an agent in the self-publishing process”.
Edenborough said the final choice of whom they published with was up to authors, and it was “very much up to agencies to offer attractive services, on clearly-stated terms, in order to be competitive”.