There’s been a fair amount of discussion in writing circles about agents taking on the role of publisher, stepping in to help clients self-publish their work. When I published Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu], I did the majority of the work on my own, but my agent posted it for sale at Kobo and iBooks (taking their usual 15% commission on sales through those outlets).
Joshua and Eddie at JABberwocky have a post about the issue here, wherein Eddie says, “I think the decision to help an author self-publish a book, after failing to place it with a real publisher, is rooted in hubris.”
Keep in mind that JABberwocky has e-published several books already. The difference being that JABberwocky is publishing out-of-print backlist titles as opposed to releasing original work. Is that a significant difference? I think so. Does it eliminate any ethical conflicts or problems? That’s a better question.
Joshua asks about the agent’s role in the ever-evolving world of publishing. Personally, I want my agent to do several things for me:
- Negotiate with publishers on my behalf for the best possible deal.
- Work on those lovely foreign sales of my work.
- Help me build a long-term and successful career.
That first point is huge, especially when agents go into self-publishing. If an agent e-publishes a client’s original work, is that really the best possible deal? Personally, if I have a book that doesn’t sell, I’d be tempted to wait a few years and come back to it. For the most part, I’m skeptical that self-publishing an original book through your agent is the best possible deal for the author.
Some of the questions I’m asking as I try to sort out the ethics and potential conflicts of interest for myself…
- Is the agent charging an up-front fee for self-publishing, or are they working on commission?
- Is this service limited to clients, or are they offering to self-publish the work of non-clients as well? (The latter suggests they’re moving much more into being a publisher, and I want my agent’s primary focus to be representing clients.)
- Does the agent threaten former clients with legal action for describing the agency’s “assisted self-publishing initiative” as digital publishing? (Read this one and draw your own conclusions.)
- Is the agent pressuring clients to use their self-publishing service? (This would push me toward “Run away” mode.)
People have asked, “Why give your agent a cut for something you could do yourself?” But that holds true for agents in general. If you’re savvy enough, you can represent yourself, negotiate your own deals, sell your own work overseas … all it takes is time and expertise.
Some of us don’t have the time. Others lack the expertise. While I enjoyed putting together Goblin Tales and Kitemaster, I want to spend most of my time writing, not publishing. That means hiring someone else to do the work.
There are services out there that will do it for you. Is it better to keep those services entirely separate from agents? Maybe … here are a few things to consider in any case.
- If the agency is acting as publisher, is there a contract? Who’s negotiating that contract and checking to make sure your interests are protected?
- What happens if you and your agent part ways?
- Has the agent demonstrated that they can do this job well? (Being an author doesn’t mean you can typeset or do cover layout or the rest. Neither does being an agent.)
I think it’s an important conversation, and as always, I’d love to hear thoughts and discussion from other folks.