This month I’m trying to tackle any question a writer has always wanted to ask a literary agent. This came in the other day: “I’d love to hear you talk about how you feel the role of the agent will change as more authors move toward hybrid and indie publishing. I know you encourage authors to go the indie route if traditional slots aren’t open to them, but are publishers just as open to the idea of their authors doings some indie publishing?”
As an agent, my job is to help the careers of the authors I represent. That means to some I’m going to be an editor, to others a career coach, to others a marketing consultant. The core of my job probably happens in handling rights and setting up deals — presenting projects to publishers, negotiating deals, trying to land projects overseas and in other languages, selling dramatic and other rights.
But the role of the agent has changed considerably over the past ten years — from being the conduit between authors and publishers to being the person who should help an author map out a career. To me, that’s the biggest shift in my job. So while the role has always meant “finding and encouraging talent,” a large part of the agent’s job today is making sure the authors I represent know about ALL of their opportunities, not just working with legacy publishers. A good agent should help you do that, and should not be afraid of indie publishing.
So I’d say I don’t simply encourage authors to go indie “if traditional slots aren’t open to them.” The fact is, I think most of the authors I represent need to explore having at least some of their projects be independently published. That’s how they’ll best build a career and make money in today’s publishing economy. It will help them build a readership and generate income. Look, advances are down and filling a slot at a publishing house is harder than ever, so indie publishing should be an option for most writers who want to make a living at publishing. It won’t be a fit for everyone — running a successful indie publishing operation means the author is basically setting up a business, and some authors don’t WANT to set up a business. Some aren’t really in it for the money. Others just don’t feel that being a “publishing, marketing, and selling specialist” is what they want to do. But for many writers, indie publishing is an important (maybe even an essential) part of their career plan.
At the end of your question, you asked if publishers are just as open to the concept of authors doing some indie projects and some traditionally published projects. In a word, no — most legacy publishers aren’t very friendly to the idea. Some smaller houses are fine with it, many publishing houses tolerate it, and most of the larger houses hate it. (I’ve even had some publishers tell me they can’t work with authors who are also indie publishing. They think indie authors are too hard to deal with, and they’re afraid the author’s traditionally-published book won’t get enough attention.) I love most of the publishing houses I deal with, but I think they’re short-sighted about this issue. Working with an author who is out promoting and selling his or her own books is exactly what they should want.
Recognizing that we now have two publishing worlds (a traditional world and an indie world), realizing that just makes the publishing economy bigger, and being willing to embrace some of those changes is going to have to happen. And, being the eternal optimist, I think it will happen. I think there are some significant changes coming due to the influence of indie publishing, and many of those are good changes (higher royalty rates, more frequent payments, an acceptance of publishing-on-demand strategies, etc). As an agent, and as a guy who has spent his entire adult life in the book industry, I continue to believe in the future of publishing.
Does that help? I’ll have more to say about agents in the coming days. So… what’s your question? What have you always wanted to ask a literary agent?