1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Agents Do You Really Need an Agent?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Nov 19, 2013.

    Best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith doesn't think you do. Here's a link:

    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=10103

    (In the comments, you'll find an interesting post concurring from author Laura Resnick, who has also had a fair amount of success writing).
     
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  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting post, @Steerpike, and thought provoking. The only thing that made me say, "wait a second" was when he had "indie publishing" as one of the two ways to get traditionally published without an agent. My understanding as that a traditional publisher won't take on a book that's already been self-published because the first-publishing rights are already gone.

    That said, I can believe the rules are changing because the rules have been changing for decades. One thing Smith didn't mention was that in the process of publishing houses being devoured by corporate conglomerates, the notion of an intrepid editor standing by a young but promising writer and enduring a couple of duds in the expectation that jewels would emerge has gone by the wayside. Some bemoan this, and it is sad, but it is also very good for people like me, who are attempting to come to the publishing world much later in life than was once considered the norm. With a more mature view of the world and, perhaps, writing styles finely honed in the late evenings as a balm to bitter career disappointments (or just as a wonderfully refreshing change of pace), we should have a decent chance of success that wasn't available back in the days of the rookie phenoms.

    And, yes, I found Laura Resnick's comments very illuminating, indeed. Thanks for posting.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm glad you enjoyed the link @EdFromNY. There have been authors in the past few years who have found self-publishing success and had those same books picked up by traditional publishers, even though they were already published. It's not the rule, yet, but it happens. I actually had an agent ask to see my self-published children's book, and when I asked whether the fact that it had been published would be a problem, she said "not really." But I think that's still an exceptional viewpoint, and not yet the rule.

    Things are changing, though, as you note. I read a article by another author (I can't remember who) who predicts that eventually going from self-published to traditionally-published will be the norm. His reasoning was that publishing houses are going to increasingly stick with authors who become brands (King, Patterson, etc.) and are going to have less time or interest in what would have been mid-list authors. Self-publishing would be kind of like a minor league, where traditional publishers pluck out those who are most successful and have established a strong readership. But it wouldn't be exactly like a minor league, because the successful self-published author can stay self-published and still be successful. You don't have to make the jump to traditional.

    BTW: Laura Resnick is daughter of SF writer Mike Resnick, who knows a lot about publishing, and who you may have heard of if you're into SF/F.
     
  4. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    Shorts, yes. Most short story outlets want first publication rights.

    Non-fiction, maybe. A lot of non-fiction books have small markets that a self-published edition may have saturated.

    Novels, not so much. If it's popular, they want it, even if only for the print rights. If it's not popular, if they want the book it doesn't really matter, because hardly anyone has read the self-published edition. Of course they're only likely to want it if it has sold quite a few copies.

    The authors of the more popular self-published books increasingly seem to be holding out for print-only deals, where they continue to sell the e-books themselves and the publisher only sells physical books. Hugh Howey, for example, did that, and I'm sure I've read of two or three others in the last year or so.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I guess the only thing that concerns me about that prospect is that "those who are most successful" are probably that way at least as much for their promotional skills as for the quality of their writing. Another indication that all roads lead to marketing.
     
  6. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Now, I'm leaning towards self publishing.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I like this quote:

    "And keep this in mind very, very clearly if you are rewriting for an agent. If the agent could write, they would be, instead of taking 15% of what a writer makes for writing. Yet beginning writers and young professionals who don’t understand how the business really works fall into this ugly rewriting trap all the time. This has gotten so bad, I try to not even listen when some poor sucker of a writer is telling me happily that they “got” an agent and are rewriting their book. Just turns my stomach."
     
  8. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    "There have been" means nothing unless you give it as a percentage of the self-released total. Literally millions have self published. A handful have achieved success. The thing that everyone forgets is that it's not a lottery. And as we come out of school we're all writing pretty much equally well. So unless we take more meaningful steps than sitting down to write, reading the same novels everyone else reads, or talking to others who have done no more then have, we pretty much guarantee that we won't be among that handful.

    In the article, buried in the middle, he says, "Also, writers became more of an unknown to publishers, a vast sea of people with a computer and a stamp who thought they could write and should be rich even though they had never spent any time practicing their craft or even learning how to spell." The point most writers miss is that you cannot practice what you don't know exists. Practicing your craft does not mean spend time writing in the style we learned in English class. There we learned only a general skill (and a nonfiction skill at that), not professional technique. So we pretty much all come to writing knowing no meaningful craft. Truly, all people are created equal, when it comes to writing fiction for the printed word. And the compositional skills of the pro aren't going to magically come to us, any more than does engineering craft, the craft of the physician, the plumber, or any other profession. There are things in any profession that must be learned, and which won't occur to us until it's pointed out by a professional, be that in a class, a retreat, a symposium of some kind, a personal mentor, or a book on craft.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG - I was actually hoping that you, as a published writer, would have a viewpoint about agents. The article states that writers don't need agents to be published traditionally. Yet the only suggestion he makes (leaving aside the self-pub option) is for writers to approach editors at writers' conferences and the like. Do you see that as viable? Just curious for your take on this.
     
  10. Joe309
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    Joe309 Member

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    I have no real experience in this at all. I had to put that up front. However, I did read about this. I have more than one book on the topic on my shelf. I did learn that contacting a publisher directly doesn't work. The books say publishers will ignore you, that if you manage to get an editor interested in your book, then your creation will wind up on the floor on a pile of a couple of hundred other books the editor also "likes". The books say that the only way to get around that is to get an agent interested in your book. If the agent likes your book, he/she will contact editor friends and arrange a meeting: "Hello, Tom, can we meet for lunch? I have a book that you just have to read!" (Then, your book doesn't go on the pile.)

    On the other hand, a famous author, I cannot remember her name, wasn't aware of such rules, so she innocently telephoned an editor. He asked her a few questions about her book, and they arranged a meeting. She got her book published. (I wish I could remember her name -- Meyer?, Rowling?)

    I wanted to add one thing. If you analyze, truly analyze, best sellers, you will not be impressed with the writing at all. So what is it that makes a book sell? The answer is easy and at same time difficult. The answer is the story. Look at J.K. Rowling's books. She tells one heck of a tale. If you read Stephanie Meyer, you will gag at her writing, yet she writes some of the most imaginative stories. I have concluded that in today's market, it is all about the story, the story, the story.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
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  11. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    With rare exceptions, it always has been. Few readers care about perfect English, because most are reading the story, not the words.
     
  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been skeptical of DWS on several occasions. Anytime someone uses "indie publishers", my immediate reaction is to wonder if a) they're actually talking about indie publishers or b) they're actually talking about self-publishers. If the former, it means they know publishing. If the latter, they've probably got an agenda (which will include more misdirection).

    As to agents, most trade publishers won't deal with authors without one. And I certainly think most authors don't have the knowledge to do what an agent does - particularly when it comes to knowing what publishers are the right ones to approach and when it comes to negotiating a fair deal. For 15 cents on the dollar, I think they definitely earn their money.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There's a four minute pitch to the publisher event at the PNWA Writer's Conference here every year.

    These are scheduled spots, they fill up fast. The head of our writer's critique group got an invitation to send the rest of his manuscript to Penguin, but they didn't accept it. Bottom line though, it's a door that agents are not the keepers of.

    I will be pitching at the conference in 2014, I wasn't ready this year.

    But if I get no offers between pitching and submissions, it will be Kindle publishing and that's fine with me. If people read my book and tell other people they liked it, it will be read. Since by then I'll be writing the second book in the duology, that's the one I hope established publishers will want because the first book had a following.

    I'm going to believe that until my book is out there. Then I'll have the results to judge by. :)
     
  14. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's the story, then there is how it's told. I seems common for some writers to scoff at the writing of Meyer and Rowling. While I haven't gotten around to reading their books, I bet they wouldn't have gotten published if they were bad at telling good stories.

    I just don't think it's fair to take that credit away from them.
     
  15. Joe309
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    Joe309 Member

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    I was once a scoffer but now am found. Was blind but now I see.
     
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  16. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry if it sounded like I was accusing you. I was speaking more in general, of other writers. I certainly did not intend to point any fingers:).
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    @GingerCoffee - Thanks, that's good to know, and while four minutes doesn't seem like a generous allotment of time, I've had to pitch critical issues to school boards, community boards and legislative committees with less. And you can certainly cover more ground than a one-page query letter. The downside, I suppose, is that one has to be a good speaker as well as a good writer. Well, that and the fact that maybe it isn't practicable for a novice writer to travel to a writer' conference where (s)he will have the opportunity for a 4-minute pitch.

    However, my question to @JayG wasn't whether it was possible, but whether he, as a published writer, saw reliance on such methods as viable for the average new writer.

    @shadowwalker - and that's exactly my concern. If I were inclined to self-publishing (which is what he clearly meant by "indie publishers"), I wouldn't need a diatribe against agents to convince me. Moreover, his repeated references to "agents taking writers' money"" struck me as slapping a pretty wide paintbrush around. Legit agents do not charge upfront fees. So, any writer who has doe his/her homework should know that the moment an agent suggests a charge for anything (other than the standard 15%), it's Game Over.
     
  18. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    He made it sound like it was impossible to keep track if your royalties owed. And, so every agent embezzled money from their clients. Is it that difficult?
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In any agency (speaking generally, not just in a literary sense) relationship, there is a potential for exploitation if the client doesn't exercise due diligence. Given the fact that literary agents are not regulated, there isn't the kind of required reporting that, say, your stock broker must provide. I'll defer to @Steerpike on this, but I would think that royalty figures would be easy to track with the publisher. The writer signs a contract with the publisher and a contract with the agent, and I would think that reporting terms could/would be spelled out in each.
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing to remember about royalties is that those don't get paid until after the advance has earned out - which doesn't happen very often for most midlist authors. (Another reason why the difference in royalty percentages really doesn't matter as much as some SP advocates make it seem.) So getting royalties is not frequent and getting those royalties 'stolen' is even more rare - ie, something to watch but nothing to fret about.
     
  21. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Good point.
     
  22. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    I've seen a number of trade-published writers online saying something along the lines of 'every few months my publisher sends me a page of gibberish they claim is a royalty report. What the hell does this list of random numbers mean?'
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ed...
    before self-publishing became so common, the term 'indie publishers' only referred to the smaller traditional houses, as opposed to the 'big guys' [conglomerates with a slew of imprints]... so the term as used in the article most likely refers to those, not to self-publishing venues... which would make sense of them being a way to be published without an agent, since many [if not most] of them accept unagented submissions...
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    A good contract is going to have an accounting provision, and if the author exercises her rights she should be able to get to the bottom of things. I have heard the complaints about royalty reports before, and also that foreign royalties are a bit of a black box, but someone who knows what they are doing should at least be able to make sense of the reports and know how to check those against what the publisher is paying out.
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    That's what I originally thought, but as you read the article, it becomes pretty clear that by "indie publishing" (as opposed to "publishers") he's referring to self-publishing.
     

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