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Ninc 2012 Conference


Role of the Agent in a Changing Marketplace


Continued from page 1      ideally agents are partners working with authors to serve them better, and that e-books were a revolution. “This year alone we have seen dozens of authors sell millions of books on their own with no support. Now you don’t necessarily need an agent and you definitely don’t need an agent who isn’t good. You need to be aware of what you are bringing to the table. And be aware of services that agent can offer. Be pushy and ask questions.”

This third industry guest frequently seemed to be alone in his opinions; while the other industry guests stressed the importance of authors having access to all “streams,” meaning print, audio, foreign rights, etc., they did so with the clear implication that those streams are only available to an author with an agent’s help.

This guest believed in the importance of this access, but seemed to see and understand the issues through the eyes of the authors more so than most of the other guests.

At this point, the guest who first disagreed with the term “revolution” posed a question to the authors on the panel, asking if their goal was to reach as many people as possible or to make a living.

Across the board, the authors seemed to see the money as pretty important and the gross number of readers reached as less important than other factors. One NINC author responded that she saw indie publishing as a revolution because it had made such a dramatic difference in the incomes of many authors. She added that self-publishing gave her a sense of empowerment that authors had never had before. She said that in itself was revolutionary and, along with the money, represented a big paradigm shift.

Another NINC author said she liked knowing the mistakes being made being were errors she had made, rather than the errors of people she didn’t know. This author noted that she has made more money selling 7,000 copies as an indie author than she did on traditional sales of 60,000, and that she prefers writing to a niche market of people who want the kind of book she enjoys writing.

A third NINC author said that she wanted to make a living wage from her writing but, prior to indie publishing, her books only paid for vacations and conferences. A fourth said she felt in over her head when it came to traditional contracts, but the profit from self-publishing books that don’t have a place in the traditional market enabled her to buy a truck.

At this point, things turned a bit ugly with one industry guest saying “Good for you” in a not truly supportive manner. This guest went on to say that over a million books are available on Amazon, but the average title sells only a few hundred copies. He said some self-published authors should stay self-published because they sell so few copies.

While the audience digested this obvious slight to many of the authors in the room, another industry guest attempted to make the point that authors need agents by asking if the authors had thought about liability— a point later noted by another industry guest as being a less important than implied. Another guest pointed out that his company has agreements with Amazon that allow their authors to publish in certain ways. The clear message from the industry representatives was that agents were necessary because, without them, authors don’t have access to certain perks from Amazon and others.

By now the conversation had an unmistakably adversarial edge to it, leading one industry guest to say, “These are the hottest discussions we’ve had in 30 years.” People laughed, but there was a sense of shock in the audience at just how heated the discussion had become and, frankly, at the arrogance of some of the industry guests toward indie-published authors.

The theme continued with an industry guest saying, “We can’t represent every self-published author who wants to be represented. Great thing about self-publishing is it allows every author who wants to be published to be published.” While on paper this doesn’t read too egregious, the speaker’s tone was definitely dismissive of the majority of authors who are not going to be in the upper percents of sellers. The tone was also defensive, as if this industry guest expected to be flooded with queries from NINC members with less than worthy numbers. One author later told me that she felt like she had stepped back in time.

Another industry guest, however, said that there are authors who don’t need everything an agent has to offer and that there are bad assumptions being made by both authors and agents. These changing times make the agent’s job more exciting, but maybe not as easy.    

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