At this point, the discussion turned to agencies that offer e-book services to their clients. Three industry guests said their agencies did this in some form. Most seemed to charge the author a 15 percent cut of net— in addition to the cost of covers, etc.—although agencies may vary in this. It was also mentioned that some agents still charge 50 percent of net as many did in the early days of independent electronic publishing.
When asked about successfully self-published authors who are only interested in using an agent for foreign and subsidiary rights, most industry guests said they might enter into such an arrangement for a select few, but only if the author has the numbers to support it. A NINC author then pointed out that many of the audience members were authors who they (the industry guests) would not have chosen, but who are making a living self-publishing.
One guest said that was the good thing about the e-book market. Another said, “Yeah, there are authors who have replaced their income and make a living with self-publishing. Yes, you don’t have to sell as many units. For fiction writers, it is not a title-by-title business. Replacing income is fine, but how do you grow from there? You cannot buy front-of-the-store placement. [Booksellers] don’t sell it to you. How do you get more readers? That is why so many of those million-selling authors are looking for print publishers. Because they need to reach those readers.”
Another guest expanded on this, saying, “When an e-book is ready for an agent service to rep them, certain things have to be happening. Mid-list author making 50 to 60K a year, I say ‘God Bless. Traditional publishing is not set up to help you.’ When I started, publishers bought books because they loved them. It’s a different world today. Not a question of when an agent is needed, but when are you ready for an agent? We have to deal with buyers who run numbers.”
A NINC author again brought up subsidiary rights, asking if the agents on the panel were interested in pursuing those for indie authors. Again, the answer seemed to be “no.” One guest said even if 75,000 copies of a 99-cent e-book sold, he couldn’t afford to take on the author just to sell foreign rights.
The talk became a bit more general at this point, with discussion of agents editing and one industry guest saying that no author will push him or herself as hard to get the story right as an agent will. She saw her job as making sure the book “rocks.”
A few final points made by industry guests were that “you get what you pay for” and that “being a 99-cent author is a factor,” the latter meaning that being an author of 99-cent books is a harder sell into print even if you have big numbers.
This panel highlighted some obvious differences between agents’ and authors’ thinking right now. In my opinion, authors are feeling empowered, but may be unrealistic about what our personal success and money in our pockets from indie publishing could mean to industry guests. While we can make more money for ourselves, that doesn’t change other factors that agents have to address and what seems like big success to us may not be enough to lure an agent into partnering with us.
On the other hand, based on the conversations at this roundtable, I think many agents are counting much too heavily on an author’s need to be in all formats and, while authors clearly want to publish in many formats, money, empowerment, and other factors are more important to them than the agents seemed to appreciate.
Based on the very heated and often adversarial conversation at this roundtable, it could be a while before this divide begins to narrow. Working with booksellers to gain the same promotional opportunities and advantages currently open only to publishers and agencies that e-publish is one way to narrow the gap. Developing greater means for authors to sell subsidiary rights on their own is another.
Lori Devoti has written for major publishers and not-so-major publishers. Now with the new options open to authors, she has gone indie, teaches writing, runs The How to Write Shop, and does e-book formatting for other authors on the side. Find out more about her at www.loridevoti.com or www.howtowriteshop.com.
NINC Statement of Principle: Novelists, Inc., in acknowledgment of the crucial creative contributions novelists make to society, asserts the right of novelists to be treated with dignity and in good faith; to be recognized as the sole owners of their literary creations; to be fairly compensated for their creations when other entities are profiting from those creations; and to be accorded the respect and support of the society they serve.