Monday, August 1, 2011

Agents as Publishers: The Other Side of the Equation

Currently reading - Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris (HC)

The announcement by BookEnds, LLC, of their new publishing arm, Beyond the Page Publishing, last week sent polarizing ripples through the blogosphere. Rather than jump in the fray, I sat back and thought about the ramifications of theirs, and other agents', decision to publish.

And yes, agents, you can call it a "self-publishing initiatve" or a "ostrich" for all I care.  It's still publishing.

I've met Jessica Faust and Kim Lionetti, albeit very briefly several years ago at an RWA conference. I personally know two members of my RWA chapter who are their clients. I've even submitted to them both over the years. In my personal opinion, they are both bright, capable, professional people.

Unfortunately, the handling of the announcement was not one of their stellar moments. In a move reminiscent of Torstar's announcement of Harlequin Horizons (the infamous vanity publishing arm of Harlequin) two years ago, Jessica stopped commenting when some pointed questions and requests for clarification were asked. I'm not talking about the Anonymous Trolls. I'm talking about people identifying themselves publicly and asking about some obvious, and rather disturbing, discrepancies between Jessica's statements and the info on the Beyond the Page website.

It didn't help their cause when they posted a client's guest blog on how wonderful Beyond the Book Publishing was.

But it's not just the BookEnds ladies. Many agent are showing their desperation by publishing.  There's three major problems I'm seeing:

1) Many of the agents know even less about indie publishing than a lot of us noobs. Right now, I'm helping a traditional published author clean up what was done to her backlist files.  I mean I've spent the ENTIRE freakin' month of July doing this!  And I still have two books of hers to do.

Do you really want to give your books to someone who doesn't have the know-how to format your manuscripts, much less not having the knowledge enough to hire someone who does?

2) Agent contracts - ARGH! Folks with backlists who have managed to get rights back still have to deal with these stupid contracts that give the agent fifteen percent FOREVER from a book because they represented that book when it originally sold.

In this case, I totally understand making the agent publish the damn thing, but you'd better make damn well sure that they are not taking any costs (cover, formatting, etc.) off the top.

3) Things won't change until an agency is sued. And I don't think many agents realize how close they are to treading a dangerous legal line. Or they are deliberately ignoring it.  Or they're threatening their clients if anyone speaks out about it (yes, I'm talking about you, Knight Agency). All it's going to take is one disgruntled client with very deep pockets to totally destroy your agency. Passive Voice has several informative posts on the subject of agency law. His analysis is dead on, and I strongly suggest you read them.

And yes, agents, someone suing your ass will happen eventually.

I know most of my readers are the converted, but if any of you are even THINKING about using one of these literary agencies as a publisher, please, PLEASE, think twice.

And agents, if you want to be a publisher, then BE a publisher.  There's nothing wrong with publishing or being a publisher, and you'll get more respect and lot less grief down the road.


  1. Did you see the one with TKA??? Wow!

  2. Yeah, Tess, I saw it. I don't know what Deidre Knight was thinking, but she really needs to take a step back and realize SHE nuked her reputation, not Sarah, by pulling that stunt.

  3. That's all I can say too, wow!

  4. At least 'wow' isn't one of George Carlin's seven words, right, Melissa?

  5. No, 'wow' isn't one of Carlin's Seven Words, but I must confess # 1 and # 3 are bouncing around my head over this. This can be a *huge* mess down the road for both author and agent. 'Threatening their clients'? Are you kidding? In this day and age?

  6. Paraphrasing what Passive Guy said you don't threaten writers that blog and you don't threaten writers with friends that blog.

    Even worse was when Sarah's now-former agent, Lucienne Diver made a very snarky comment on Sarah's post. As another commenter said, that's when TKA shot themselves in the other foot.