-posted by Ken
The latest Publisher's Weekly article about literary agents and agencies assisting authors to e-publish and self-publish their books covers little new ground, but it does highlight some interesting points about the trend.
First, it underscores the moves by agents to adapt to the changing publishing landscape, and this, whether out of a sense of self-preservation or a real concern for authors, is generally a good thing. Self-publishing is here to stay and it's not content to simply sit aside and play the ugly step-sister to traditional publishing or the gussied-up whore of vanity publishing. SP is a viable alternative for authors to find readers for their works. It's not an alternative to any other publishing method, but another tool to be added to the writer's palette. Many veteran authors are now doing both, and this requres the assistance of agents who can help authors navigate the often murky and turbulent waters of this new paradigm.
Second, the article demonstrates that agents are, in many cases, just as green to self-publishing as the writers they represent. This should be a warning shot across the bow of authorship: do not simply assume your agent knows more than you. Yes, they have the benefit of contacts within the publishing world and can, hopefully, quickly mobilize ground troops to help you in your battle for readers. But their weapons are often as crude as ours. Make sure they're earning their 15% commission and not simply pocketing money leading charges you could perform yourself.
Third, agents and agencies are trying desperately to understand how they can offer publishing services and assistance without violating their canon of ethics. This continues to be a tricky area, and you'll often see agents parsing their offerings in ways that indicate either self-delusion or self-preservation. No one wants to be caught on the wrong side of an ethics argument, and agents are drawing their lines early. As authors, we need to be congnizant of that line and where it may end up in the shifting battle for your works.
Finally, and on the subject of word-parsing and intentions and the blurring of the line between agency-assisted publishing and agency-mediated publishing come companies like Scott Waxman's publishing arm, Diversion, which charge up to 50% of your book's revenues to publish your ebook (and, occasionally, print book, though the royalties on those are likely much less to the author). This charge is for cover design, editing, formatting, publishing, and marketing and distribution, most of which are one-time tasks. Why we're not moving more quickly to a fee-based publishing model for such service is beyond me, but the trad publishing model has been built over a century and is too deeply rooted in old conventions.
Where the royalty model does work is with continuing services, such as promotion. Is 50% reasonable? I suppose if a publisher's efforts yield twice the sales or more, then, yes. But when we go back to asking how do we account for the charge, when a company, which has the rather ironic name of "Diversion" claims it's because of metadata management, then you know they're almost as cluless as the authors foolish enough to believe it. Metadata management is what helps readers find your book; it's the yang to SEO's "search engine optimization" yin. Does it really take that much time to create and manage effective metadata and embed it in a book? Not if you know how. Is it worth the 50% of your book's revenues? Hardly. And when your agent-publisher uses that as the reason to claim half of your book's sales, then it either means they're blowing smoke or they're clueless. Either way, it doesn't speak well of the agent as represntative to the author.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Are authors being hoodwinked or are agents simply doing their best to stay afloat on turbulent seas?