Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Wake Up Call

STATUS: Getting this day off to a good start.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? BLUE MOON by Elvis Presley

While at RWA in Orlando, I sat on a PRO panel for published authors with Steve Axelrod and Karen Solem. One of the questions asked of the panel was what we thought about Andrew Wylie’s announcement of doing eBooks through his own publishing arm called Odyssey and the Mexican stand-off that subsequently ensued with Random House over it.

For the record, I don’t know Mr. Wylie personally and any viewpoint expressed here is simply my opinion.

My answer at the panel was that I thought it was a strategic wake-up call on his part. He was firing a shot across the bow so to speak to send a very clear message that for well-established legacy authors still in print (for books sold long before eBooks were even conceived), he wasn’t going to 1) settle for the industry’s current low watermark royalty of 25% of net for the electronic versions of those legacy titles and 2) That unless explicitly granted in the contract, the rights belonged to the authors to exercise them as they deemed fit.

This, of course, was in direct opposition to Random House’s viewpoint that they had de facto electronic rights for titles still in print with them. (Hence the stand-off with RH proclaiming that they would no longer do business with Wylie agency.)

Well, I personally didn’t think that this tiff would last too long. The Wylie agency has been around for 25+ years and has too many distinguished authors on its list for RH to ignore forever. They were going to have to come to an agreement and sure enough, that was announced late yesterday.

What does it mean?

It means that who controls electronic rights for titles negotiated pre-computer/electronic age is still in question. That publishers, authors, and agents have very different viewpoints regarding it. Disagreements will happen (and some will play out in court). Further discussions and agreements are possible. But in my mind, only when push comes to shove.


7 Responses

  1. Don said:

    I don’t know Wylie other than what I’ve read about him, but he doesn’t really seem like he’s the sort of agent that I would want: His business model seems to be based around poaching successful authors from other agents rather than developing and nurturing new talent. It’s really the opposite of what is necessary to further literature in my opinion.

  2. Kathryn said:

    I’m going to respond to this on a different note… God bless agents everywhere who understand the details of this industry. Try as I might to understand it fully, this issue in particular is overwhelming and something I’d never even considered. I can’t imagine trying to understand this sorts of things on my own, without anyone next to me helping me understand the details. Phew! Thanks for the info, Kristin!

  3. Anonymous said:

    Do you think the issue of digital rights will have any influence on contracts and submissions for both current and future clients? Should unpublished writers pay closer attention to how each publishing house approaches digital rights and e-book pricing rather than advances, popular authors on the roster, etc?

  4. Anonymous said:

    frankly, even if he got them to agree to 40%, that’s still crap IMO.

    Anyone who thinks the publishers spend a lot of money creating Kindle editions (etc) of their books and therefore need to take a huge % is drinking the koolaid. It’s a rip off of authors plain and simple.

    Check out Mike Stackpole’s blog if you want to read about just how much ‘work’ it takes to produce an e-book.

  5. ryan field said:

    I’ve seen a few backlisted books I’m in being released in digital format that were published long before anyone thought about digital books. They were small books and I’ll live.

    But I’m glad someone is addressing the topic.

Denver Skyline Photo © Nathan Forget [Creative Commons] | Site built by Todd Jackson