Pub Rants

21st Century Evolution Of The Agent’s Role

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STATUS: As it’s almost 8 pm here and I’m still at the office, you can guess my status. I’m getting ready for Book Expo so there hasn’t been a lot of extra time for blogging.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE by Barbara Streisand

I can’t say I have all the answers to this one but I can very clearly tell you what it WON’T be. I’m not on twitter but I’m still in the loop on a lot of things and there has been a lot of discussion around this blog posting.

So I’m just going to state my stance in very clear terms.

1. Agents roles will indeed transform but I’m willing to go on the record and say that we will never need to charge a reading fee or for editorial services in order to be an agent in this new publishing world.

2. I believe, and I’ll be talking about this in more detail in later blogs, that agents and agencies opening publishing divisions as part of their agency is a conflict of interest. Plain and simple. One can’t be an agent and a publisher at the same time.

3. I do believe that agents have a role in the ePublishing realm and I have definite opinions on what that role should be and I promise I will share it but not right at this moment.

Soon though.

27 Responses

  1. Lucy said:

    Thanks for posting, Kristin–I was wondering what your take on this would be. My own feeling is that conflicts of interest would outweigh any benefits, but at the same time, I can understand the desire to bring the backlist into print.

    When you address the topic again, I’d be interested to know what you might suggest for authors who don’t want their out-of-print/rights reverted books to sink into unavailable oblivion–since this issue, on the surface, is what’s driving the venture. Obviously, it won’t stay that way.

  2. Delia said:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. In particular, I’m glad to hear your take on the agent/publisher role. I just don’t see how an agent can be a fiduciary for the author and his/herself at the same time.

  3. ImpsInMyPen said:

    Yay, Kristin’s back! And as usual, right on the money, at least in my opinion.

    The world is all about change. It’s our attitudes and what we do with that change that carves our niche in the “new” world, either for the positive or negative. I for one, am thankful there are people like Kristin who are our advocates.

    Have a wonderful time at Book Expo!

  4. Eric Riback said:

    There is more than just conflict of interest – just because you’re a good agent doesn’t mean you will be a good publisher. And the idea that all publishing is now is figuring out how to make a Kindle book will soon lose credulity as more authors try to make it big themselves and fail.

    People can sell their own houses, but there’s a reason most of us pay a Realtor good money to handle it for us.

  5. Kimberly said:

    There are a lot of uneducated opinions swirling around right now, and I have to admit that mine is probably one of them so I’ll keep it to myself. Reading even your general stance on the issue had me nodding my head though. That sounds right. More than that, it feels right.

    Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on this. I’m a new blog follower but I’m already impressed by your straight-forwardness.


  6. Ashelyn Nicole said:

    I sincerely hope that the publishing world will never expect agents to charge a reading fee. And I hope that economy will never become so terrible that agents are forced to, to sustain themselves.

    I’m interested to hear your views on eBook publishing, because I work at a library, and we are currently trying to incorporate eBooks into our systems through OverDrive, and we are much affected by the route the publishing industry (and agents) will take on this stance.

  7. Therese said:

    #2 – conflict of interest.

    Yes, I’ve been saying that since I first heard about the “new diversity” of an agent who so LOVES your book, that if they can’t sell it, will publish it through their new “Model”.

    Thank you for stating this. Our chapter prez was planning to bring one of these agents in as a speaker and I asked her to research a bit more…

  8. Jacinta said:

    I just read the other blog post and didnt see where it said agent as publisher, i read it as the agent as the person who tells a writer what to write, edits, and then sells onto a publisher. Perhaps i just miss read it, its happened before 😛 But i agree on the point about charging for reading a MS, thats jsut wrong especially since authors can send a MS out to maybe 20 agents before getting a hit, it would be too costly and discourage alot of great talent from even trying to land an agent.

  9. Caron said:

    Dear Kristin,

    It’s very interesting what you said about the conflict of interest of an agent opening a publishing division.

    What would be your opinion on, let’s say, E-Reads, the publishing brand of Richard Curtis?


  10. Astrid said:

    It’s scary and exciting what’s happening in the world of e-books, for both the agent and the author. The thing I’m most interested in hearing your opinion on in the respect, is the one thing you decided to keep for another post! I will come back for that.

    I do agree that agents have a role in the world of ePublishing, and look forward to your future thoughts.

  11. MCPlanck said:

    It’s a relief to know that those who held us to those tight standards over the years will cease to have a voice in the new role agents can play in publishing. They are simply not relevant anymore in the new order of things.


    The relaxation of standards is supposed to be a good thing?

    Imagine this sentence in any other context. Don’t you find it chilling?

  12. Carradee said:

    Thanks. From what you’ve said before on the blog, that’s what I’d thought your position would be, but it’s nice to see it stated clearly.

    I hope you have fun at Book Expo!

  13. Natalie Aguirre said:

    Thanks Kristin. You have sound advice as always. I know if changes come to publishing and agents that you’ll be one of the ones who make the right changes. Looking forward to your future posts on this.

  14. TL Jeffcoat said:

    I agree with the conflict of interest. That always raised my eyebrows when I see that in an agents future. At one time I liked the idea, but not so much the more I delve into the world of writers, publishers and agents.

    I’m totally interested in what your opinion is for agents and e-publishing.

  15. Elizabeth Ann West said:

    @ McPlanck

    It’s a relief to know that those who held us to those tight standards over the years will cease to have a voice in the new role agents can play in publishing. They are simply not relevant anymore in the new order of things.

    I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. I think what the original blogger was trying to communicate is that the arbitrary rules that publishing houses set stifled innovation. When a company is in the position to say “We won’t print that.” And others follow to make it an “industry standard” invariably good changes and challenges to the status quo are prevented with the bad.

    One of the best examples I can think of are the rapid changes in the romance world. Lengths, formats, and plot lines were largely regulated by one publisher with many, many imprints. We won’t publish in these blacklisted time periods, so if you’re writing a historical romance, right now Regency, Tudor, and the Old West are hot…. We won’t publish same-sex couplings… etc.

    To me, it’s herd mentality. The publishing world has been so busy chasing the last success, they don’t set trends, they follow them. For example, I am publishing my first novel on my own because I have a story I am passionate about challenging the sappy happy-ever-after ending and that everything must revolve around the heroine when it comes to a love story. It might fall flat on its face, but judging by my pre-reading feedback from readers in other genres, it’s making romance an interesting theme to a new type of audience. Men fall in love, too. Why not write about it?

    Instant purchases and delivery without great investment into a physical product lets customers take on the gatekeeper role. There will always be people who buy crap because it’s cheap. My mother and aunt still get excited about the bargains at flea markets. But eventually a book that doesn’t resonate with readers (even if the craft is lacking, the storyline or characterizations can captivate an audience) will not sell well.

    I am intrigued to see what agents will develop into. Perhaps they don’t start their own independent publishing houses, but maybe they create families of authors under their brands that customers can use to find quality writing. But that is my own limited ideas about agents. Not being an agent, I can’t really think outside the box. Or inside the box, as it were.

    But what would an agent do if the slate was wiped completely clean, and he or she could define the job role they want to take on to help readers find great books to read? That is the real earth-shattering question, and I bet there will be some very brilliant agents who create new molds for today’s book world.

  16. Anonymous said:

    Several years ago I wrote a work-for-hire book in a licensed world.
    During the writing process, my agent also became the foreign rights agent for the company that owned the setting. None of the authors on the project received a penny for foreign sales. In a case like this, who is the agent going to represent? Since the answer was “not me,” I decided to expand that lack of representation and parted ways with the agency.

  17. Rebecca Kiel said:

    It is a mark of a confidence in an agent who does not charge a reading fee. As I move forward with my manuscript, the agents’ reactions to industry changes will be information as to whether or not they are on my A list.

  18. Allison Williams said:

    @Elizabeth Ann West

    Your points are valid, but you may want to go back and check the original post – the write was not talking about publishers, they were talking about writer advocacy groups.

    It’s like a chef saying, “We can’t wait until the irrelevant, pesky Board of Health stops snooping around and telling us how to do business! Customers can make up their own minds where to eat!”

  19. Elizabeth Ann West said:

    @Allison Williams

    Ah, I guess the original post could have used some tightening. I saw about the writers’ advocacy groups, but then the blog post started talking about fewer lunches with publishers. Subconsciously, I grouped the two together.

    I still don’t think the hard and fast rules are all going to stay. And I would argue some of the established writers’ advocacy groups are very against independent publishing, POD, and self-publishing. Just change in general. If all of the ebooks have to go through the Big 6, then there is no reason for the agent’s job to change.

    The Board of Health metaphor isn’t 100% fair, to me at least, because we aren’t talking about public safety or health here, but gatekeeping activities. I will be honest, and maybe someone can enlighten me, but why wouldn’t an agent passionate about a book that couldn’t get the Big 6 interested not be able to offer help to the author if they go the self-publish route? In today’s online world, transparency is easily handled with access to the book’s sales’ platforms.

    I think the agent group might split. There will be those who still go the traditional route, 15% etc. But another group might turn more into a marketing/rights management service. Just like I would retain a lawyer, I would retain an agent. I’d pay the retainer fee for X services offered and if I wasn’t happy with the service I received, change agents. It’s still the same kind of work. The agent makes money when the author makes money, because an author not selling can’t pay for services. By jumping on this sooner than later, agents could effectively become the next gatekeepers. There are many authors out there serious about making it in the new wide-open publishing world who would pay for guidance and advice. I know I would. I already negotiated a three book deal with my cover artist and paid a deposit there. It would be nice to have the ability to pay for a quality agent after I publish as well.

  20. Anonymous said:

    So much is in flux with the publishing industry, it makes me tread lightly. I’m continuing to write/revise novels, but haven’t submitted but one query (it was a special circumstance).

    I think for many of us – the unpublished – trying to decide whether to begin querying agents or putting our works up on Kindle is a difficult choice. Reading fees would definitely make that decision simple.

    As for the conflict of interest blog, what incentive does an agent/epublisher have to see my work contracted and succeed with a print publisher, especially in this time of declining advances?

    I’ll admit, I’m both interested and wary to see how publishing houses and agents will change to keep afloat in this changing tide of ebooks. Just yesterday I read that Amazon reports it now sells 105 ebooks for every 100 print books. NOT counting free ebooks, those promotional free books meant to entice people to read more of the author’s works.

    I wonder if agents will start making themselves available for critical reads? I mean, I’ve seen any number of interns at agencies offering their manuscript critique, proofreading, and query workshop services for a little paypal ‘donation’. I can see a future where an entire cottage industry of former agents offer these professional services.

  21. Elizabeth Ann West said:

    Well, Konrath just signed with AmazonEncore. It probably won’t be long before we all have to be approved by the giant 🙂 He said his agent negotiated most of the deal. The window for self-pubbing will probably get smaller pretty soon. But good news is agents still have a job. 🙂

  22. Leslie Deaton said:

    Looking forward to your take on the epublishing scene Kristin. Your success in the print realm and dedication to protecting your authors is inspiring to those of us typing away out here.

    I’m blogging about ePublishing and will link my readers to your posts when they come.

  23. Mike Mullin said:

    I completely agree. Authors should neither trust nor sign with agents who are trying to sit at both sides of the table by becoming publishers as well.

  24. Margo Gremmler said:

    Thank you for another great post, Kristin. As someone about to enter her “querying season,” it’s posts like these that have me adding a few tougher questions to my list for “the call.”

    I hope the vast majority of agencies agree with you on reading fees. In response to some of the previous comments, that’s one major reason I use the AAR’s member list as a guide in creating my querying list. First of all, Kristin is an AAR member (reason enough?). Plus, their Canon of Ethics concerns a writer’s charges, compensation, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest only – no mention of media formats.

    Kristin, speaking of the AAR, I’d love your thoughts on something. Have you noticed some agencies tend to have one “token” AAR member? Are writers to assume the other agents fall under that same AAR umbrella?
    Thanks so much for your input. 🙂