Pub Rants

The AAR Makes ‘Observations’ On Agent Roles & ePublishing

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STATUS: I need to go home and eat dinner.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOT HOT HOT by Buster Poindexter

Just last week, The Association of Authors’ Representatives sent out an email alert to all its members highlighting that the Board has been discussing the current AAR Canon of Ethics as it relates to agent members helping clients with ePublishing.

To sum up, the AAR realizes that the role of literary agent is changing and that many author clients will be asking their agents for assistance in making backlist titles available in electronic form.

For full disclosure, I am a member of the AAR and will continue to be in 2012.

As of this January, the AAR is not making any changes to the current Canon of Ethics but the organization is, however, sharing these observations which I’ll paraphrase here:

1) An AAR member may receive compensation only from the client for the agent’s services. Agents may not separately engage in business, ie. electronic publication, where they receive compensation from exploiting the client’s work. In short, Agents can’t be publishers and still be AAR members.

So for example, Agent Richard Curtis has a separate ePublishing company called eReads. He is not a member of AAR. And please, do not take this as any personal commentary on Richard. This is just an example.

2) Agent is obligated to inform client of all the financial implications of any ePublisher and the agent can’t take action to put his own biz interest above the interest of the client.

In other words, it pretty much is a conflict of interest for agents to be both an agent and an ePublisher as they may want their clients to publish with them instead of with some other ePublisher.

And yet, the role of agent is evolving rapidly. So what do agents do with clients who are interested in making their reverted backlist titles available on electronic platforms?

Well, I can’t speak for all agents but I can finally tell you what NLA will be doing as we launched our Digital Liaison Platform in November of 2011. And last week I did ring up the AAR lawyer to discuss our current model and whether that would be in conflict with the AAR Canon or its current observations.

It is not. In fact, he asked me to share the details of our model so as to share with the AAR board. They are reviewing any number of approaches that agents are pursuing.

And starting tomorrow, I’ll be sharing our model with y’all.


7 Responses

  1. Natalie Aguirre said:

    I’m sure what you’re planning is awesome. And thanks for sharing about your model so we can judge other agent’s approach to yours if you are aren’t are agent. Because you are always so honest and open about everything.

  2. ryan field said:

    Speaking from the POV as a published unagented author, it’s wonderful to see agents talking about this now so new authors know what’s going on.

  3. Deb Marshall said:

    Thanks for sharing this. I think there are exciting times ahead for agents and their clients…growing with the technology. All best in yours and looking forward to seeing what it is!

  4. Sarah Cypher said:

    You mentioned Richard Curtis has a publishing branch. I’m curious if you have thoughts about new agency models like Stonesong, that is adding agenting to an existing small/”custom” press service.

    Is there a realistic conflict of interest in asking an agent to shop a manuscript, who can then sell publishing services if they fail to interest editors?

  5. P J O'Leary said:

    Thanks for posting this.

    I’m glad to see the AAR weighing in, however tenatively, on this topic. And actually I like the cautious tone of their response. Times are changing, and making hard, fast rules at this point would put them in danger of turning out to be the wrong path.

    I’ll look forward to seeing what your model is and how it differs from what some other agencies are doing (like just ePubbing backlist vs. ePubbing books that can’t find a home with a traditional publisher). I think there are lots of opportunities in the current marketplace, but that also means there are lots of opportunities for scams or just honest mistakes.