Pub Rants

The Rapidly Evolving Role of Agent

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STATUS: What a way to start the day. Our ISP had a huge network outage that lasted for 45 minutes. No emails coming in or going out. It’s a Monday!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? UPSIDE DOWN by Jack Johnson

Last Thursday I highlighted that the AAR has made some observations on the role of agents in ePublishing. If an agent is both an agent and ePublisher, well, that’s pretty much a conflict of interest. If the agent has a biz interest stake in a client’s decision, it rather eliminates our disinterested and objective viewpoint when giving guidance to a client.

But the digital landscape is shifting so rapidly and the agent’s role is evolving so quickly, what is an agent to do if clients want assistance making backlist titles available in eFormat?

Well, I can tell you what NLA is doing. And because I believe in involving greater minds than my own, I used the best resource of all–our own clients. Working in partnership with them, we developed NLA’s Digital Liaison Platform. My lawyer was also a big help but he simply formulated the agreement language once we had nailed down the model.

So what exactly are we doing?

We created a platform where NLA clients can self-publish their content within a supported environment. This is not a publishing house.

Before you say, “isn’t this a matter of semantics?” The answer is no. In a publishing house model, the author grants her rights to the publisher and cedes control in that grant.
That is not what we are doing. In our model, our clients maintain full control of their titles. They are not granting them to us. They have full say on covers, editing, pricing, etc. The program is voluntary so if they want to participate on our DLP, they can, but they are also welcome to handle their backlist themselves.

We offer two different options. The first is full service where we hook the client up with cover artists, copyeditors, publicists, and we do the file conversion and make it available on all the electronic distribution venues. We use our individual leverage with all the venues to promote. The second is a distribution-only venue. In this option, the author handles all the details of self-pubbing and conversions themselves but simply want access to venues they can’t reach on their own. Overdrive (main source for libraries) would be an example of a venue that individual authors can’t reach but we can.

If they are on our full-service DLP, we ask them to commit to a two-year term of license [correction: it’s a two year term of liaison, not license. My apologies for not proofreading more thoroughly. There is quite the difference between the two!] since we undergo all the expense and that would be rather uncool for a client to let us do that and then pull the title a month later.

Our agency commission split is the same as it’s always been.

Indie Booksellers–we are also on Google eBookstore and Ingram but if you have your own dedicated eBookstore, feel free to contact us directly as we are happy to add your venue to our platform.

Our Launch Title:

SKATER BOY by Mari Mancusi $3.99
The first novel in the sweet, tween-oriented First Kiss Club series.

Apple – access through iTunes

27 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    just to clarify:

    Full service (you folks get cover/edits etc done) NLA gets 15%.

    Distribution only – NLA also gets 15%?

    I’m not sure that is what you meant, but that’s how it read.

    TBH, I think a flat fee system would be a more transparent and, ultimately, more sound model. The truth is, 15% forever could be a steep price for a few hundred bucks worth of cover and editing. Conversion is free (any fool can figure it out – no offense to anyone at NLA).

    I think charging a commission to get everything under one roof (if said fee is reasonable) is one thing. Getting 15% for a few hours work is a little much.

    Hope I’m not coming off as a hater here – this model is FAR better than some of the ‘I’m really not a publisher (but I am)’ things I am seeing around.

    I f I am wrong about the ‘lite’ version and the 15% is not charged, it is a fantastic model. Lazy folks pay 15%. Others don’t. The problem I see (with my incomplete knowledge here) is that in the ‘lite’ version NLA is getting nothing or they are getting way too much (15%).

    Anyway look forward to learning more,,,

  2. Anonymous said:

    And the age of agents finally starts to fall. It is a matter of semantics and a writer really doesn’t need this service if they are prepared to put in a bit of effort learning to html a file and network.

  3. Lucy said:

    @ Anon.

    Since the authors helped to formulate the model, they’ve obviously found it to their advantage, possibly in ways not even discussed here.

    This is indeed a liaison service, however much of it the author chooses to utilize; and from my point of view, it’s a good model, one that I could see using in the future where a backlist is concerned.


    @ Kristin

    I really, really do like this as an idea–and I’m all for getting backlists back on the market. Thanks for sharing what you’re doing. 🙂

  4. The Color of Books said:

    Bookends, now Nelson. Is your 15% on top on the 30% epublishing arms like Amazon charge?

    Writers no longer need agents. Your role was to act as the conduit between traditional publisher and author, and also to act as the gate keeper for publishing houses.

    Thank you for your advice and service over the years, but you are no longer required because authors can go it alone.

  5. Anonymous said:

    To Anonymous #1, That’s not how I read this. The article says that the agency “hooks up” the author with editors and artists, but doesn’t make clear who pays.

    To Color of Books, I assume that the agency will charge 15% of the author’s share, just like they always do.

    But the real conflict has not been addressed here. Every time the agent is talking to a traditional publisher, the agent will be thinking “Can I make more money with the publisher or should I convince the author to just e-publish, where maybe I can make more money?” That is the real and hidden conflict of interest.

    J. Tillman

  6. DawnRaeMiller said:

    I have a similar arrangement with my agent and I’m extremely satisfied. She handles the business part, I work on the writing. She also represents my book in the foreign markets and has helped get my book in the hands of people who wouldn’t normally consider reviewing a self-published author.

    Yes, I could have done it alone. But I’m so glad I didn’t have to.

  7. lee said:

    If you don’t think you need/don’t want an agent, more power to you. Seriously. You’re probably going to need it. Marketing a sucessful s’pub book is more difficult than most people realize, but it can be done without an agent, absolutely.

    But coming to an agent’s blog to say you don’t need them makes me wonder who you’re trying to convince.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Thank you for your advice and service over the years, but you are no longer required because authors can go it alone.

    I think it is awesome that people are firing an agent they don’t have.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Didn’t Courtney Milan say she would fire you Kristin, if you did this? It will be interesting to see her response. It also is semantics when you do encumber the authors rights for 2 years. A flat fee system is the only way to avoid the bad smell of this. The first comment in this thread has the relevant questions, which you have failed to answer…..

  10. Kaz Augustin said:

    To Anonymous #1: You said “Full service (you folks get cover/edits etc done) NLA gets 15%.”

    That’s not how I read it at all. The post says: “The first is full service where we hook the client up with cover artists, copyeditors, publicists, and we [my emphasis] do the file conversion and make it available on all the electronic distribution venues.”

    To “hook up” is not the same as “to pay for”. Thus, it looks like NLA will forward the client the names of cover artists, copyeditors and publicists and it’s up to the CLIENT to pay for those services as independent deals. What NLA will THEN do is the file conversion (watch those Calibre meta tags! LOL) and uploading.

    In the “basic” service, NLA will merely upload already converted files to Overdrive and venues that individual authors can’t reach…yet. Where I come unstuck is on the commission calculation:

    “Full service” is 15% in perpetuity + 2 years exclusivity on the NLA platform?
    “Basic service” is 15% in perpetuity?

    I’m sure there will be authors happy to do this because they are not technically-minded and prefer not to run their writing as a business. (I make no value judgement on this, I’m just stating the reality of the situation.) However, for someone as usually precise and straightforward as Kristin Nelson, the gaps in this post can’t help but raise alarm bells.

  11. Joni Rodgers said:

    Kristin, I think this is terrific. People who think authors no longer need agents don’t understand the scope of an agent’s work.

    I’m a NYT bestselling author/ghostwriter repped by WME. Last year I started a digital imprint to self-pub my backlist books. That was a money decision. I make more on my own, and there isn’t really a need for my agent to participate in that. I also decided to self-pub the ebook of my latest novel because I wanted creative control, but I still need my agent to rep the print and subrights.

    I firmly believe a hybrid indie/traditional combo platter is the way forward for career authors. What NLA is doing here makes a lot of sense for midlist authors who have a healthy backlist, the experience to wisely steer their new books and the balls to step up and do the marketing mule work.

    I’m forming a coalition of authors in the US and UK who are doing exactly that.We’re not cutting ties with our agents and publishers. We see self-pub as a way to add value to those relationships. Check us out:

  12. Lucy Perrin said:

    “we undergo all the expense”

    So I’m thinking NLA pays for the cover artist, editor, etc. These professional services can run into the thousands and make an enormous difference in quality. It makes sense, then, to have the 2-year license. I am a bit fuzzy though on how, in practice, this is different from an author signing away their rights for 2 years.

  13. Anonymous said:

    exactly lucy! When you have to sign a contract for 2 years…..thats signing your rights away for 2 years….unless this is fee for service (i.e. well defined $500 for cover art/design etc.) this is a bad deal.

  14. MCPlanck said:

    As far as I understand it, it doesn’t strike me as the same as Kristin being a publisher. The key is in the rights and the percentages.

    Kristin is taking an agent’s percentage, and she’s representing her clients to a different marketplace. She also takes an agent’s share of the rights, rather than a publisher’s.

    In that sense it’s just a forward-looking response to the changing marketplace. I don’t think the need for agents is going to go away all that soon, and even in the long term the role will change rather than disappear.

    It’s a little unusual that she is paying for the cover/editing/etc upfront; but the generic rule is that you don’t go with agents who demand money from you before the sale. Agents who spend money on you before the sale is a different matter. 😀

  15. Kylie Griffin said:

    I heard Kristin speak about the NLA platform at a Romance Writers of Australia conference.

    This option is just that for her authors – an option.

    They have the choice to self-publish through this service, or not.

    At no time, now or in the future, are they obligated as clients of NLA to venture into this.

  16. Natalie Aguirre said:

    I think it’s awesome that you are offering other options/services in these changing times.

    Personally if I ever did go the self-publishing route, which I’m not sure I could do with a demanding full-time job as an attorney, I would love to work with NLA and get your help. It’s already my dream to work with you and Sara.

  17. Colin Smith said:

    I think it would be helpful if Kristin gave some clarifying comments to the questions raised in comments so far, but on the whole, I think this is a good thing. First, it recognizes that epub-ing isn’t going away, but not all authors are ready or able to deal with it. The agent’s role is always that of the author’s advocate, so having an agent, rather than a publisher, help those authors that need it makes sense.

    Further, as Kylie pointed out, this is OPTIONAL. This is a service NLA offers to their clients. Their clients are not obliged to participate, and non-participation does not affect their relationship with NLA. If you don’t like the deal, you don’t have to do it.

  18. Anonymous said:

    I don’t see anything wrong here. I think you’ve been honest and you’ve explained it very well.

    But what I don’t get is why authors just don’t do this on their own and skip the fees. What little I know about self-publishing comes from friends who’ve self-pubbed on Amazon. From what I’m told, it didn’t cost much, if anything, at all to self-publish digitally. Once again, this is hearsay, so I’m no expert on self-publishing and I could be wrong. But speaking as a published author without an agent I would probably look into self-publishing on my own before I signed anything that meant I had to give more of a percentage away.

    In other words, the only way to get to a publisher in the past was through an agent. And through this agent authors were protected and guided. But authors don’t need agetns to self-publish (unless you can negotiate with Amazon self-publishing program). They don’t need agents to promoste on social media. So I’m honestly not “getting” why an author would do this.

    Once again, I see nothing wrong with what you are doing. I wish you the best.

  19. Lucy said:

    I wish I knew why Blogger keeps eating my comments overnight, but as I said before, Kristin, I really like this option, and I think it’s a great way to get the backlist available again.

  20. Anonymous said:

    So…here’s my one question, and it’s a genuine question, not a veiled attack. How does this not pose a conflict of interest for the agent?

    It seems an inherent conflict–the agent has a vested interest in the author NOT publishing with a publishing house else, but instead self-publishing using services NLA benefits from financially.

    I just don’t get how the NLA set-up overrides this very important conflict of interest issues. It’s at the heart of agent-author relationship.

    As far as whether 15% for XX long a good deal or not, well, that’s up to an individual author.

    It’s the potentially (& likely) divergent self-interests at the core of the set-up that concerns me.

  21. Jackie Barbosa said:

    I, too, would like to see some clarification regarding the difference between the full-service model and the distribution-only model.

    As a self-publishing author, I’d be more than willing to pay 15% commission for expanded distribution in places like Overdrive and other venues I can’t access on my own. That is worth a lot. That said, if authors using the full-service model are also paying that same 15% and getting their cover art and editorial for free, even with the 2-year license term, I would feel as though I was significantly overpaying.

    Hopefully, Kristin will follow up with a post that better explains the differences/costs/benefits of the two models.

  22. Anonymous said:

    Just so everyone knows. This isn’t new. Lit Agents are, and have been, offering publishing services similar to this to clients with backlisted books for quite some time. It’s just that most aren’t discussing it openly on blogs. Which is the main reason the AAR had to come out with a statement of some kind. They had to say something sooner or later. It’s a sneaky way of changing the rules. But it’s necessary if agents are going to jump on the band wagon of digital publishing at this late date, pardon the cliche.

  23. Patrice Fitzgerald said:

    I am a self-published author. Full disclosure: I met the charming Kristin Nelson at the final Hawaii Writers Conference. I sent her a query, she declined to look at my novel. No hard feelings.

    I published my first novel, paying about $650 in total for a professional cover and editing, in July of 2011. My husband is an IT guy, and helped me with the tech side. The rest I simply figured out. Amazon charges nothing up front for ebooks, but 30% of each sale goes to them.

    RUNNING didn’t sell much until December, when I signed up for KDP Select and made it free for 2 days. 12,000 free downloads were followed by 1,600 books sold and 700 borrowed on Amazon Kindle. I made just under $6,000 in ten days.

    I’ve been lucky. Sales have certainly slowed down, but yesterday I sold 66 books. I sell my novel at $7.99, so I make over $5.50 per book.

    I have to tell you that self publishing is EASY. I’m helping out some author friends with publishing them as a small indie press, much as NLA plans to do. I am releasing both new works and their out-of-print back list. To them, it is worth it. But the truth is that you can all do it yourselves.

    I recommend that you do!

    Patrice Fitzgerald

  24. Anonymous said:


    “But the truth is that you can all do it yourselves.

    “I recommend that you do!”

    I agree. But so many authors don’t want to, or are intimidated. So as a published author I’m seriously considering starting my own small service that charges authors one reasonable flat fee to do this on Amazon…without taking any commission at all on the back end. I think that would be fair.