Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Agent Scam

I'm lucky where I am. I can write a book and submit it straight to any publisher in Southern Africa. We do not need agents to get books published. They have no use here. It's difficult for me to see why I must pay someone 10% of my income for passing my book onto a publisher. It's sort of like the way I don't believe in the insurance industry. And much like that same insurance industry, agents have created a situation in which their purpose seems indispensable. But they are- dispensable that is. I am evidence of that fact.

I'm sure many writers will read this and say- "But my agent is so _____. " Fill in the blank with the word of your choice- wonderful, helpful, insightful, connected....etc. Good for you, I say. I'm happy you think they're earning their 10%. At the very least we should expect that, don't you think?

But my agent gets me the best deal- you say. Well does he now? Has he ever negotiated for 18% royalties and an advance that does not get deducted from those royalties? I have. With. No. Agent.

I'm sure agents have their purpose, just like insurance. They make you feel good when you have them even though they appear to be chowing your money for no sensible reason. I don't need an agent to tell me I'm a good writer or to direct me toward what is marketable or to work on my behalf. I know I'm a good writer if my book gets taken by a publisher. I know what is marketable because I pay attention. Why should I put degrees of separation between my interests and the people who can make my interests come to fruition?

I realise in Europe and America most publishers won't accept manuscripts except through an agent. That's a drag and I feel for writers there. I know if ever I want my books published in those places I'll likely have to submit. Unfair laws and rules can be found everywhere. Agents are a great outsourcing scam from the publishing industry. Instead of having to hire people to go through towering slush piles (I despise that term by the way) they have organised a way to get writers to pay agents to do the job for them. They're quite clever these publishers.

The point I'm trying to make here is as the publishing world gets tossed upside down everyone might use this opportunity to thoroughly analyze the use of middlemen in the process. As far as I'm concerned, agents should be the first to go. Already publishers are saying that there is no money for marketing, the author must do it all. Are you trying to tell me an agent is more important in getting your book sold than a marketing budget? Let's take the 10%, what would have gone to the agent, and use it for marketing instead of digging in our own pocket as publishers would like writers to do now.

Is it fair to force us to get agents so our books can be considered and then with the other hand take more money from us to fund our own marketing? I have no problem marketing my books, I do have a problem popping out money to a person who is nothing more than a go between. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, I say the time of the agent has expired.

The song sung everywhere is that the publishing world is changing- good- then let it change.


Vanessa Gebbie said...

I can't really judge, Lauri. I signed up with avery helpful guy eighteen months ago, and have not yet given him or his company anything to earn, as my manuscript is not ready. (And who's to say it wuill be publishable in today's market when it is!)

But he has been helpful on more than one occasion, we have met to talk through the choices open to me. He advised against pursuing unpaid exposure on the internet. He set out the alternatives for me when I was faced with so many choices late last year, and talked me thgough how it might be best to apportion my time, and what to ditch. He has focussed me on working as a pro writer rather than a learner grateful for anything. And earlier this year he read a tiny manuscript and gave me great feedback - including 'do this with a small press' it ought to be out there, but I cant see it in the current climate'.

So, for no return as yet, he has been great.

The ones I would be investigating are the fairly new scouting groups that call themselves 'consultancies'. Who aren't agents at all, but who filter stuff and may pass some on to 'pet' agents. Yet another layer to wade through!

Consider yourself hugely lucky that you live in Botswana -

oops. sorry for long post!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

eek. that should be 'I can't sell it in the current climate'.


Sue Guiney said...

It's a difficult issue to be sure. At its best, an agent can really be a partner, a trusted reader and a faithful ear. It doesn't always work that way, but that is part of the point to it. But as I said, that is at it's best. It often doesn't work that way and it can be especially hard for a writer to know whether to sign with one or not. When someone says they "want" you, it is hard to say no. But as Vanessa said, you are very lucky not to have to deal with this layer of an already complex industry.

Unknown said...

Quote of the day for me: I know what is marketable because I pay attention.

Lovely post Lauri and I know what you are saying, being a writer from the continent as well. The Writer-Agent-Publisher formular does not work in our enviroment at the moment and who knows, may never work here.

And yes, like you, I hate the term 'slush pile'... I cringe when I hear it!

Lauri said...

Vanessa- Most of what I hear you say other writers have advised me -for free. I really don't think you need to feel grateful that he has advised you the way he has- remember he is in business. He is operating from a position of his own best interests. He knows he has a powerful writer on his books, now he will direct you to the/his money. I know that sounds terribly jaded but we writers always are forced to a powerless position where we must just be thankful - I think that sucks, and frankly have decided not to buy in to it.

Sue- I realise we have it good here, for the time being. An agent actually IS a business partner. The key, like you've alluded to, is to find one that is an equal partner. Is he or she putting in the same effort as you? Or at least the percentage of effort that is equal to their cut?

Jude- The funny thing is- last I saw on the website of your RSA publisher (though I admit I've not been there for a while) they were no longer taking unsolicited manuscripts. I thought that might be the beginning of the end for us but perhaps it is to do with too many submisisons.

Yes- let's banish that term shall we- slush pile be gone!!! (and so it was)

Elspeth Futcher said...

I agree with you about agents, but it seems so far in the North American market (I'm in Canada) that you don't get far without one. Sad, but true.


bonita said...

Gee, Lauri, I'm not sure I feel the same as you about agents. Poor ones, yes, but a really good agent can earn his or her keep. As I see it, my job is to write. I need to know mechanics and aesthetics of writing. I need to ferret out information and determine if it is appropriate. If I'm doing my job right, I'm writing.

I think of an agent as a necessary evil—like my technical guru. Used to be I spent time learning all the ins and out of how to repair and/or customize my computer. Computers became smaller. Peripherals multiplied. I began to spend whole days trying to set my computer straight. Then the light went off. There are people who do this for a living. I can hire them to fix/customize any computer and I can use that time to WRITE. I feel the same about learning the ins and outs of placing a book for publication. I'm a better writer than I am a marketer. I delegate that chore.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

You make some valid points. They system is in for some trouble though. Publishing is changing, maybe too slowly, but it is changing. I'm happy to hear that you don't have to deal with agents, from my experience they can be quite snobbish, rude even. (Pssst, don't tell anyone I said that, it might come back to bit me in the butt.) ;-]

Lauri said...

Elizabeth- I'll never tell anyone you wrote this- don't worry.

Bonita- I'm glad you disagree with me. I had hoped more people would comment and convince me of the use of agents.

Anonymous said...

My former agent and I had a shoot out at dawn. Literally. She agreed to things with a publisher that I didn't even know about which I felt impacted on me in a negative way both professionally and financially. So we parted. I haven't had an agent since and I know it has affected my chances of getting published again in Australia, but such is a writer's life. I'll keep on trying...

Lauri said...

Selma I'm sorry you've had to go through that but I can't believe a publisher wouldn't snatch you up. Your blog posts alone would make a beautiful, inspirational book. Maybe you need to look outside Australia.