In the evolving world of publishing, the roles of the author, agent and publisher are all having to evolve.
What should our role as agents be?
There's one school of thought I know I don't agree with, which says that an agent should never be a publisher. One statement of that position from a British agent can be found here, and in the US one prominent agent who's expressed his firm opposition to melding the roles is Robert Gottlieb, the head of the prestigious Trident Media Group. That's some of what he discusses in this guest blog post on the Publishers Weekly site.
My VP, Eddie Schneider, reacted very strongly to a news article in Publishers Lunch Daily this week (also the source for the above link) about a literary agency that wants to go into e-book packaging. I thought I'd invite him to guest on my blog, and italicized are his comments below:
I'm sure many of you involved in book publishing in some fashion (agent, editor, aspiring author) heard the news Monday that Dystel & Goderich (DGLM) have decided to become an e-book packager.
Here's their announcement: link
This bothers me enough that I decided to do my first ever guest post on Brillig to comment.
I think the decision to help an author self-publish a book, after failing to place it with a real publisher, is rooted in hubris. Yes, we agents hopefully have good taste, and there are client projects we all feel should have sold but didn't, but to turn around and put them out into the marketplace anyway, shows disrespect toward the editors who should be among our closest colleagues, takes up time and energy best spent elsewhere, and detaches us from reality, which can't be good.
It's really disappointing to see such a high-profile agency go this route. DGLM seems to have the support of their clients, if the comments on their site are any indication. They also seem to be trying to do their best to be forthright about everything.While it's possible that an agency, especially a larger one, could successfully keep these concerns separate (and good luck keeping it that way), it is a conflict of interest for most.
I'm not a member of the AAR, but if I were, I would move to make an active effort to kick out any member agency who serves as first publisher to their clients' books.
Good luck to everyone at DGLM. Many of you have been doing this for much longer, and with greater financial success, than I have. Maybe the rest of us will be shown the error of our ways.
If anyone reads this post, and thinks I'm the one in error (or agrees...), feel free to comment via rock with note attached, or in the comments section.
I don't disagree with Eddie on this. There are times I've rolled about in my own mind on this question. There's a book we absolutely love, we can't find a publisher, we're sure they're all wrong... And yet I haven't actually gone ahead and flipped that switch and said "darnit, nobody else wants to publish this fine book we're going to go do it ourselves."
And yet we at JABberwocky are in fact e-book publishers, with a growing list of authors and titles. Albeit all reverted backlist titles first published by major publishers and now back in the author's hands, some of the books in fact published, reverted, resold, published again, and then back a second time. We're trying to occupy some kind of middle ground that may or may not actually exist between being full-fledged publishers of electronic books and saying we can't and shan't be publishers at all. I dealt with some of our thinking on the whole e-book program in this blog post when we had our first e-book go live.
Is there a distinction, or is it a distinction without a difference, to object as Eddie and I do, to an agent who "serves as first publisher to their clients' books"??? I see in my mind a very real difference between what we are doing, what Robert Gottlieb says we should/shouldn't do, and what Dystel and Goderich have decided to do. But even if I'm right to see that different today, will it still exist tomorrow?
As Eddie says, let us know what you think. I'm not sure the rock with attached note is such a good idea, but otherwise...
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.