On Thanksgiving of all days, I found myself in the middle of a Twitter brawl after a very small previously unknown literary publisher from NY posted that they would no longer accept agented submissions.
Shouldn’t be a big deal right? After all, all of the Big 5 require you to have an agent or they won’t even look at your writing. If you don’t like either scenario, you can choose to submit your work elsewhere or self-publish. Long gone are the days where traditional publishers are your only option for getting your book into print.
The publisher was getting a bit of hate over the post and I chimed in supporting the publisher’s decision. And that’s when the chairs and beer bottles started flying. Wow, the trad pub people sure do get hostile when you even suggest that an author is perfectly capable of representing themselves or that writers should research the publishing industry so that they can spot when they’re being screwed over.
There was wailing and gnashing of teeth that writers need agents to protect them from those evil publishers that writers are trying to get published through. Yeah, I don’t think they realized the stupidity of that. Why in the heck would you pay someone to get you work with people you know are intent on screwing you over? Especially when there are so many alternatives out there. But, whatever.
While agents are “protecting” the poor helpless writers who lick windows from the evil publishers, who’s protecting the writer from the agent?
I view agents as the leeches of the writing world. It’s probably a bit unfair since there are decent and reputable agents out there that are worth their weight in gold, but they seem few and far between compared to the number of sleaze bags out there.
Why do I have this opinion? Because:
1. There are no qualifications for being a Literary Agent. None. Nada. Zip. Anyone can claim to be an agent with no knowledge whatsoever of the publishing industry. Put up a decent looking website and voilà, you’re an agent. (Close your mouth dear).
2. Unlike lawyers, there are no sanctions if the agent is incompetent, lazy or a scam artist. If the agent screws up the terms of your contract, you get to pay the consequences for that screw up, not them. Your only option for dealing with a bad agent is to take them to court, which costs a lot of time and money. Not to mention once you get a judgment against them, it’s more time and money to collect on that judgment. Good luck with that. (Jail is an option IF the scam artists violate the law and it can be proven. The best ones stay just inside the law while bilking authors out of tons of cash).
3. There are far too many horror stories about bad agents to ignore that there is a problem with the profession. Cases in point:
The Agent from Hell and the Top Six Scams Targeting Writers
When literary agents screw up: 7 ways that things can go wrong
Why I Ditched My Famous Literary Agent
Business Musings: Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)
Those are just a few of the many many many examples of problems authors have encountered.
4. Everything an agent can do, an author can do with the assistance of an attorney or on their own if they want to take that risk.
If you’re set on getting an agent, then you NEED to do your research. Don’t short change yourself or set yourself up to be taken advantage of by going into publishing blindly. There are plenty of resources out there to learn what is normal industry practices. Interested in a particular agent or publisher? Talk to authors who have worked with them before. Do a Google search on them. It’s your labor that went into that book and your labor that is going to pay the agent and publisher. In today’s environment, publishers need you more than you need them and agents are just going to leech off the minuscule profits the big publishers portion out to writers. Protect yourself and be your own best advocate.
You can do everything (except submit to the large publishers) without an agent. I’d suggest finding a IP lawyer who has experience working with authors to look over contracts and/or negotiate on your behalf. Yup, it’s going to cost you upfront, but you know exactly what you’re paying for and if you ever have to go to court, you have someone who already knows the contract to back you up. Agents CANNOT represent you in court if you should need to sue to enforce your contract or seek damages. You can’t even be sure that the agent understands the contract any better than you do. Because, anyone can be an agent. Not everyone can be a lawyer.
During this brawl, a writer on Twitter mentioned that with their agent they received an advance of up to $2500 and 8.5% of net royalties, or roughly that amount (Industry standard is around 10-15% with traditional publishers). When you consider that small publishers payout considerably more to authors (roughly 40-50%), 10% seems rather scammy considering the author still has to do much of their own marketing, especially when they’re first starting out. JK Rowling, not so much.
The big publishers do have better name recognition, distribution to brick & mortar stores, and some connections that smaller presses don’t have. But, you can’t eat any of those things. The point of publishing is to make money so that you can eat and pay bills and not have to move into a cardboard condo in a park somewhere.
According to Publisher’s Weekly, the average traditionally published book sells 3000 copies over the book’s lifetime, with 250-300 sold during the 1st year. Let’s do some math (you can stop screaming now).
The trad pub figures are for print books, so I’m going to figure a $15 paperback for trad pub. I’m going use the same quantity, but substituting a cheaper ebook, which is what small publishers sell more of.
Traditional Publisher with agent:
300 books sold @ $15 paperback = $4500 * 10% = $450 – $45 10% agent fee = $405
Small Press without agent:
300 books sold @ $5 ebook = $1500 * 40% = $600
If my math is correct, a small press selling the same number of books for a smaller price gives the author about 150% more royalties than they would receive from a traditional publisher and agent. Of course if you self publish with the same results, you make a lot more. Having an agent and publishing with a big press doesn’t look so good to me from these figures.
So is it really worth doing all that work to make 10% from a traditional publisher and end up paying an agent for work you can do yourself?
Well, only you can decide that.
What did I get out of this Twitter brawl? Free publicity for MAGA 2020 & Beyond and Superversive Press. Instead of throwing hate like most of the people coming after me, I chose to suggest they take a break and read a good book instead. It didn’t hurt sales any. We made the #5 spot in Science Fiction anthologies.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, MAGA 2020 & Beyond is available in ebook & print on Amazon.com.