Monday, June 27, 2011

Estributors Redux

About 18 months ago, I was looking at the rapidly evolving ebook climate, and realized the need for a new type of service for authors. A facilitator who could be a buffer between the author and the business end of self-publishing.

I called this position an estributor.

The more I began to self-publish, the more I realized what a time suck it was to take care of all the non-writing parts of the job. When you go indie, you essentially become a small business, and take on all the responsibilities for running that business. That cuts into writing time. Doing quick and dirty assessment of my time management and my productivity, I concluded that I could make more money if I gave an estributor 15% to take care of the business side for me, because my increased writing output would more than make up for that cost. Plus, I'd be happier, because I'd much rather write for a living than run a business.

So it pleased me to learn that my agents, Dystel & Goderich, have begun to assume this position. Here's their latest blog entry:

Word gets around the publishing industry pretty quickly (which is not surprising since we’re in the communications business). So, we wanted you to hear our news from us first rather than pick it up through inaccurate scuttlebutt in seedy back rooms on the web.

As those of you who’ve been reading this blog for the last few years know, we have been following developments in e-publishing with great interest. As an agency that has prided itself on being a bit of a maverick among the stodgy old guard, we have always been more intrigued than scared about this new world of e-books. The consensus among us, even after listening to the doomsayers, has been that e-publishing will re-energize our business and create more readers. That’s right, instead of bemoaning the death of publishing as we know it, DGLMers have always felt that e-books and electronic media offer a tremendous opportunity to expand our reach and that of our authors.

That said, we have been very clear all along that we are literary agents. We are proud of the job we do, the services we provide, and the help we’ve given to countless authors over the years in fulfilling their dreams of publishing their work. We are also more cognizant than most of the superb work traditional publishers have done and continue to do in producing beautiful, lasting, quality books.

Over the past months and years we’ve come to the realization that e-publishing is yet another area in which we can be of service to our clients as literary agents. From authors who want to have their work available once the physical edition has gone out of print and the rights have reverted, to those whose books we believe in and feel passionately about but couldn’t sell—oftentimes, after approaching 20 or more houses—we realized that part of our job as agents in this new publishing milieu is to facilitate these works being made available as e-books and through POD and other editions.

Right now, you’re thinking, oh, DGLM is going to be another of those agencies that has decided to become an e-publisher and charge clients whose books they can’t sell 50% of their income for the privilege of uploading their work. Some of you may be mumbling, “Uh…that’s a conflict of interest.” We get it and we understand how that can be the perception. However, we have no intention of becoming e-publishers. As we said above, we have too much respect for the work that publishers do and too much respect for the work we ourselves do to muddy the waters in such a way.

Again, what we are going to do is to facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work. We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid. In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do.

Our intention is to keep on trying to find books we think we can sell to traditional publishing houses, to negotiate the best deal (always), and to give our authors as many options as we can. Because we will continue to be commission-based, we will not be automatically pushing authors into e-publishing. Again, we want to give our authors options and empower them to do what they set out to do all along: have their work read by the largest possible audience.

We are excited about this new part of our business and hope you will be as well. We welcome your thoughts, comments, and concerns.

Joe sez: I'm going to be working with my agents on my upcoming novel, Timecaster Supersymmetry. My goal is to finish the book, then let someone else handle all the heavy lifting.

Some people think it's a bad idea to give away any percentage of income, and that paying a flat fee is smarter. Perhaps. But my hope is that working with D&G will provide me with ongoing support, rather than a one-time service. If I were to pay a fulltime employee for ongoing support, I don't see any difference between that and paying an estributor a royalty percentage. In both cases, I'm paying for a lifelong service. And, as I'd already established, if this allows me to write more, it will be worth the money to me.

Naturally, I'll keep my blog readers posted on how this arrangement is working out. I also invited D&G to visit this blog and answer any questions anyone might have.

167 comments:

JustRR said...

Can't wait to hear how it works out. In a perfect world, write's would just write.

Todd Russell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TK Kenyon said...

At least they addressed the "conflict of interest" issue. It sounds like they're more honest than the scoundrels out there.

And it seems like a lot of the other agencies are doing it. They might be left behind if they don't.

Do they include an agency clause in their contracts? Do they get 15% in perpetuity, beyond even the lives of the principal agency reps? How about books with a continuing character? Do they receive an interest in that? Can the author "fire" the agent at any time? Does the agent pay net or gross royalties to the author?

TK Kenyon

You can receive relevant writing prompts daily by liking us on Facebook: Dr. Kenyon’s Writing Apple or by subscribing to the RSS/Atom feed at Blog: Dr. Kenyon’s Writing Apple Blogspot .

Amy Shojai said...

Sounds like a great plan and logical next step in the E-volution of books.

Bob Mayer said...

Interesting-- one area I think an agent would also be helpful is foreign rights and print subrights. Also audio. I find it strange that I have two books in the top ten in science fiction in the UK Kindle yet not a single British publisher has shown interest in print rights. The only other author in the top ten is RR Martin. I find it an amazing lack of initiative.

Todd Russell said...

Let me try this again without so many typos.

Interesting twist on services but I'm not sure I'm getting what specifically they are doing for the 15%? Let me go re-read two more times.

So you are giving your agent 15% to help find the best cover art (but you still have to pay for that cover art?)? I thought you already had a great cover artist, Joe?

Now if you are talking about the agent handling the back and forth email communication with the cover artist so you don't have to step in and suggest tweaks, I see the benefit to giving you more time to write, but 15% worth? Hmm.

As for uploading to KDP, Pub-it, Smashwords ... will your agent be doing that for you now? They also will handle the formatting (included in their 15% commission?) If that's the case, again, this could be a worthwhile service and worth 15% but if you still have to pay for formatting over and above the 15% and they are just there to upload a finished file? Hmm, not sure.

I'm going to re-read. Not bashing the idea, it sounds intriguing and perhaps useful for somebody like you with a number of titles. I'm not sure how useful it would be to a newer author with under five books.

Very interesting idea though and a good direction for literary agents to go, I think.

Todd Russell said...

Ok, I understand better now. I see after reading your past linked post on "estributor" that this is what you are talking about: "An estributor could contact NAME authors (not self-pubbed newbies) for shelf novels."

So it's not a service that you feel applies to new authors. Consider my earlier comments self-explained :)

Jussi Keinonen said...

You may be moderately interested in knowing that there is something like that going on in Finland, too, with estribution emphasis at this stage on the backlist of all authors. And we have added a couple of twists.

I wish I could elaborate a bit more, but I have to move on right now – unfortunately the link on my name leads to a site that is in Finnish only. ;)

Nick Cole said...

Joe, I like that you put your money where your mouth is. In essence you're taking point on a new model, which is great for us newbies. If it works out it sounds like a good marriage for all. If not, I'm pretty sure you're going to blog it, which will really help the rest of us out. Thank you Doctor Livingston, we shall see you up river, or Kurtz if you prefer.

Chris said...

Very interesting. D&G used to be my agency, and I liked them a lot. We were moving in difference directions, but this is wonderful. I'll give my old agent a call. Thanks, Joe.

Stephen T. Harper said...

Interesting as always, Joe. Thanks.

I wanted to ask all the same questions that TK Kenyon asked. Basically, if e-books are forever, what is the lifespan of this kind of contract? And how deeply will it apply to your intellectual property going forward (ie, sequels, crossovers, etc.)?

Thanks again.

Dustin Scott Wood said...

This period of time feels like the Cambrian explosion of writing and publishing. All sorts of methodologies are being experimented with in an attempt to find the correct niche for thriving in a changing world. And it's wonderous.

Anonymous said...

If I understand the deal, its 15% just to set the author up with others who will also have to be paid. The agent doesn't actually provide editing, uploading, cover design or anything else. All they do is refer the author out to others and collect the money (which ensures they get their 15%). This is supposed to be worth something?

P A Wilson said...

This sounds like a cool idea. I look forward to reading about your experience.

JAMES BRUNO said...

I remain skeptical. I just let my big name agent go -- it was an amicable separation. I've hired a new author services outfit - Pedernales Publishing - to do the cover art, formatting and uploading to LSI, Amazon, B&N, etc., all for a flat fee of $650. Once my book is published, I then automatically receive the royalties electronically in my bank account and I receive complete statements as well. Pedernales is doing all the time-suck work while I concentrate on completing my latest novel. I don't feel paying another outfit 15% steady commission to do the same work is warranted. But I wish you, Joe, the best of luck and look forward to hearing how it goes.

SBJones said...

It has merit. Most self published eBook authors in my opinion could not afford this type of service. Even if they gave 15% to someone, that 15% of nothing sales is still nothing. Once an Estributor has enough selling clients, their focus will be on what makes them money and not your book that sells 15 99c copies a month.

Your words mimic Amanda Hocking when she signed with a traditional publishing house. She wants to write, not run a business. But for those of us who still have full time or part time jobs and do not have 6+ books pulling in 2-5 grand a month for us, the only person who is going to do it is ourselves because that is who we can afford.

Selena Blake said...

I was just reading about this elsewhere. I can certainly understand the desire to have someone help with editing, formatting, cover art, distribution and promo. After, oh, I've lost count how many books I have out now, I truly understand what a good publisher provides. And yes, I'm willing to hire out in order to write more. What I'm not so sure about is having my agent be in charge of all of that. Maybe it'll be great, maybe not, but as always, I look forward to seeing your updates Joe.

Merrill Heath said...

I think that over time the role of agent and publisher will somewhat merge into a single business model where it pertains to ebooks. It will take time to evolve and for the market to help us determine what services should be provided and at what cost. But I definitely see a need for a company that basically can do for the author what the publishers do in print, except for the actual publishing of the ebooks - that would be done through the distributors like Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.

I do see value in a single vendor providing editing, cover art, formating, uploading, and marketing of an ebook for a fixed rate or percentage of the sales. The vendor would also do some blogging and send emails and so forth to promote the new ebook.

There are a lot of authors who don't want to do this or don't know how.

The new technology eliminates the need to print, bind, and ship the books to the wholesaler. But there is still a need for developing the cover, editing, formatting, and uploading (distributing) the finished product to the retailer. I think this is basically what Telemachus Press does for their clients, only for a flat rate rather than a percentage. I think they also handle print publications but I don't know how much effort they put into marketing.

My cousin has written two novels and she is following the traditional method for publishing because she doesn't know how to self-publish an ebook. As she put it, "I wouldn't know where to begin and I want to write, not become a graphic artist and publicist." She would gladly pay someone to do these things for her so she could concentrate on writing. I think there are a ton of authors who feels this way.

Merrill Heath
Mysteries Worth Investigating

Merrill Heath said...

@James, I see that while I was typing my comment you (more succinctly) offered the same premise. I think that's a very workable business model for authors who are willing and/or able to pay for the service.

Merrill Heath
Novels by W.L.Heath

Ellen Fisher said...

I still feel like there's a heck of a conflict of interest in such arrangements. Also, I'd need to know exactly what you're getting for your 15% of royalties (which in your case should eventually total up to quite a sum!) to know if it's worthwhile.

That being said, this does seem to be the wave of the future. It begins to seem likely that if an agency doesn't go this route, it might be left behind. Still, I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with it... but that's okay, because I haven't had an agent offer to represent me lately anyway:-).

I.J.Parker said...

Exactly right. Am doing the same thing. And my agent is not my publisher. My e-publisher is Amazon. For the 15% I get all sorts of agent expertise on contracts and subsidiary rights, and there is no flat fee involved. The best of all possible worlds.

Mark Terry said...

I would think it very much depends on what it is they're actually offering to do.

As for the difference, well, duh.

It's the difference between a $1000 or less flat-fee for a book that makes $100,000 or $15,000 for the same book (wild-ass book figure estimate, but you get the idea).

I would very much want to know what it is they're going to do for that additional $14,000.

Anonymous said...

"I would very much want to know what it is they're going to do for that additional $14,000."

Exactly right. Agents used to be the author's ambassador to the publisher. Now, with that role diminishing, agents are trying to think of new ways to cut themselves in. It seems that we're transitioning into a period when self-published authors actually have to start being wary of "agents." The self-published are becoming the new feeding ground.

Alastair Mayer said...

Joe said: "If I were to pay a fulltime employee for ongoing support, I don't see any difference between that and paying an estributor a royalty percentage."

The main difference depends on what kind of contract you have with the estributor. Can you fire them as you can an employee if you're not happy with the job they're doing?

There's also the cost difference -- if you're making good sales then an estributor's 15% is a lot more money than an employee's salary. Sure, if you're making great sales then maybe you don't care about that -- but that strikes me the same way as the folks who don't mind paying lots of income tax because it means they're making lots of income. Well, yeah, but it just seems fundamentally wrong somehow. ;-)

But hey, it's your money.

A. J. Abbiati said...

@J. Bruno:

That seems like a near-perfect set up. Now, if you/we could take that final step and instead of dishing out $650 up front, let the estributor make their fee from collecting a % until their fee is paid, I think we'd have perfection. Or the estributor could collect 100% of fees until the fee is paid, then switch all fund transfers/etc. to the author. Jack up the fee for the estributor's fronting/risk, perhaps to $1k a title, and bingo...win/win.

Henri said...

The 15% would be great if it could help with sales. For me, the formatting and cover can be done, but oh the editing. Currently, all my ebooks are self-edited, including my 80,000 word novel. I'm doing the best I can right now, but I'm sure the lack of a real editor is plenty evident to most readers.

What would really make sense for me would be an e-agent, not an e-distributor. I read about such a person several months ago, but she just deals with erotica. I wonder how this whole scenario will evolve over the next year, for it seems all but inevitable that agents will start representing e-authors and perhaps even publishing some in print, as they have done with Hocking.

Thanks again for the valuable ingo,

Your blog is fantastic,

Henri

Mark Asher said...

So Joe, can you answer a few questions?

1. Who pays for the cover art?

2. Who pays for editing?

3. Who pays for the formatting of the ebook?

KevinMc said...

I'm skeptical, but open.

A couple of thoughts here (Barry and I were just having it out on Twitter about this).

If they're providing services you want/need, and in exchange you are paying them 15% of the income that Amazon etc. pays you, then that's fine; your choice, your option. Not sure I'd do it, but I'd want to see the ongoing services they were providing, year after year, for their share.

However, if they are uploading your book to THEIR Kindle DTP, Pubit, etc. accounts, then a few things change.

#1 That means their contract with you needs to acquire ebook rights. Has to. Otherwise they won't have the right to make the upload. It might not be exclusive rights; it might be a great contract. Don't know. Haven't seen it. But if they're uploading the book to their accounts, then they need to acquire rights to do so.

#2 If they have acquired rights, and then are uploading your book to their account, you're no longer self publishing. They are a publisher, not an "e-stributor". They're acquiring your rights and publishing your book. Call a spade a spade, here.

Now, that's not all bad. As we've seen from Barry's Amazon contract, you can get some very GOOD deals from forward thinking publishers, these days. If D&G's contract is as nice as the Amazon one (not necessarily the same as, just "as good" in it's own ways), then D&G's new business might be something worth pursuing.

But I'd be cautious, and give them the same hairy eyeball I'd give any other publisher.

Eric Christopherson said...

Very interesting, given I'm a DGLM client. Will definitely give this service a try.

I'd love some marketing help too with my indie books.

Barry said...

FWIW, I don't see a conflict of interest in the D&G model. Here's my response to such accusations on D&G's blog:

http://www.dystel.com/2011/06/announcement/comment-page-1/#comment-23705

Congratulations, guys. IMO, a well conceived business plan and the one I expect to become the most common model among agents who are looking for ways to serve their clients who want to self-publish. It's strange that some people are protesting it. What are you supposed to say to your clients who want to self-publish? "Sorry, we can't help you?"

It'll be interesting to see how long the reflexive "This is a conflict of interest!" meme can survive contact with the real world. Part of the problem might be that the people who are using the term don't know what it means. Here's a link to Wikipedia that I hope will help.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_of_interest

"A conflict of interest occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other."

It's hard to see how this applies to an agent who in neither instance acquires rights and in both instances earns the same percentage. As long as the agent makes the same 15% whether brokering a sale to a legacy publisher or assisting the author publish the work herself, the agent is incentivized to recommend the route that looks most likely to make the author the most money. So no hidden incentives, or at least no more so than has been the case with traditional agenting.

Josie said, "You’re charging 15% to do what a regular publisher does – pick out a cover artist, etc. To make it worse, you’re charging them for things they can do on their own for free."

How does this create a conflict of interest? Basically, what you're saying is, "It's not fair for you to charge 15% for the services legacy publishers charge 85% for!" Maybe you could argue it's unfair for Company A to charge less than Company B, but a lower price itself has nothing to do with a conflict of interest.

And of what relevance is it that someone charges for what the customer can do for free? Is this not always the case? For example, I could paint my own house or cut my own grass for free, but it's more cost-effective for me to hire these things out so I can focus on my day job. Come to think of it, I could perform surgery on myself to save money, too, but I might be better off outsourcing that to a specialist. Anyway, publishers have always charged for these things that authors can do for free; is there a conflict of interest there, too?

The rest of Josie's points are the usual false conflation of self-publishing with dreck and legacy publishing with quality. In fact, there's undeniably plenty of both in both.

Like other, similar memes, "Conflict of interest!" is so poorly thought through that the most interesting thing about it is wondering what's really motivating it. For more on this, and on where these ill-considered memes come from and how they'll die out:

http://bit.ly/iQlJMK

I think from now on, every time an agent offers a new service to self-published authors and someone reflexively spouts, "Conflict of interest!", someone should link to this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-b7RmmMJeo

Anyway, congratulations again, guys. I think it's great that you're offering this service to self-published authors who don't want to do everything themselves.

KevinMc said...

It's worth noting that Robin's Ridan Press is taking only 30% - but paying for covers, and for formatting, and doing a superb job marketing the books as well.

If that 15% doesn't cover the actual costs of cover, editing, formatting, etc., then they'd best be planning on doing some serious ongoing marketing for then book, right? And let you pull the book to self publish it instead if they stop marketing it effectively, right?

Or something like that.

Because I think operations like Robin's are going to become the gold standard for publishing. That's the goal publishers should be shooting for, and anything less is probably not something writers should be bothering with.

Alain Gomez said...

15% of royalties doesn't seem worth it to me on any level. If you're just starting, it means you're making nothing. If you're established (which seems to be what they cater to), that a lot of money for services that you could just essentially automate yourself.

David Gaughran said...

I'm just thinking out loud here.

Is it necessary to put a label on what DGLM are doing? From their announcement, it sounds like they are just "project managing" certain aspects of their clients' self-publishing.

It's still their client self-publishing. They are just providing advice on how to do it effectively.

Am I missing something obvious?

Don't get me wrong, I automatically have a negative disposition towards agents becoming publishers (while keeping their agent hats on). But is this really the same thing?

KevinMc said...

You might be absolutely correct, David. I don't think we have enough details about what they're doing, yet, to say for sure.

If they're just giving advice, with the promise from the writer to pay them 15%, then they're still just agents, aren't they? Offering professional advice in a new area, in addition to the old.

If they're uploading the books to their ebook retailer accounts, and paying the author a percentage, though - that's not just advice anymore. That's publishing, at which point they're the publisher, not the author.

I think it's an important distinction, because it's about control of the book and flow of the revenue.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a good sign. You have some agents who are clinging to their gatekeeper role with white-knuckled hands, trying to make newly-empowered unpublished writers feel insecure and needy, and then you have agents who know things are changing but are determined to find ways to use their talents in the new publishing paradigm. Agents are not idiots. They might have gotten a little big for their britches over the years, but they do understand something about books.

Anonymous said...

"I'm paying for a lifelong service."

The service will only last a lifetime, but the payments will last a lifetime + 70 years. Your kids will be cutting checks to D&G for most of THEIR lives.

I know you have an emotional attachment to your agency (and I don't blame you) because they showed you some love back in those dark days of getting multiple rejections. I can't help but wonder if that has somehow contributed to your continued insistence on the rationality of this model even though I think you know it doesn't make sense on the cost vs. tangible value alone (including accounting for additional writing time . . . which, by the way, reminds me of Kafka, who scaled back his regular job to get more writing time, but simply procrastinated for those extra hours he gained).

It does, however, make sense if you add in the emotional component, and that's fine. Either way, you're a smart man, you've handed out some excellent advice over the years, and you continue to graciously donate so much of your time to share your experiences and (99% rational) opinions that I can't help but applaud you for the one business decision you're making with your heart.

- Z

Christopher John Chater said...

I've never had an employee collect my income and pay me...
I'd be weary of this, but Joe should be proud he has created some smart readers with his blog who aren't sheep and are offering their skepticism of this model.

Cathryn Grant said...

Completely off-topic, but indulge me for a minute, anonymous @4:12pm

Tell me more about Kafka. I've never heard this anecdote and as someone battling the day job, longing for freedom to write full time, but finding myself procrastinating when I have 10 hours to write on Saturdays, I think I see a new "quit being a slacker" quote for my wall.

gniz said...

I think others are being too kind here (even though many are skeptical). This arrangement, as described by Joe and his agency, is pretty horrible.

Do they actually DO the cover art? If they only put you in touch with a cover artist and copy editor (as stated) than this is a blatant rip-off. And 15% for formatting (are they even doing that?) is simply highway robbery.

There are people out there doing good formatting for a couple hundred bucks or less. 15% of Joe's royalties is a LOT of money. Yes, time is money too but for 15% they should be literally creating the covers, formatting and copyediting without Joe having to pay another red cent.

I don't even make that much money off my ebooks--maybe a couple grand a month now--and I wouldn't give up 15% for what sounds like little more than handholding while you still have to pay all the same costs.

If the arrangement is different than explained, everyone involved needs to do a MUCH better job of explaining it.

Eric Christopherson said...

There's a reason the announcement was somewhat vague as this is all new to the agency and to its authors. I'm looking forward to having a face-to-face on this new service with my agent, to negotiating terms, in other words...

Anonymous said...

Well, fascinating, as always, and a lot more to wade through on top of the actual writing.
I felt bad for Carl Graves, who understandably seemed overwhelmed by all of the people who suddenly wanted to work with him. Some very ugly comments were posted (quite unasked) on my site. It was a saving grace that he was unable to work with this bunch. Nobody needs that stuff.Try going back to kindergarten, folks.
Meanwhile, so many people are offering services, or pieces of the services required to get a book online, that I am quite lost.
Are we to understand that your recommended group will do everything but the writing, or just recommend a lot of separate people who will all send their own bill?Is there now a head count of how many people I must find before this happens, everything from cover art to inside formatting? No wonder agents take the money so happily. It begins to look like a real bargain.

gniz said...

And by the by...I don't think this service would be worth 15% for someone like Joe, even if his agency DOES cover all these costs...

The cost of these things in a flat fee might be worth a couple thousand bucks, and that's being generous. With Joe's money making potential per book, it's insane to give away 15% purely out of laziness.

And I think this is laziness plain and simple. Contracting with some people to do cover art, format a book, and perhaps some copy-editing, is not all that hard. It's not worth giving away thousands and thousands of dollars of your hard earned money every month because you don't want to deal with a few headaches.

And I'm sorry that agents are SOL in this current climate. Sorry they are no longer worth this high percentage when it comes to ebooks. Maybe we need to start talking about 5% royalties. I won't be shedding any tears.

Anonymous said...

Cathryn:

Here's the gist of it: Kafka worked for an insurance company, and he complained about his work schedule never giving him enough time to write. And so he cut back his hours so he could be done with work by the early afternoon (instead of seven in the evening or something like that). But once he was on his new schedule, he found that he simply spent the extra time doing things like going to the gym, visiting his parents, walking about town, or simply lazing around. Net result was he figured he actually spent LESS time on writing.

There's a saying: if you want something done, give it to a busy man. Free time can be a curse for most people--many who are disciplined and organized when busy fall apart when they have too much time to spare.

Kafka is a great writer, but remember this: Sinclair Lewis spent his early years writing for a few minutes in the morning in his kitchen and then on the train to work. He said that he wrote most of his early novels "when he didn't have time to write."

Kafka died virtually unknown and unpublished (most of his stuff was published posthumously), and Sinclair Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

- Z

Jay Krow said...

To me, this looks like someone just trying to cash in on ebook publishing because they know it's the future. Though I don't see the need for their services VS paying a flat fee and being done with it, I'm sure some will go this route, and probably be sorry they did. Just my two cents. I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Not really for it against it until Joe chimes in with details, but I would love to know what 'life-long service entails' Formatting and uploading shouldn't take a lifetime...

Let me lay something else out here too...

Let's say a bunch of established folks with big o.o.p. back lists pile on along with some indie folks with good track records (aka Joe).


Let's further say that Agency X has 5 people working there (yes there are assistants and stuff, but let's say 5 hand on types).

How many titles can these folks handle exactly? If Joe gives them 5 books a year and 12 authors show up with 10 back list titles each, we are looking at 125 books.

If doing all the work on a book is so hard that authors need to out-source, how can 5 people take care of 125 books?

Is 125 books a wild estimate? If each book makes 20k per year (yeah if all the people are Joe Konrath!) the agency gets 20k * 125 * .15 (15%). That's 375k for 5 salaries + cost of doing business. I hope they are working out of someone's garage.

More books the ticket to success? How many can 5 people handle? Hire more people? More slices out of the pie.

I am not saying I am accurate with these numbers, but - as I said - until we get some details it makes me wonder...

BTW, despite that fact that I am skeptical here, I DO appreciate the blog and the info you share JK. THANK YOU!

Ellen Fisher said...

Having thought about it for a while, I have some other questions. This sentence in particular bothers me: "We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work."

It sounds as if the only real action they're taking here is uploading books (which I think we can all agree is not worth 15% of royalties). Otherwise, they will help you CHOOSE a cover artist, and help you work with a copyeditor (I don't get the impression that they are providing said service, but I could be wrong). So the author is paying 15% to them, plus a fee to the cover artist and copyeditor?

They add that they will "try to place subsidiary rights where applicable," but I'm assuming that would involve more fees, judging from the phrasing.

This really sounds less and less useful the more I look at it. I'd need to know exactly what the agent was providing, but right now, it doesn't sound even remotely worth it.

What am I missing here?

Mark Asher said...

It sounds as if the only real action they're taking here is uploading books (which I think we can all agree is not worth 15% of royalties). Otherwise, they will help you CHOOSE a cover artist, and help you work with a copyeditor (I don't get the impression that they are providing said service, but I could be wrong). So the author is paying 15% to them, plus a fee to the cover artist and copyeditor?

I was wondering the same thing. If the writer has to pay for cover, editing, and formatting, I don't really see what these people provide for their 15%?

How hard is it to fire off an email to your cover artist asking for a cover? to send your novel out for editing? to send it out for ebook formatting? Joe already has people he uses for this.

For 15% I'd expect the agency to cover the costs of those things and I'd expect some ongoing promotion, too.

Anonymous said...

@KevinMc - so Ridan Publishing isn't really a publisher then, but a marketing machine?

That's what I got from your statement...

And there's a heck of a difference between a publisher and a marketing agency, imo.

please clarify?

thank you!

Sarah Woodbury said...

On a totally unrelated note, I just read an article on MSNBC.com about airline seating, and in the comments, someone referred to the airline as a 'legacy airline' as opposed to Southwest.

KevinMc said...

@Anon 6:15

I think you misunderstood me.

Anyone who is uploading a book to their ebook retailer accounts is the publisher of that book.

Ridan publishes their books. By the wording of the D&G announcement, it sounds like D&G will be publishing books soon, too.

Self publishing occurs when the writer uploads the book to the writer's retailer accounts, i.e. when the writer is the publisher.

When you sign away rights to another company to upload your books for you, you're no longer the pubisher: they are.

David Gaughran said...

@KevinMc

It's not who does the uploading that decides who the publisher is. I know plenty of self-publishers who use BookBaby. They do the uploading. Doesn't make BookBaby their publisher.

John Locke uses Telemachus, who upload for him as part of their flat fee service. Does that mean he is not a self-publisher.

Plus, as an international author, I can't upload to Barnes & Noble. I pay Smashwords a percentage to do it for me.

Does that mean I am not a self-publisher?

It doesn't matter who does the uploading. It matters who controls the rights.

Mary Anne Graham said...

Very interesting. I think it's much better for D&G to take a risk than play it safe. Agents who play it safe may become like that last "buggy whip manufacturer" that Danny DeVito's character metioned in "Other People's Money."

Services like D&G may help indie authors become more competitive with those published by the royals.

I wish them well.

KevinMc said...

@David
You're right, there's some grey areas. ;) Telemachus uploaded Locke's books for him, but takes no % of the earnings - are they still the publisher? Bookbaby likewise takes no %, so are they the publisher? I'd say it's debatable.

We agree completely in one area: It's who holds the rights which is important.

But then, in order to upload an ebook to Kindle, Smashwords, Pubit, etc., a company has to acquire from the writer the *same ebook rights* which any NYC publisher acquires from a writer.

The author has to sign those rights over in order for Bookbaby (for example) to be able to legally upload the book. In fact, Bookbaby actually demands exclusive ebook rights. Read their contract.

So yes, for the duration of the contract, it sounds to me very much like Bookbaby is the publisher - because they have acquired exclusive ebook rights from the author.

KevinMc said...

(Wanted to add a PS, because the post above makes it sound like I'm down on the deal - or other deals - because they're not "real" self publishing. That's not at ALL the case. What matters most is whether it's a good deal, not who the publisher is. ;) But I do still believe, as I said before, in calling a spade a spade.)

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in knowing more of what the 15% would go to. I find it strange that the cut is that high. Kindle Direct Publishing isn't hard for an author to do the work of uploading. Yet, you have groups like Outskirts Press who are charging authors $299.00 for what can be done on Amazon for FREE. Their reasoning is "our authors would rather write and let us do it." How many books would one need to sell to break even? Great post, but I do remain skeptical. Too many are out there trying to make the process sound more difficult than it is with hopes of making money off authors.

Terrance Foxxe said...

Most published authors published back in the day when e-rights were not an issue, and then publishing houses(read the big 6)started claiming these e-rights were part of the original contract, even when no such wording existed. All the published writers balked, all the agents balked, and most houses capitulated, though others coughed up another wad for their bestsellers. Agents fought their publishing houses for a chance to get some funds from these new e-rights, but authors saw other advantages to owning them outright. Us, here, now. Now, if your agent is from this particular agency, and you have a backlist you want out and don't care how that happens, they figured out a way to make money from that, and you have to give them credit (and dollars) for the move. This is for their clients. Not us. We can still approach them with our finest, but the same rules apply as with other agencies. If you don't hear from them, the answer is no. However, us pure Indie Authors can do everything for free here and now, if we can and want to, and all our profit comes to us. We have to let readers know we exist. That right there is our only real problem.

gniz said...

The process isn't that tough at all. Formatting can be a little tricky but there are some pretty cheap and efficient ways to do it such as using Calibre (free software) or having someone do it for a reasonable flat free.

Covers can be even tougher...I've chosen to work at doing it myself with mixed success, but find it really fun and a nice diversion from writing. Still, there are plenty of good cover artists out there.

Uploading and writing the copy is not difficult.

All of this stuff is relatively easy. We all know this. I mean, yeah, it takes some time and effort...but 15%???? You've got to be kidding me. It's not even close to being worth 15% of book royalties ad infinitum.

Agents are greedy on the whole and they're used to living the good life by now. Thus they're trying to weasel their way into the new ebook biz even though they're not necessary for the most part.

There ARE services that are necessary--agenting isn't one of them.

Mark Asher said...

I'd be interested in knowing more of what the 15% would go to. I find it strange that the cut is that high. Kindle Direct Publishing isn't hard for an author to do the work of uploading. Yet, you have groups like Outskirts Press who are charging authors $299.00 for what can be done on Amazon for FREE. Their reasoning is "our authors would rather write and let us do it." How many books would one need to sell to break even? Great post, but I do remain skeptical. Too many are out there trying to make the process sound more difficult than it is with hopes of making money off authors.

It's a trivial task to format a book that is 100% text. The idea of charging $299, well, they'd better be doing something really special with the text to justify that price.

The things to pay for are editing/proofing and cover. It's difficult for writers to proof their own work and covers are hard if you're not a graphic artist.

But these are all things you can pay for with a flat fee instead of a percentage.

Melissa said...

No, thanks, Joe. When I hear about things like this, the words that immediately come to mind are “profit grab.” I don’t think that there are a bunch of lazy authors out there – I think that there are a lot of technologically illiterate authors who don’t own a Kindle (and probably don’t want one), but they know these “e-books thingies” are the best way to make a substantial amount of income if they publish their backlists. They don’t know that all they have to do is hire some people to scan their hardcopies, put together a cover, code it and upload it and … PROFIT.

This is serious ROCKET SCIENCE to them.

You would never see a recording artist/band formerly signed by a major label letting someone else take 15 percent for doing what they piecemeal together themselves. That’s absurd. What really stinks to high heaven about this is that agents are pandering to writers who have been traditionally published in the past. You know, could have been twenty years ago, thirty. Not new writers. *Authors with backlists.* Umm … no. Something about this feels sleazy.

Glenn Gamble said...

I agree with Joe on the non-writing aspects of the business being the biggest pain in the ass and I still haven't put a seemless process in place to streamline the writing, editing and graphic design. I still end up waiting a month longer than I want for my book to be available on Kindle.

With all that said, 15% percent is a lot of money to give to an agent just to spend $1000 to line up all the services needed to put together an ebook. This wouldn't be the right decision for me, but I can see myself willing to consider giving up a significantly smaller royalty to make my problems disappear.

Anthony P. Norse said...

Excellent blog . . . and discussion. Thanks. Like others, I'm not clear on what this deal actually means. Who does what - exactly - and for what time period? Marketing the book - and generating sales - *might* be worth 15% as it often eats productive time that could be spent writing.

For unknown authors, an idea might be for the Internet-marketing savvy(blogging, FB, Twitter, News Release, etc.) new-model agent to take 5-10% commission until sales hit xyz dollars (if you believe in this book, prove yourself) and 15% thereafter until a specified date. Cover, formatting and uploading of files are not, IMO, worth 15% forever but could be a collaborative cost-sharing arrangement.

Despite the masses of information out there, marketing via the Internet is the stumbling block for many new authors. That dangling juicy piece of fruit from the exciting new publishing tree seems ripe for the picking. Or perhaps there are such entrepreneurs out there . . .?

Alex F. Fayle said...

When I ran a Professional Organizing business I wanted to organize and not sell. I hated selling. I would have happily paid a huge amount to have someone pull in sales for me so that I could just work.

The difference with that model and an estributor is the length of the income. The estributor does a set amount of work and yet gets money for the life of the book.

If I were to set up such an agreement, I would do it like selling rights - limited number of years (and maybe concede a higher percentage) but at least after that when no more work was needed on the book they wouldn't still be earning off of me.

I never found someone who could do that for me. The estributor model on the surface seems like that

Anonymous said...

If I were to pay a fulltime employee for ongoing support, I don't see any difference between that and paying an estributor a royalty percentage.

Is the 15% forever, like the % of a trad agency? That's for the rest of your life plus 70 years, right? Because an employee is only for as long as needed, so the comparison is not really a fair one.

Anonymous said...

No way, Jose -- I'm calling foul. Unless my mind is playing tricks, I seem to remember you preaching precisely the opposite, viz. let day labor be day labor, the days of percenteries are behind us, etc.

In fact, it seems more useful for a newbie like me to take advantage of somebody's mild marketing muscle for a percentage. But 15% of _your_ grosses, given your huge platform, smells really wrong.

I've just gone through the publishing process with two titles, and it ain't worth giving up thousands of dollars for a total of about 12 hours of "work" (read: email and phone calls) with my various modern farmhands. In fact, being the boss was a real kick. And maybe I'm a bit controlling of my work, but the marketing should be as zealously guarded, IMHO, as the text of the books, since it's equally our public face.

This is the first time I've disagreed with one of your posts in almost a year of lurking. Your blog has been an enormous source of enlightenment, in no small part because it's made me grateful that I sat out of the tradpubbing dance for the last decade.

J.A. Jernay

Jon Olson said...

Hmm. I'm a little skeptical.

jon olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

David Gaughran said...

I think there are lots of different arguments getting mixed up here.

I think it's important to establish what this is first. Then we can argue about whether it's a good idea or not.

Personally, I think this is qualitatively different than an agent becoming a publisher.

They are not controlling the rights, they are receiving a percentage from the writer in exchange for essentially being a business manager.

Whether you think it's a good idea to hire an agent as a business manager, should be a business decision.

Personally, I would have a string of questions and a string of conditions before I would even entertain the notion.

I wrote a blog post about it today, in case anyone is interested.

http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/major-us-agency-moves-into-publishing-or-do-they/

Anonymous said...

Say it ain't so Joe.

You have consistently peached against the gatekeepers.

Now, you endorse the return of the gatekeepers.

???

Ursula said...

This is an interesting take. Essentially you get more services than a book packager because of rights negotiation and potential representation across multiple platforms. You as an author get to leverage your 'producer'. In a way, the agent model evolves the way the distribution model did on Amazon: strategic relationships is what corporate America likes to call it. Def something to think on. the elements of production can be a total trip and time sink, and you can't buy more time at Kmart. But you can procure services and take on strategic relationships like this. Thanks for posting, it's yet another facet of the changing landscape and I think benefits most writers.

jtplayer said...

Everyone’s looking for their piece of the pie, reminding us once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In my mind, if you want to be independent, then be independent. This type of arrangement doesn’t feel indie to me.

And the whole “writers want to write” argument falls flat for me.

Hasn’t that always been the case? And hasn’t one of the big knocks on traditional publishing been their taking advantage of exactly that sentiment, basically ripping off the artist who simply wants to create and not be bothered by the mechanics of it all?

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight.... the agency is going to farm out the work to a format person, a cover artist and copy editor, pay those people a flat rate and then take 15 percent of MY MONEY?

Why in the world wouldn't I just hire those people myself and keep 100 percent of the profits?

-The Grape said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Joe's just doing what's best for HIM in his situation - it's not for everyone. He's got an agent who is now offering these services.

I do find it hypocritical for him to have spent so much energy and blog posts screaming about how 'orrible the commercial publishers are when he's basically signed the same deal with the estributor. He's paying them out of every sale.

But each to their own. If you can make it work for you with or without estributors or whatever, go for it.

I'd call Ridan more of an estributor than an actual publishing company, under these definition. Robin picks those self-pub authors who are doing well and markets them to the public. I don't see them as actual publishers, since none of them seem to have actual editing qualifications and Robin seems to be pushing Ridan more as a marketing machine than as a publisher, to my eyes.

But whatever works for the individual author... just keep your eyes open where you step.

Anonymous said...

I think if they do the editin, formatting and cover, then 15% for ever is ok. Especially for newbie authors like me, who don't have the cash upfront and can't predict success.

But 15% plus all the regular fees makes no sense. Unless they don't cater to newbie authors? Perhaps established authors see value in this?

J. R. Tomlin, author of Historical Fiction and Fantasies said...

I'm a bit confused. I would have sworn you had said that paying 15% forever for to someone who in effect "mowed the lawn" was a bad idea.

I don't quite understand how this is different. I'm not bashing you, Joe. You have every right to change your mind, but you don't really explain how this is different or why you changed your mind.

This looks exactly like what you advised against.

KevinMc said...

@David Gaughran
You said "They are not controlling the rights, they are receiving a percentage from the writer in exchange for essentially being a business manager."

That's not at all the implication I got from their blog post. They say "collect monies and review statements". If they are collecting monies for the author, then the retailer is paying them, and then they pay the author - not the other way around.

If the retailer is paying them, not the author, then the book was uploaded to the agent's account, not the author's.

If the book was uploaded to the agent's accounts (at Amazon, Smashwords, Pubit, etc.), then the agent has to acquire rights. Has to; the agreements on those sites require them to have those rights in order to be able to upload.

So if the agent is collecting monies, then the book is being uploaded to the agent's account. If the book is being uploaded to the agent's accounts, the agent needs to have rights. If the agent has the rights to the ebook, is putting them up on retail sites, is then paying the author a percentage of the earnings, then that agent is acting as a publisher.

Logic for the win. ;)

David Gaughran said...

@KevinMc

Agents collect money from publishing companies all the time. Most of the time they will deduct their fees from the royalties before sending the author a cheque - depending on your publishing contract and/or agency agreement.

That doesn't change the nature of your relationship with the agent and/or the publisher.

However, by your logic, Smashwords is my publisher, Joe's publisher, and every other indie writer's publisher who uses their service.

Smashwords upload our stuff to Apple, Sony, Kobo and the rest, and collect royalties on our behalf, and deduct their percentage before paying us.

Does that make Smashwords our publisher? No.

I haven't read the documents you are referring to, so I can't speak to that, and I'm not going to read them now, I just finished editing a 60k book and I can barely type.

However, is there the possibility that you could assign someone the right to upload on your behalf (and even to collect funds on your behalf) without actually assigning them the rights to your book?

Isn't this exactly what we do with Smashwords?

They don't own the rights to my book. But they upload on my behalf, collect money for me, and pay themselves before they pay me.

DGLM said...

Thanks for all the feedback on our announcement, everyone! We understand you have questions. We know many of our clients want these kinds of services, but we also understand and respect that many authors don’t feel this sort of arrangement will ever be a good fit for them. We don’t see what we’re doing as a conflict of interest, but we respect that many of you do and know we won’t be able to change your minds. Since there’s so much great feedback here, we tried to tackle many of your questions on our blog today, and we’d love for you to check it out: http://www.dystel.com/2011/06/answering-questions/

BigW said...

When an artist spends the time designing and creating an attractive and effective ebook cover, I’m all for them receiving ongoing royalties for their work – just like a writer does for their art. However, copy editing, formatting and uploading just doesn’t seem deserving of anything more than a flat fee rate.

KevinMc said...

@David
I hear you. ;) Smashwords is a grey area. They constantly repeat that they are NOT a publisher; they are a distributor. I suspect we'll see more "grey areas" come up, and a lot of what we see as fixed definitions will change in the coming years.

Smashwords acquires non-exclusive to distribute your book to retailers, but collects a percentage. Bookbaby acquires exclusive rights to distribute your book to retailers, but doesn't keep a percentage. Neither lock you into a long term agreement; you can leave with your book any time. Both are in a grey area.

One area that I think would be clearly "publisher" territory is if you can't pull your book any time you want. But I don't yet know how D&G will approach writers re-acquiring their rights (and ending the 15% payments) if unsatisfied with the services.

Still a lot to learn about this model. I think it could be done very well, if the agency was pouring substantial marketing effort into a book. Or it could be really bad. Like everything else in writing, it depends upon the contract terms. ;)

David Gaughran said...

For me, personally, it would be a business decision, nothing more.

Can this person grow my business beyond the 15% cut they are taking? Do I have a way out if they are underperforming?

I could ask a bunch more questions, but you can boil it down to those two really.

Sam said...

Intriguing debate! D&G is definitely one of the best agencies out there, so I trust they will work hard and be fair for their existing clients. I don't see why any *new* author would send them a submission in hopes of having them help self-publish it for 15%, and I don't think they would welcome such submissions.

Is there *ever* a good reason to give away some of your e-book royalties forever? Hmmm... maybe If they can sell film & foreign rights, or if you are completely clueless & intimidated by e-publishing.

I agreed to give away a portion of royalties to have an audiobook of my novel produced. This was because it was completely out of my area of expertise, and I didn't want to start from scratch to hire a voice/studio company, figure out how to get listed on Audible, etc, and pay the whole cost up front.

(By the way, for the audiobook I used Perfect Voices after I saw them recommended here by Zoe Winters, and they were truly great to work with. They also offer an option where, if you are confident enough pay all the production costs up front, you *do* keep all the royalties.)

author Scott Nicholson said...

I don't see why literary agents are considered ideal candidates for this role--what in heck do they know about any aspect of the new era? They have never chosen covers, sold books to readers, formatted ebooks, etc. And it's one more sinkhole for your money.

Joe, I know you have an existing and trustworthy relationship with these people, and maybe they can learn these sets of skills, but it looks like you're still going to paying for everything AND giving up a cut. And you still have to manage THEM instead of the other way around. It's not as easy as handing over a book file and you're done. The only advantage I can see an agent having in this role is the management system for (eventually) distributing you your money.

I remain open-minded. Someone will make it work. I just don't automatically assume agents know anything except for how to sell books to a couple of dozen editors. Good luck, though--never hurts to roll the dice once in a while.

Mark Asher said...

...but it looks like you're still going to paying for everything AND giving up a cut.

That's the part that's hard to understand.

One thing they could do that would help would be to do direct distribution to each retailer as much as possible rather than let Smashwords do it all. For example, you can get 10% if you go direct with Apple.

There may be a way do go direct with Kobo too and have more control.

And there are smaller retailers out there on the web.

These guys should be doing all this for you.

And they should open social media accounts on places like Goodreads, etc., and use those to actively promote.

Megg Jensen said...

Joe has a much larger garden to tend to than the rest of us. If he needs to hire more staff to manage it, so what? It's not our business how he pays them and for how long. If this is what he wants to do, then live and let live.

He's on the cutting edge again, people. He's doing the same thing he's always done and taking a risk.

Good for you Joe!

Megg Jensen

Anonymous said...

Two observations:

1) this post gets far fewer sycophantic comments of support than most.

2) ‘Joe Sez’, cutting down all naysayers and a-preachin’ the indie gospel, conspicuously absent.

Paul Pender said...

In the screenwriting world which I inhabit, some agents mutated into managers a while back. Agents and managers now share an uneasy co-existence.

Is that what is currently happening in the book world? Are book agents, realizing that their main raison d'etre is increasingly obsolete, trying to re-invent themselves as managers?

It should be noted that managers in the film world often claim a contractual right to a producer credit on their clients' movies.

This suggests that the new agent-managers in the book world may be opening the way to claiming a publisher credit on their clients' books. I would proceed with caution.

Melissa said...

@Sam,

"I don't see why any *new* author would send them a submission in hopes of having them help self-publish it for 15%, and I don't think they would welcome such submissions."

I would certainly hope they would not pluck that particular low-hanging fruit. But soliciting authors with existing backlists is sort of like shaking the tree, doncha think?

I was actually contemplating querying D&G because they seem amenable to working with (real) publishers that focus on ebooks. Now I'm ... nope. I still think they have wonderful blogs and will continue to follow.

Jude Hardin said...

I am also represented by DGLM, and I would absolutely give this a shot. 15% seems like a bargain to me.

But I understand why some authors would balk at such an arrangement. One thing I've learned here and elsewhere is that publishing in 2011 is not one size fits all.

Paul Pender said...

Joe's agents/managers/ estributors (delete as appropriate) have a lively and informative blog, where they are currently explaining the estributor concept.
They apparently took the time to send an "encouraging note" to a sixth grader who wants to be a novelist when he grows up.
I want to a novelist when I grow up too. So far there are only two minor impediments to my realizing this dream:
1) I have never written a novel and
2) I have never grown up.
But I've asked Joe's folks, on their blog page, to send me an encouraging note anyway.
I think you should too.
I mean, why should sixth graders have all the fun?

gniz said...

Megg, No offense meant but I really disagree with your comments...

You say: "t's not our business how he pays them and for how long. If this is what he wants to do, then live and let live."
Nobody, least of all me, cares what Joe Konrath decides to do with his business or personal decisions, Megg. But Joe runs a blog for authors, and he talks about stuff that is cutting edge, as you point out. So there is a burden on Joe to not misinform or mislead other writers, imo.
So it's not just "live and let live." If that's how Joe wants it then don't post it on your professional blog, touting this new arrangement. What a major literary agency does in regards to ebooks also has ramifications far beyond Joe himself, it impacts many other people and especially authors. That's why I care.

"He's on the cutting edge again, people. He's doing the same thing he's always done and taking a risk."
There's no real risk here and no great reward either, as far as I can tell. Joe has done all of the hard work to get himself to this position and now he's throwing away fifteen percent to people that don't really deserve it. As you say, live and let live but I won't for a minute pretend this arrangement makes sense.

If agents want to get fifteen percent than they either need to make a deal and get that money for us, or they need to truly provide a service. They want fifteen percent because they help revise a book? Since when do editors at publishing houses get royalties from writers? Last I checked they get a salary.

What is it that agents do in the ebook world that entitles them to fifteen percent of anything? Most of them show a vast misunderstanding of the industry. The majority of agents are already way behind the curve and falling further by the day. They don't understand the market, how it works, how to do PR, how to do covers, how to write copy, nothing...

Agents know how to sell to publishers. I'm sorry that this job description no longer entitles them to the kind of money they usually make. That does suck. But the answer is to really make a commitment to the new market and actually put your money where your mouth is, not simply take authors' money because you feel entitled to it.

Anonymous said...

Since today seems to be honesty (rather than butt-suck) day, here's a thing:

Joe goes on and on about low pricing being the key to ebook success, and berates trad publishers for high pricing. Yet his buddy Barry E charges 3 bucks for 30 page stories, which would work out as about 25-30 bucks for a novel length piece.

The bottom line here is that most people are in publishing solely for their own best short-term interests, which is absolutely legitimate and honorable, and exactly what Joe is doing.
Taking a moralizing/pontificating tone about 'the publishing industry' is just plain hypocrisy, especially when, like Joe, you type out your back-slapping conversations on the subject of self pubbing and sell 'em, only to go on to sell your ass several times over to what are essentially new mutations of the legacy system.
obefsk

gniz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gniz said...

Before this seems like nothing but a Joe bashing session, I just want to say that I'm eternally grateful for the help and information Joe has provided. It has given me a financial boost I never would have dreamed possible.

A lot of self pubbed authors owe Joe a great debt of gratitude and I'm one of them. This blog is pretty much the NY Times for me...

That being said, this last post by Joe was a big, big miss in my personal estimation. But hey, even the best have an off day now and again.

Paul McMurray said...

Joe, is this going to be like the "Dallas" cliffhanger, when Bobby wakes up in the shower? (Or whatever he did--too long ago).
Paul

Anonymous said...

92 comments and not one of them from Joe?

Rex Kusler said...

I think Joe's in love with his agent. It's wiser to agree to giving her 15% of everything now--as opposed to 50% of everything later on.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm on a deadline and wrote 5000 words today, so no time for blog stuff.

I'll reply in more detail soon, but of course I'm not paying for cover art or formatting or anything else in this arrangement. My agent is taking care of everything.

Joe Konrath said...

Agents used to be the author's ambassador to the publisher.

My agent's role has always been to make me money, which she has. There isn't a single deal she's made for me that hasn't been improved because of her input and work. I expect this to be no different.

The agent doesn't actually provide editing, uploading, cover design or anything else.

For me she does.

That means their contract with you needs to acquire ebook rights. Has to.

Not at all. You're assuming that Amazon hasn't worked with agents before. This isn't the case.

Your kids will be cutting checks to D&G for most of THEIR lives.

It's a fallacy to look at new models while ignoring the old models. My kids will be cutting checks to D&G anyway, because D&G has negotiated so many legacy contracts for me that will probably still be in effect because my publishers won't let me go out of print.

How is this something new?

Joe Konrath said...

I'd be interested in knowing more of what the 15% would go to.

It is my understanding that they will oversee this title in an active way, not a passive way. That will include ongoing marketing and excerpt updates, among other things.

This is all new, and I'm the first. I think, based on my track record, we can assume I'm not a rube about to get taken for a ride.

I'd like someone to run the business aspect or self-pubbing so I don't have to. That's what this arrangement is. We'll see how it works.

Because an employee is only for as long as needed, so the comparison is not really a fair one.

If we assume I'll need an employee for life, and things will still need to be taken care of after I die, I'd say the comparison is fair.

Joe Konrath said...

Unless my mind is playing tricks, I seem to remember you preaching precisely the opposite, viz. let day labor be day labor, the days of percenteries are behind us, etc.

That's what Dean Wesley Smith has preached. I've disagreed with him. You can read about our disagreements on his blog, and in my dialogs with Barry Eisler.

You have consistently peached against the gatekeepers.

Now, you endorse the return of the gatekeepers.


I've preached against legacy publishers, not agents. Please show me a case where I've done otherwise.

I do find it hypocritical for him to have spent so much energy and blog posts screaming about how 'orrible the commercial publishers are when he's basically signed the same deal with the estributor.

Ack. 52.5% is NOT the same deal as 15%. Not even close, man.

Joe Konrath said...

I don't see why literary agents are considered ideal candidates for this role--what in heck do they know about any aspect of the new era?

They're smart, talented people who understand writers and what writers need.

That's what I'm looking for, and what I'm paying for.

There's no real risk here and no great reward either, as far as I can tell. Joe has done all of the hard work to get himself to this position and now he's throwing away fifteen percent to people that don't really deserve it.

This risk is I'm throwing away my 15% and getting nothing in return. The great reward is if this works as I hope it will, and then I never have to do a thing other than write.

The amount of time I spend managing my empire (and 36 ebooks on close to a dozen platforms with more on the way qualifies as "empire") is staggering, and cuts deep into my writing time.

If I had someone to take care of all that business stuff, it would make me more prolific, and more profitable. Simple math. I can't do two things at once. I'd rather be writing.

Joe Konrath said...

Yet his buddy Barry E charges 3 bucks for 30 page stories, which would work out as about 25-30 bucks for a novel length piece.

I won't speak for Barry, but he's charging what the market is able to bear. He's also adjusting his pricing accordingly. In short, he's experimenting, learning, adapting, and doing all the things that legacy publishers are failing to do. And he's doing it faster and better.

Taking a moralizing/pontificating tone about 'the publishing industry' is just plain hypocrisy, especially when, like Joe, you type out your back-slapping conversations on the subject of self pubbing and sell 'em, only to go on to sell your ass several times over to what are essentially new mutations of the legacy system.

Are you only a tool anonymously? Or does toolness also affect your non-anonymous life?

I've never been a hypocrite. I have changed my mind as new data comes in, which is what all smart people do.

My dialog with Barry is free on Smashwords. It isn't free on Amazon because they DON'T ALLOW FREE. But once Amazon's bots find the Smashwords freebie, it'll be free on Amazon as well.

If you bothered readign the dialog, we CLEARLY, PAINFULLY, IN GREAT DETAIL explain what legacy publishing is. Neither Barry nor I are doing that.

No wonder you won't sign your name to a post. Do us both a favor and try to make a valid point next time.

Joe Konrath said...

Before this seems like nothing but a Joe bashing session,

Serves me right for writing today. :)

Look, I appreciate the questions and the concerns, and this is a good forum to voice them. We should all be skeptical. It means we're paying attention.

Let's try to stay focused on the argument, and stop the anonymous trolling.

The argument is a simple one: is it worth paying an agent 15% to manage a self-pubbed work?

I'm willing to try it to find out. If it works, I'll tell you. If it doesn't work, I'll also tell you.

That's what I do on this blog, remember?

Joe Konrath said...

For some reason Barry's comment got caught in the spam filter (Blogger, you're gonna make me swtich to Wordpress yet), but it's above and worth reading.

Barry and I also chime in on the Writer beware blog on this topic.

Writer Beware

One of the smartest things said: there IS a conflict of interest with agents on this topic. If an agent doesn't offer self-pubbing services, then they will push their client into sticking with the legacy route, even if it isn't the best route, because that is the only way the agent can make money. That is NOT in a writer's best interests.

If the agent offers both brokering legacy deals, and managing self pubbing deals, for the same 15%, the agent makes money either way and doesn't have to push the writer one way or the other. The writer can decide what they want.

SeltzerCole said...

The world of publishing is going through an apocalypse at the moment, so understandably, agents are trying to reinvent themselves and secure a future. However, a 15% cut - of every one of the author's "estributed" ebooks - forever, for being an introducer/facilitator is a breathtaking amount.

The complexity of creating cover art, editing, uploading and marketing has been overstated somewhat. There are creative, editorial and production professionals whose skills and experience can be purchased for relatively small amounts. The recession has significantly brought down costs.

Authors should consider spending a few hours learning how to do it themselves and to embrace the commercial/production side of their work with as much enthusiasm as the creative. There's a lot of excellent information/resources available on the internet for free.

As a previous poster wrote, ultimately, it's down to personal preference. Personally, I think the idea is diabolical, but I can't blame the agents for trying.


Seltzer Cole
Fizz Media

James said...

If I were paying someone 15% of the profit from a book I wrote, and the profit was significant, I would expect that they would take on the costs of the cover, editing, and formatting, and handle the uploading. I would not expect to pay out a single dime past that 15% to go from the Word file (or whatever) to the completed product ready for sale.

I would also expect them to negotiate audio book contracts, foreign rights, etc., as applicable, as part of that 15%.

Anything less and I would have to question the value of the service.

Joe's situation is different from that of most writers, so the cost may end up being worth it to him. That doesn't mean it will be worth it to everyone. It will be interesting to see what he thinks of it after doing a book or two with the company.

Joe Konrath said...

Why is it, if an agent negotiates a million dollar deal, and gets 15% ($150k) no one questions it, but if an agent manged a self pubbed ebook that has a million dollars in sales they don't deserve the 15%?

It seems the work involved in bringing an ebook to market could take more time than selling a book to a legacy publisher.

Should what an agent earns be based upon the amount of money a book earns? Where is the precedent for that?

People seem to forget, in the face of 70% royalties, that writers are still getting 8% royalties (or less) for paperback sales. I make fifty-five cents on a $8 book sale, and the agent gets ten cents, and that's always been acceptable. But if I make $1.77 on a $2.99 ebook, and an agent makes thirty cents, I'm somehow being ripped off.

Show me the logic there.

Sam said...

The more I think about it, the 15% is not the problem so much as the loss of control. Your book would be uploaded to their Kindle/Nook/etc account. You would lose the ability to log on, publish & revise the book at will, tweak the promo text yourself, set and change the price yourself, check sales numbers whenever you want, and receive payments promptly and directly without having royalties filtered through another entity first (how long will that take?)

But, for an established client of the agency, with a stable of self-pubbed books already generating a good income, it's worth experimenting.

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellen Fisher said...

Thanks for all the clarifications, Joe. I agree that if they're actually providing the cover, edits, and marketing, it may in fact be worth that 15% (I'd still rather pay a flat fee, though). However, much depends on the quality of the editing and cover-- I think many of us saw that horrible Loretta Chase cover her agent slapped on a backlist title. Hopefully the author retains creative control and can veto a cover s/he doesn't like.

Melissa F. Miller said...

Joe,
As always, thank you for sharing your experience with us. Based on your track record, there is no doubt you will provide an honest appraisal of this experiment.

To answer your question, the difference is almost every author needs an agent to gain access to traditional publishing houses. No author needs an agent to gain access to kdp, pubit, or smashwords. All one needs is an internet connection.

To pay 15% for access that is otherwise unavailable is one thing; to pay 15% for something that one COULD do oneself is quite another.

Now, I'm not in the position of having either a huge backlist or an empire to manage. And based on posts by Dean Wesley Smith and Bob Mayer--who ARE in that position--it seems abundantly clear that it is time consuming to get those titles up and to keep them updated.

So, I can see why someone would want to farm that work out, but giving a cut of the royalties for services that are available on the market for a flat fee is just not in one's economic best interest.

Barry compared it to paying someone to mow the lawn or clean the house. I believe it was Mike Stackpole who wrote that you don't give your landscaper a cut of the proceeds from the sale of your house, you pay him a flat rate.

Are there things that agents do that merit a %? I guess so. I don't think project management---which is what this sounds like---is one of those things.

But, it hardly matters what someone like me thinks of this arrangement; an agency like yours is not staying up nights figuring out how to sign someone with one title. ;)

Sam said...

Why is it, if an agent negotiates a million dollar deal, and gets 15% ($150k) no one questions it, but if an agent manged a self pubbed ebook that has a million dollars in sales they don't deserve the 15%?

Because an unagented author cannot approach a big publisher. Agencies are the gatekeepers to the gatekeepers. They are absolutely required for getting that million dollar deal.

But having an agent means nothing when it comes to selling a Kindle or Nook book. What sells the book is: good content, cover design, price, luck, promotion, and all the factors we talk about here...

So an agent would deserve credit for sales only if they helped your ebook acquire those factors, beyond what you could have done yourself.

Anonymous said...

The basic problem, Mr. Konrath, is that for years now you've preached the independent successful self-published writer doesn't NEED any help to succeed.

Now you basically break that by signing a deal for a percentage. Be it 15, 5, 55, 99, whatever percent, it goes against what you've preached in the past. Period.

The mystery here isn't that you signed, as it is clear you think it's the best decision for you, but why you are shocked that anyone would question your choice after your diatribes in the past.

Can't be a guru and change your path without pissing off some disciples, sir.

Isabella Amaris said...

Not to be sycophantic, but I can actually see the merits to this arrangement if it bears out in the long run... something we wouldn't know now, eh?:) If it's workable , then yes, I'd be happy to fork over 15% so that I can sit and write while my agent handles admin and publicity matters (which is what the 'everything else' boils down to ultimately)... especially if I'm also employed and have limited time to write AND market my books, let alone probably lack the expertise to negotiate deals with third parties for various rights.

I'm looking at this more from a 'marketing/promotion and acquiring deals on foreign/audio/film rights etc' viewpoint though, not so much covert art and formatting; though help with that would be great too:)

As to whether agents are equipped to promote ebooks effectively, it's probably too soon to tell; negotiating on rights etc, of course they'll be great, even if it's ebooks... hmmmm, 15%... I dunno about the validity of the figure, but this is all new territory, so the figure'll have to start somewhere... I'm guessing this will adjust based on market forces in the future and what other expert boutique firms come up with to rival what 'estributors' can provide...

Isabella Amaris said...

yikes, 'cover art' not 'covert' art lol as elusive as good cover art might be:D

David Gaughran said...

I don't understand the (predominantly anonymous) comments that are accusing Joe of betraying some kind of ideology.

Managing your workload with one or two titles out is one thing. I can only imagine what it's like to have 30 - 40 titles out.

Each time you release something new, that's more than 30 pieces of back-matter that have to be updated, reformatted, and uploaded. That alone is hugely time consuming.

To me, Joe is not making an ideological decision, he's making a business decision.

Now, we can argue about the merits of that (and I would have several questions myself), but accusing him of betraying some arbitrary set of principles because he has decided to farm out some work so he can spend more time writing is more than a little over the top.

Eltanin Publishing said...

I guess I'll jump into this very interesting discussion. First, I just want to defend D&G for being somewhat vague. Just as every author's contract with their publisher/agent/whomever is a little bit different, I'm sure that to some degree, Dystel and Goderich will handle each author as an individual, and lay out a customized plan. This is a press release (plus one client's - Konrath's - thoughts on it) they've shown us, not a contract. If you think you might be interested in their services, contact them and I'm sure they will go into much more detail than they do in a press release.

YOU might think their service are not worth 15%, but every author is different - and at this point in time, every "estributer", ebook publisher, etc. will be a little bit different until there is some consensus as to what works best in this changing world of publishing. And actually, there will never be a consensus because every author wants different things (OK, all authors want to be best sellers, but other than that...)

Some authors like doing it all 100% themselves, some authors want to just do pay-per-service (one time fees), some authors don't have the cash for all those fees and would rather pay nothing up front, but give up a percentage of sales, etc. We (Eltanin Publishing) prefer to function as a publisher, but we've also been approached by authors who just want to pay once for certain services. On a case-by-case basis, we've agreed to provide those services.

It's all about flexibility and giving the author the services they want, in the pay structure they want, whenever possible.

I see this all as a middle ground between trad publishing and 100% self-publishing. Different authors will want different levels of assistance along that continuum. No need to bash Dystel and Goderich's model - Konrath must see benefits to it, or he wouldn't be giving up 15%. Perhaps he knows more of the details (and I see now he has specified some of them). Perhaps he wants something different than what you want. To each his own.

Thrilling Covers said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Walter Knight said...

I think most of us can figure out how to get published without a literary agent.

But how do I find an honest agent who can represent my books to Hollywood?

Joe Konrath said...

The more I think about it, the 15% is not the problem so much as the loss of control...You would lose the ability to

It's actually the opposite of what you think, Sam.

If I want to make a change, I no longer have to stop writing and take the time to do it myself. I just shoot my agent an email, and they make the change for me. D&G has hired some new staff for this sole purpose.

This means I don't have to waste time tweaking covers, fixing typos, adding excerpts from my latest novel in the back of my previous novels, updating my clickable bibliography, uploading to the latest etailer (such as OverDrive or Vook), etc.

Total control plus time saver = big win.

Joe Konrath said...

To pay 15% for access that is otherwise unavailable is one thing; to pay 15% for something that one COULD do oneself is quite another.

That is a terrific point. But let's look at it closer.

I could paint my house. I could mow my lawn. I could change the oil on my car. These are all within my capabilities.

But, I have a lot of money, and my time is valuable, and I'd rather be writing. So I pay others to do those things for me.

This is the same thing.

I believe it was Mike Stackpole who wrote that you don't give your landscaper a cut of the proceeds from the sale of your house, you pay him a flat rate.

That's a good analogy, but it falls flat.

What if, when you sold the house, included in the cost was a full time gardener for life? Does that increase the value of the home? Yes. The gardener adds value.

That's what I expect my agent to do. Add value. As she has for the last 12 years I've been with her.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Maybe I'm just a control freak. Or just cheap. But I got a great cover for a song, formatting and layout for a ridiculously low price, free proofreading and feedback from a host of friends. I didn't need a manager to take care of any of those things, and I'm relieved I did so myself -- because I've forged some valuable, ongoing personal relationships in the process. And those will be valuable in the future. No intermediary could have done that for me.

About the only time sink right now is promotion. Now I agree that it would be great to have help on that. Still, nobody knows my book as I do. Or knows all the personal contacts I've acquired over the years, and their precise relationships to me. Or could personalize my relationships with new readers, forging bonds that will move a lot of books in the future.

Bottom line: I prefer to keep control over my publicity and marketing in my own hands, for now. Maybe that will change when I have a lot more books out there -- and especially when I have a lot more money than time. Because that's the real trade-off: time and money.

If you have money, then by all means trade it to free up time to write. But if you don't, then I think you have to bite the bullet and DIY.

Joe Konrath said...

The basic problem, Mr. Konrath, is that for years now you've preached the independent successful self-published writer doesn't NEED any help to succeed.

You're confusing me with someone else.

I've preached that authors don't need publishers in their current incarnation, because of a myriad of reasons (they take too long to publish, take 52.5%, don't listen to authors, price too high, etc.)

All throughout my self-publishing endeavors, I've sung the praises of my agents. I was among the first ebook author to sell foreign and audio rights, because my agents sold them for me. My agents negotiated the two deals I've made with Amazon (Encore and Thomas & Mercer).

This isn't an ideology with me. I'm not a zealot. I simply want to do what I love for a living, and as the times change, so do I.

I've had many, many authors email me privately, and many times I've told them they should get an agent.

John Locke has my agent. So do other self-pubbed authors.

This hasn't even been about us vs. them. It's been about what's best for the author.

Agents help writers make money. That's good for the author.

Currently, the Big 6 do much more harm than good.

That's what I preach. If you think otherwise, I encourage you to find examples. And they should be recent, specific examples, taken in context.

but why you are shocked that anyone would question your choice after your diatribes in the past.

If I announced that I just signed a ten book deal with Random House, I'd expect some outrage.

Sticking with the same agent I've been with all along isn't controversial, unless people have been confusing my efforts with their ideology.

Can't be a guru and change your path without pissing off some disciples, sir.

People are welcome to disagree with me. But they should do so based on facts, not biases.

Joe Konrath said...

I can actually see the merits to this arrangement if it bears out in the long run... something we wouldn't know now, eh?:) If it's workable , then yes, I'd be happy to fork over 15%

and

but accusing him of betraying some arbitrary set of principles because he has decided to farm out some work so he can spend more time writing is more than a little over the top.

I don't spend time replying to people who agree with me, partly because there is no debate there, partly because my comments sections would then be twice as long as they are now.

But you two "get" what I'm doing. I'm wondering if I somehow miscommunicated my intent since so many others don't seem to get it.

Joe Konrath said...

No need to bash Dystel and Goderich's model - Konrath must see benefits to it, or he wouldn't be giving up 15%.

Agreed.

But I also think it's a good idea, after a press release, to clarify things that are misunderstood.

D&G are some of the most deliberate folks I've ever worked with. They think about this stuff, a lot. You can bet they're reading all of these comments and discussing them in house.

While I won't speak for them, I will say I wouldn't sign a harmful deal. People who read this blog should know that.

David Gaughran said...

@Joe

I think part of it is because people have a healthy skepticism towards agents. That's fine.

I think another part of it is because of the agents we have seen launching publishing imprints where they actually take control of the rights and pay the author pretty bad royalty rates.

I think some people might be mistaking DGLM's move as something similar.

It's not.

Rex Kusler said...

They didn’t really answer any questions in their follow-up blog post. So, I’m assuming they’ll pay for the cover, the copy editing, advertising and promotion. And they get your books released in a timely manner. If that’s the case, it sounds pretty good.

Promotion is key. For an unknown author, if all they do is release the books, nobody will know they’re there.

If they spend time and money on promotion, then maybe 15% is too low.

Eltanin Publishing said...

But I also think it's a good idea, after a press release, to clarify things that are misunderstood.

I believe that when readers were faced with a lack of details, they assumed the worst. They didn't see EXACTLY what you were getting for 15%, so they didn't see why you would give up 15%.

A tip for D&G, if they are reading this as you suggest - I think the phrase that soured some people was D&G's statement, "We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor..." It doesn't say, for example, that D&G will provide or pay for a copy editor, only that they will help you find one. Some readers assumed that the author would have to pay the copy editor, and for the other services listed. You clarified that you wouldn't be.

But I sympathize with D&G. If you are too vague, people seem to assume the worst. If you are too specific, it could come back to bite you if someone later says, "But you promised you would do X, Y, and Z for EVERYONE." If each author gets slightly different, negotiated terms, then you can't be incredibly detailed in a press release.

C. Pinheiro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C. Pinheiro said...

Your book would be uploaded to their Kindle/Nook/etc account.

For me, it's a question of trust. I'm a writer, and I'm also an accountant, and I would love to hand all my administrative tasks over to someone else. They are time-consuming and boring, and take days out of my already-busy schedule.

But I have a hard time trusting a third party with my royalties. This is the area where a lot of abuse and "creative accounting" occurs. Dorchester Boycott, anyone?

I understand where Joe is coming from. It's basically Amanda Hocking's argument, too (she told a reported recently that "being me is a full-time corporation"

Joe has enough money to hire an employee and an accountant, and still control all the financial aspects of his business. This is a better option to ensure control and transparency.

gniz said...

So Joe, why 15%?
Why is that the magic number?
Perhaps--I say perhaps (although I personally don't think so)--your agent is entitled to a percentage of your sales for doing these myriad activities for ebooks.

But why 15%?

I do think that simply assuming 15% as standard because it has been done with traditionally published deals is not very sensible with ebooks.

Selling a novel is incredibly difficult. It's nothing close to a sure thing, unless you're a big name author. But selling a book on kindle is 100% certain.

So why should an agent get such a high percentage of your royalties? I'm sorry, this whole thing just smells bad to me.

More power to you if you're happy with it, but I think writers in general should turn away from this sort of arrangement, and it does disappoint me that you are touting this as maybe the wave of the future.

I don't see it as betraying an ideology but rather a betrayal of your common sense approach. You can't really defend this royalty rate no matter how hard you try. The evidence doesn't support it and I think at some level you're aware of that.

This service should either be a flat fee (even a substantial flat fee might be fine) or it should be a lower royalty rate such as 5% for ebooks, unless these agencies bring something far more important to the table than simply being admins.

W. Dean said...

C. Pinheiro,

I don’t think you really thought through your alternative.

First, whether you hire an accountant or an agency, you must still trust a third party with your finances.

Second, it’s a remarkable employee who knows e-book formatting, copy-editing, cover design, marketing and, on top of that, has the knowledge and the ability to negotiate publishing contracts, film rights, foreign rights—the list goes on.

Third, you actually have to find this employee, negotiate a salary, arrange and pay all the taxes, payroll deductions and other obligations that go along with being an employer.

In other words, you still have a full time job running a business.

W. Dean said...

After reading some of these comments I’m reminded of what the wise Yoda once said: you can be a writer and you can be a writer who makes money; but you can’t be a writer who makes money and one who sticks it to the man at the same time.

Seriously, some of you people need to keep your eye on the ball. Do you want to be a full-time writer or do you want to play revolutionary vanguard, exacting vengeance upon all the agents and publishers who turned you down, even when they’re offering you something that might be beneficial?

Joe Konrath said...

You can't really defend this royalty rate no matter how hard you try. The evidence doesn't support it and I think at some level you're aware of that.

Sure I can defend it.

Things are worth what people are willing to pay for them. If me, or other writers, are willing to pay 15%, and feel they're getting value from the 15%, then it's a good deal for that author.

If it isn't worth it to you, you don't have to do it. Worth is subjective.

15% is tip money (and actually, I pretty much tip 25% across the board.) When someone provides a service for me, whether it is a bartender, a bell hop, or the guy fixing my pinball machine (I've got a Revenge From Mars that needed work done) I tip.

I try not to dismiss or criticize things that I haven't experienced. You can't fairly judge something unless you've tried it.

We'll see how this works out, and if I feel it's worth it. That's the point of this blog. I'm the guinea pig, and I share what I've learned.

If D&G works out the way I hope, it'll be a godsend to me.

Edward M. Grant said...

That's what I expect my agent to do. Add value. As she has for the last 12 years I've been with her.

I think that's the important issue here: if a deal like this allows a writer to make at least 15% more money, or the equivalent in less tangible benefits (e.g. freeing up time to do other things) then it's a good idea, if not it's a bad idea.

If handing the production work to an agent merely gives the writer 15% more time to write, then that's likely to cover the costs regardless of any other benefits. I'll be interested to see how it works out.

Barry said...

Anonymous:
"Since today seems to be honesty (rather than butt-suck) day..."

Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, and people afraid to attach their names to their words. What do they have in common? Apparently, an analingus fixation.

"Yet his buddy Barry E charges 3 bucks for 30 page stories, which would work out as about 25-30 bucks for a novel length piece."

I can't speak for Joe, but as I've said many times before, pricing isn't an ethical issue for me (outside of necessities like medicine and during emergencies). As a vendor, I'm looking for a sweet spot per-unit price, the sweet spot being the per-unit price that, multiplied by volume, maximizes my overall revenues.

I don't think publishers charging $12.99 and higher for ebooks is unethical. I think it's stupid, because it leaves a lot of money on the table.

My sense is that most readers don't look at a short story as being worth X percent of a novel. But if they do, and I conclude I'm leaving money on the table, I'll change my prices in one direction or another. IOW, my $2.99 short story prices might be stupid, but they're not unethical. If my prices are too high, people won't buy and I'll be leaving money on the table. My bad.

What any of this has to do with analingus is anyone's guess. Maybe Joe and I have posted too many monkey/frog videos?

Melissa:
"Barry compared it to paying someone to mow the lawn or clean the house. I believe it was Mike Stackpole who wrote that you don't give your landscaper a cut of the proceeds from the sale of your house, you pay him a flat rate."

I think this was Dean's analogy.

Anonymous:
"The basic problem, Mr. Konrath, is that for years now you've preached the independent successful self-published writer doesn't NEED any help to succeed."

A self-published author doesn't need to hire an agent any more than a homeowner needs to hire a housepainter. I don't think Joe has ever claimed otherwise.

Gniz:
"Selling a novel is incredibly difficult. It's nothing close to a sure thing, unless you're a big name author. But selling a book on kindle is 100% certain."

It's not about selling the novel. It's about profiting from it. Uploading a novel on Kindle is simple. Earning back, say, a $1500 investment at 15% of the proceeds? At $2.99 per unit, that's about 3,345 units sold. Just to break even, and without taking into account the agent's investment of time.

Barry said...

IMO, David Gaughran nails it in his comments here and in his blog post, but a few additional thoughts:

JTPlayer:
"In my mind, if you want to be independent, then be independent. This type of arrangement doesn’t feel indie to me."

I don't think it was intentional, but this sentiment nicely captures an important divide: for many people, publishing is an ideology. For others, it's a business. It's difficult for two such different world views to comprehend each other. I first encountered people I would loosely describe as self-publishing ideologues on Kindle Boards (my response linked below) and realized from the experience that if pure do-it-all-yourself-publishing is your goal, you won't understand someone for whom various models of publishing are means.

http://tinyurl.com/3bmlzk2

Anonymous:
"I do find it hypocritical for him to have spent so much energy and blog posts screaming about how 'orrible the commercial publishers are when he's basically signed the same deal with the estributor. He's paying them out of every sale."

If you think hiring an agent is the same as selling rights to a publisher, you're not thinking clearly. I recommend going back and reading Joe's post on J.K. Rowling's self-publishing move (and the comments).

As for the "never pay a percentage" argument, that wasn't Joe; it was Dean Wesley Smith. Dean is super smart, thoughtful, and experienced, and I've learned a lot from him, but as you'll know if you've read my online conversation with Joe and Dean, Joe and I don't agree with Dean about never paying a percentage.

Scott Nicholson:
"I don't see why literary agents are considered ideal candidates for this role--what in heck do they know about any aspect of the new era? They have never chosen covers, sold books to readers, formatted ebooks, etc. And it's one more sinkhole for your money."

We have definitely been working with different literary agents! And one thing you didn't mention is editing. A good agent does a ton of it--valuable, labor-intensive work.

Paul Pender:
"This suggests that the new agent-managers in the book world may be opening the way to claiming a publisher credit on their clients' books. I would proceed with caution."

What is a publisher credit?

Joe Konrath said...

Well worth reading: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/major-us-agency-moves-into-publishing-or-do-they

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I must have missed something. Where did it say that D&G was going to use THEIR account to load up Joe's book?

They might be, but I just figured they would have access to Joe's accounts at KDP, etc and load his book under that account name....revenues will still flow directly to Joe and then he would pay them the 15%.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

Cyn Bagley said...

Joe,
I will be very interested in how this works out.

Melissa said...

I’m still not convinced that 15 percent is equitable for a “self-pub”, unless this package deal includes editing, cover design, coding, managing sales and ongoing author promotion. An agent would have to know beforehand that book sales would justify that expense, which means, of course, working with established authors like Joe and Barry. No offense, guys, because I love your books, but I don't and never did consider you self-published writers in the strict interpretation of this word. Your ties to Big Publishing have never really been completely broken.

Take backlists off the table, and I’d feel better about D&G’s announcement. I don’t believe it’s ethical for agents to help an author self-publish previously published work or take a percentage from that work. The author has already paid his/her dues the first time around.

Barry said...

I just wanna say that real self-published authors write their books longhand using quills they've made and inks they've concocted from materials culled from the forest floor, on parchment they've pounded out with their own fists from trees they've felled with their own neolithic tools, and sell these books by hand in the public square, which they reach shoeless and on foot, eating roots and berries they gather along the way. Anything else is corruption, sabotage, and hypocrisy! Fight the man, people!

Marcel said...

Joe, I think the point is - it was bad before too, but you didn't have a choice. Now you do, so why stick with the old (and unfair, in many people's opinion) ways?

jtplayer said...

"for many people, publishing is an ideology. For others, it's a business. It's difficult for two such different world views to comprehend each other"

Agreed.

But even if your approach is strictly business, common sense dictates a simple cost-benefit analysis of any potential "estributor" arrangement.

It seems for Joe, and others in his situation, this type of deal makes a lot of sense. For the average indie or newbie starting out, it doesn't seem so clear.

I think a lot of the push back here stems from this appearing to be a form of business as usual, albeit at a lower commission.

Still, 15% could prove to be a substantial payment for services more economically "project managed" by the author himself.

The nice thing is we can count on Joe to keep us informed as to how this all shakes out.

Jude Hardin said...

I just figured they would have access to Joe's accounts at KDP, etc and load his book under that account name....revenues will still flow directly to Joe and then he would pay them the 15%.

That would pretty much defeat the purpose. Here's the way it's going to work, at least how I understand it:

Author sends book #1 to agent; while author is working on book #2, agent does EVERTHING necessary to get book #1 published and selling and exploited for subsidiary rights; agent sends author royalty checks minus 15%; author sends book #2 to agent...

In other words, all the author has to do is write books and cash checks. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

C. Pinheiro said...

First, whether you hire an accountant or an agency, you must still trust a third party with your finances.

I still maintain the only signature authority over all my accounts, and I have access to my DTP platform, where I check sales reports daily. An accountant/bookkeeper or an admin don't need account access to answer phones, copyedit, reconcile Quickbooks, and answer e-mails.

I understand wanting to relieve some of the administrative burden, but letting someone else control the purse strings is the reason why so many authors get ripped off.

Anonymous said...

All an author has to do is (1) write a book; (2) edit it (friends, authors, self); (3) make a product description; (4) get a cover; (5) upload it.

These are all simple steps, with "write a book" being 99% of the ultimate success. If the author can't do these, there are experts to hire on a one time basis. I would NEVER give a 3d party 15% of revenues forever for doing a short term, finite job.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 4:58

Very observant. You can see through all the bull.

What happened to all the "Way to go Joe's?"

Jude Hardin said...

letting someone else control the purse strings is the reason why so many authors get ripped off.

That's why you find a reputable agent you can trust.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

"I would NEVER give a 3d party 15% of revenues forever for doing a short term, finite job."

I'm pretty sure that the whole point of this is that Joe gets the "finite" stuff AND lots of support beyond that as well.

As Joe said in the comments:
If I want to make a change, I no longer have to stop writing and take the time to do it myself. I just shoot my agent an email, and they make the change for me. D&G has hired some new staff for this sole purpose.

This means I don't have to waste time tweaking covers, fixing typos, adding excerpts from my latest novel in the back of my previous novels, updating my clickable bibliography, uploading to the latest etailer (such as OverDrive or Vook), etc.

Total control plus time saver = big win.


That "stuff" is a huge time sink even for me and I'm just getting started on this publishing journey. I can't imagine how much of it Joe must do.

Sure he could hire someone for this, but then he is an employer. Ever been an employer??? I have. You want to really feel like your publishing business is a BUSINESS, hire salaried help! :)

Joe pays 15% and gets an experienced, skilled team who also has extensive personal contacts in the industry.

He doesn't have to interview, train, provide benefits, etc. He just pays. Maybe you think he is going to pay too much.

Apparently he doesn't.


Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

Jude Hardin said...

All an author has to do is (1) write a book; (2) edit it (friends, authors, self); (3) make a product description; (4) get a cover; (5) upload it.

(6) market; (7) manage accounts (multiple titles on multiple platforms); (8) negotiate sub rights...

When you get down to it, I'm only interested in #1. That, and cashing checks.

I would NEVER give a 3d party 15% of revenues forever for doing a short term, finite job.

I would, and I would hope the third party got rich selling my stuff. If they're rich getting 15%, just think how rich I am getting 85.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

Hi Jude, you said:
That would pretty much defeat the purpose.

If all Joe has to do is write one check for 15% each month, then I don't see how that affects anything else.

They do all the contracted work, they provide the evidence of sales, and Joe writes a check.

Doesn't make sense to me to have it any other way.

Joe hired them and Joe pays them. Not the other way around.



Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

W. Dean said...

Ah, the defining feature of the amateur writer perfectly distilled:

“(2) edit it (friends, authors, self)”

And you probably wonder why the number one complaint in reviews of indie books is “all the typos and bad grammar are very distracting.”

Jude Hardin said...

If all Joe has to do is write one check for 15% each month, then I don't see how that affects anything else.

He would have to track sales of multiple ebooks on multiple platforms, not to mention foreign language sales, audio rights, film options...

Joe hired them and Joe pays them. Not the other way around.

That's not the way the agent/author relationship typically works, and I seriously doubt that's the way it's going to work with this.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

He would have to track sales of multiple ebooks on multiple platforms, not to mention foreign language sales, audio rights, film options...

Nope, in my mind they do. That's on them. They show him the totals, he pays them.

Show me how much money you have made both of us and I will cut you a check! Reporting is a key ingredient in this relationship anyway, so it's not as though they are going to really being doing anything extra.

It's like an employee turning in a time card.

That's not the way the agent/author relationship typically works,

Well, here's a perfect chance to change that! He who gets the 85% pays out the 15%.

To do it the other way just seems bizarre to me.

They are the employee, they get paid by the employer. Or if you prefer, they are the contracted, they get paid by the contractor.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

James said...

The real question here is: "What do you get for the 15%?"

Who pays for the cover art, editing, etc.? A lot of the value of this deal lies in that, for most authors. It would be nice if someone would answer this.

Joe's situation may be different, given the amount of sales he makes, but most authors are going to want to know exactly what they will get before committing to this sort of thing.

Jason said...

Here you go James...Joe's very first comment for this post contained this:

"I'll reply in more detail soon, but of course I'm not paying for cover art or formatting or anything else in this arrangement. My agent is taking care of everything.

11:35 PM"

James said...

"... but of course I'm not paying for cover art or formatting or anything else in this arrangement. My agent is taking care of everything."

Well, that will teach me to read more carefully! Never mind!

Jason Block said...

How long is the contract? 'The life of the book' is potentially a very long time to be giving someone fifteen percent.

Jason Block said...

If the deal extends to the length of the copyright, it is a very bad deal.

Joe Konrath said...

I just wanna say that real self-published authors write their books longhand using quills they've made and inks they've concocted from materials culled from the forest floor, on parchment they've pounded out with their own fists from trees they've felled with their own neolithic tools, and sell these books by hand in the public square, which they reach shoeless and on foot, eating roots and berries they gather along the way. Anything else is corruption, sabotage, and hypocrisy! Fight the man, people!

Don't be stupid, Barry. That's not even close to what makes a real self-published author.

Real self-published authors only get their quills from geese they've raised after hatching the egg themsevles after sitting on it all season.

Only posers and wannabes do otherwise.

tmsouders.com said...

Very interesting. I'm also interested to see how many others now jump on board.

Mark Coker said...

The most successful authors are great writers who make smart business decisions.

A great writer without business sense will probably achieve mediocre success. A great writer with business smarts can achieve great success.

Smart businesspeople realize that just because they can do something on their own, doesn't mean they should do it on their own. Smart businesspeople ask where they'll earn the highest return on investment for their time.

If you're a great writer, your time is probably best spent writing, because that's the product only you can create.

I'm surprised by the number of writers so quick to pass up opportunity in favor of jealously guarding that 15%. Some writers have a near-allergic aversion to allowing anyone to profit from their book. It's a wonder they permit their readers to enjoy their book. These folks risk undermining their own success by slamming the door in the face of opportunity.

There's a simple equation any author can apply when deciding whether or not to give up that XX% to an agent, a distributor, a retailer, a publisher or whomever.

Paul Graham, the brilliant venture capitalist, developed an elegantly simple formula that entrepreneurs can use to determine the benefit they must receive to justify giving XX% of their company to an investor. The formula works equally well for authors. When Joe gives DGLM 15%, it's easy to determine the minimum amount of value-add DGLM must provide for Joe's decision to be a smart one. Here are the details: The Equity Equation"

Using the formula of 1/(1-n) where n = .15, we see that if DGLM's involvement can increase Joe's results 17.5% above what he'd otherwise accomplish on his own, then Joe's ahead in this partnership. Good agents can earn their entire keep with a single phone call, and great agents work that magic over and over again.

The reason top tier agencies like DGLM are so successful is that they're expert at delivering multiples of that 17.5% for their clients.

Joe gains not only from DGLM's investment of time, money, smarts, connections and enthusiasm, but he also gains time to produce more writing, or time to do more marketing.

I'm reminded of a pearl of wisdom from my mom. She said if you plant a $15 tree in a $5 hole, you get a $5 tree.

The writer's book (or the writer's career) is the tree, and the hole is the environment in which you establish roots and acquire the life-sustaining nourishment of readers and sales.

If a quality agent is willing to invest alongside an author to make their property more successful, the author is penny-wise and pound foolish not to consider it.

Disclosure: I'm a former DGLM client. It was actually our agent at DGLM who suggested my wife and I self-publish our novel Boob Tube. One thing led to another and I created Smashwords. Thanks DGLM!

Basil Sands said...

#quills

Wait a freakin' minute! You guys are using quills? From Geese? And ink? On parchment no doubt too!

Dang! You mean I could'a got rid of all this clay and stylus stuff? I didn't need to be baking my tablets and all that crap?

Man...progress.

Next thing you're gonna tell me is that we can pull buggies without horses and men can fly.

Joe Konrath said...

Smart businesspeople realize that just because they can do something on their own, doesn't mean they should do it on their own.

Mark Coker for the win.

Joe Konrath said...

Some writers have a near-allergic aversion to allowing anyone to profit from their book. It's a wonder they permit their readers to enjoy their book.

Goddamit. Just spewed beer on my laptop.

Stephanie Zia said...

Think also boutique publishers. As an author I'm doing it for myself and other carefully selected authors at www.blackbirdebooks.com. What does this offer? The big four: added value, editorial, shaping and communication to the reader. Plus a 50/50 share of profits, representation abroad (our first international agent, based in China, is now involved) plus complete freedom for the author to progress.