Thursday, October 30, 2014

Agents Behaving Badly

Joe sez: Super-agent Andrew Wylie, in what seems like a conscious effort to make sure he never gets another query letter, addressed the Toronto Festival of Authors and taught them all about hyperbole.

“I believe with the restored health of the publishing industry and having some sense of where this sort of ISIS-like distribution channel, Amazon, is going to be buried and in which plot of sand they will be stuck, [publishers] will be able to raise the author’s digital royalty to 40% or 50%,” he said. “Writers will begin to make enough money to live.”

I have a few contacts at Amazon, so I asked them for a response, but they were too busy beheading innocent people to reply.

The amount of stupid that Wylie fit into that single sentence is commendable. I'll deconstruct.

1. The publishing industry's health will never be restored. They're middlemen whose value-added services cost too much for the majority of authors.

2. Updating Godwin's Law for millennials by using ISIS instead of Nazis is proof-positive that Wylie needs to shut the fuck up. When you sink to alarmist language and the appeal to fear fallacy, you've lost.

3. Publishers are already making gigantic profits on ebooks. They could raise author royalties right now, they don't have to wait for Amazon to be buried.

4. Amazon is not going to be buried. Certainly not by the Keystone Cops-like bumbling of the Big 5.

5. Writers don't need the Big 5 to make a living, thanks to Amazon. But it's adorable that Wylie thinks an extra 15% (going from 25% digital to 40%) in royalties will be enough for authors to quit their day jobs and suddenly make enough money to live.

Hey, here's an idea. Agents charge 15%. If Wylie is concerned about the livelihood of authors, he can just forgo his commission. Then all of those poverty-row authors can move to Beverly Hills.

“The publishing industry, up until now has cowered and whined and moaned and groaned and given Amazon pretty much everything they want. Now I think that’s going to stop. …Hachette to their great credit drew a line in the sand,” he said. 

They whined and moaned and illegally colluded and got caught. Hachette's "line in the sand" is holding out to protect its paper oligopoly, at the expense of its authors.

Amazon is an innovator. They created the online store readers want to shop at, and the device readers want to use. The publishing industry, blinded by decades of absolute power, didn't think its authority would ever be challenged. The result? Impotence. Amazon doesn't need Hachette, and Hachette will never be able to take sales away from Amazon.

Wylie can throw his public tantrums declaring he's still relevant, but he's going to wind up another disintermediated middleman.

Speaking of, from agent Scott Eagan's blog: Self-published authors - Please Quit Picking Fights!

A few years ago, Scott did a stupid post supporting Harlequin on an issue which has recently become a class action.

He was torn to shreds on Passive Voice, so I didn't really need to weigh in. Though I did comment that Scott deleted his contentious post.

I've written a few contentious posts in my day. Integrity prevents me from deleting them. If I'm wrong, I apologize, I don't try to erase evidence. Especially since, with the Internet, evidence can't be eradicated. The Wayback Machine is an easy way to read the blog post Scott erased.

Scott taught me a valuable lesson. He's the reason why, when I fisk someone, first I make sure the Wayback Machine caches the post so now Scott can't ever delete it.

Don't drink and drive. Don't get into a land war in Asia. And don't post shit on the world wide web hoping you can erase it later.

So what's Scott up to?

Scott: I was talking to one of my clients this weekend and she was saying how her chapter had a guest speaker who was once again preaching the line, "Fire your agents and fire your editors! Do it yourself!" I have to say, since RWA this year I am getting pretty irritated at this mantra we are hearing from authors out there.

Joe sez: I have an agent, and a film manager, and several editors. While I have heard the "Do it yourself" argument preached a lot by writers, I don't know of any writer who feels they don't need an editor. And those with agents, assuming the agents are good (i.e. making the writer money) have no reason to fire them. On the contrary, my agent assists me in self-publishing.

There's a mantra suggesting writers fire agents? News to me,and seems unlikely, but let's pretend there is such a mantra being chanted so incessantly that Eagon had no choice but to blog about it.

The self-publishing movement, by definition, disintermediates many publishing professionals, including agents who aren't savvy enough to keep up, and editors at legacy publishing houses. Naturally, this can seem threatening. If you own a dairy farm, and all the cows decide they can sell their own milk and no longer need you (and they're treated better to boot), you're in deep trouble.

Scott: Look, there is room for everyone. If you have this desire to self-publish then go for it! No one is stopping you!

Joe sez: Stopping? No. It's a free country. Trying to dissuade with disingenuous blog posts? I see that happening. In fact, that's what Scott is doing here.

Scott is an agent. Let's say he's a good agent, with many happy clients. I can assume that many of his clients, and many writers what want to be his clients, read his blog. He's a successful industry pro. Why shouldn't they listen to him?

Well, perhaps they shouldn't listen because Scott's one-sided polemic begins with a sketchy premise (there's a lot of authors preaching a mantra that they should fire agents and editors), then yells "No one is stopping you!" in the way a parent would yell, "Go ahead and play with matches and see what happens!" Then he descends into this nonsense:

Scott: I think what a lot of these authors are missing in their argument is that not everyone wants to take this approach.

Joe sez: I agree. The Authors United signatories are an example.

Scott: Not everyone has the knowledge of the business.

Joe sez: One of the first things my agent did was teach me some basics about the business, so I had some knowledge. Then I learned more on my own, because I thought it wise to try to understand the business I was in. You know, so I could protect myself, make informed choices, and because I'm an adult and don't want to be treated like a baby who needs someone to look out for me.

Or, to put it in the world's shortest skit:

Advisor: Don't worry about money! That's what you hired me for! Better to stay blissfully unaware of the business and focus on your art!

MC Hammer: If you say so...

Scott: Not everyone has an already built in following from their careers in traditional publishing.

Joe sez: How many times do I have to debunk this tired meme?

Scott: And yes, when we talk money, not everyone has the cash to pay for: an outside editor, a cover artist, a marketing manager... and so forth.

Joe sez: Lots wrong here. First, name a start-up business that requires no money. Second, you can get some great deals on covers and editing as a self-publisher, barter for them for free, or even learn to do certain things yourself. Third, getting an agent isn't free (query letters, travelling to conferences, buying all those How To Get An Agent books) and there is no guarantee an agent will accept you, or a publisher will buy your book if an agent submits it.

Scott: When I talked to my author about this, it was interesting to hear a few facts that might have been missed by those in the audience:

Joe sez: Okay, so we have hearsay, and then we jump to remote viewing and mindreading what the audience missed...

Scott: The speaker WAS previously published and already had a following.

Joe sez: And many self-pubbed successes weren't previously published and had zero following before they became successful. Prove causality.

When I got my rights back from my publishers, I sold more copies than my publishers did. My "following" didn't buy my same books twice. These are new readers, and being previously published didn't matter to them.

Scott: The author was spending a lot of her own money to take care of things normally covered by a publisher.

Joe sez: I did signings, a lot of marketing, and a shitload of traveling that my publisher never covered.

Since self-pubbing, I've spent a lot less money tending to my career.

Scott: The author was spending close to 100 hours a week on the career just to keep it afloat.

Joe sez: Wow! Fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. What a work ethic!

Skepticism aside, show me ANY writer, indie-pubbed, legacy-pubbed, or hybrid, not working to keep their career afloat.

Scott: When this first idea came out, there was indeed a huge fight (or maybe just a verbal war) between those who wanted to go on their own and those that wanted the traditional approach.

Joe sez: The only fight I've ever seen is those who want choice, and those who preferred not having a choice. I blog to inform writers, not to fight with agents or publishers or other writers. But while informing writers, I sometimes need to take agents, publishers, and other writers to task.,

Scott: But in recent years, that war has seemed to shift to a more one sided approach. The editors and the agents on the traditional side have pretty much stopped. No, this is not because, what I do believe some would think, "they realized they were wrong." Instead, they realized there was a place for everyone.

Joe sez: Which is why your post is called "A Place For Everyone" and not "Self-Published Authors Please Quit Picking Fights!"

So apparently you're an agent who hasn't "pretty much stopped" taking sides in this "war". Your post is fueling the war by complaining about indie authors who you claim are fueling the war.

Scott: For myself, I have always thought of this like those people who decide to sell their home on their own vs. those who want to use a real estate company. If you have the time and the resources, and you understand property law and finances, then go for it. Sell your own house. But you know, there are still people out there who would prefer to leave the selling of their home to those in the business.

Joe sez: Well, if realtors took 15% of the sale, and they sold my home to a buyer who paid me 25% of the current market value, I'd probably look into learning property law and finances.

Scott: Now, does this mean if you sell your home one way or the other you make more money? Absolutely not! Everything is on a case by case basis. Sometimes a person selling a home on their own can indeed make a bigger profit. Sometimes they won't.

Joe sez: Actually, writers will always make better royalties by self-publishing. And they'll keep control over their rights, cover art, title, editing decisions, how often they publish, what they publish next, etc.

But you're right, Scott. Sometimes someone hits the jackpot with a big legacy deal and makes a lot of money.

If you're a writer whose goals involve landing a legacy deal, go for it. But unlike Scott, I encourage you to learn everything you can about all aspects of this business, including the odds that you'll land a huge legacy deal. Visit for lots of good info.

Scott: The issue here is that it all depends on a lot of different variables.

I don't want anyone to think that right now, I am doing everything I can to "save my job as an agent." Nope, that is far from the case. My authors are doing really well!

Joe sez: That's good to hear, Scott. We indies post our sales figures a lot. I certainly don't expect you to name names, but maybe you can encourage some of your authors to post their earnings to show how well they're doing. You're obviously doing well by them, and their disclosures would help other authors make informed decisions about their careers.

Scott: What I am saying is that if you are a person who wants an agent. If you are a person who wants to take the traditional publishing approach, please don't let those other authors discourage you from taking the approach that works for you.

Joe sez: I'd really like to see some link to some author, somewhere, saying, "Fire your agent!" because they want to self-pub instead.

My agent has assisted me in self-pubbing. On the contrary, I've seen agents drop writers when those writers began to self-pub, or agents who wanted a piece of the self-pub money without doing anything to help.

I won't name names--it isn't my place. But if you're a writer whose agent dropped you for self-publishing, feel free to leave a comment. Ditto if you're a writer whose mantra is "Fire your agent!"

Scott: Just remember to really listen to the variables the author is using when they talk of their successes taking that self-pub approach:

Are they selling their back lists from traditional publishers?

Joe sez: Doesn't matter.

Scott: Are the using this as a supplement to an already existing writing career?

Joe sez: Doesn't matter. But, for the record, when publishers still owned my backlist, those royalties were supplementing my already existing self-pub career.

Scott: Are they still bringing in royalties from those traditional publishers?

Joe sez: Doesn't matter (unless they're considering hiring a lawyer to get those rights back).

Scott: How many outside resources are they having to pay (editors, cover artists, etc.) are they having to pay.

Joe sez: This should be compared to, "How much is the legacy publisher charging you for these same services?"

Scott: I think the only thing I want to leave you with today during this slight rant is:

...There is room for everyone. You have the permission to take whatever route you want to take with publishing. And just because someone isn't taking YOUR approach, it doesn't make them wrong!

Joe sez: There are no wrong approaches. The fact that we have a choice, and we can look at the value-added services that agents and editors provide and decide for ourselves if they're worth the costs, is a good thing.

Beware anyone saying you don't have to learn this business. You do. If you were applying for a job, you'd research the company. If you were investing in a stock, you'd check its history. If you want to make money writing, you have to do more than just write. The more you learn, the more you can refine your goals, and the better your decisions will be.

Scott: P.S. And Romance Writers of American and other larger publishing groups - Please remember to continue to support those who don't just want to self-pub!

Joe sez: Writers should support one another. Period. We're all in the same boat. We all need to row.

But I'm not seeing any damaging talk or actions coming from indies. The Authors Guild, Authors United, and prominent authors like Patterson, Turow, Robinson, Preston, and Colbert are the ones spreading harmful nonsense.

Agents can also spread harmful nonsense. When writers look to industry pros like Eagon and Wylie for guidance but only see hyperbole, Amazon-bashing, and imaginary mantras, writers aren't learning the truth.

We all have bias. We all have agendas. Mine is to help authors.

Wylie and Eagon are agents. Their agenda should also be to help writers.

In the examples above, are they being helpful?