January 18, 2011


Recently, I attended a speech by former book agent who has dissolved her partnership to begin a business that purports to provide a launch pad for writers who self-publish. Amazon already has a vehicle for this but no matter. Under the new rules, the agent serves as publisher and promoter of self published books for a fee, naturally. In other words, the client has his pockets turned out at the beginning and the end of getting his book to market. There are vanity presses that do much the same, so the idea isn’t new.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why these agents want a new model. Under the old rules, a person in the profession makes money only when a book is sold, usually to a mainstream publisher of which there now only 6 in the United States, together with their subsidiaries. He takes a percentage of any advance, which is a practice going the way of the dodo bird, plus a percentage of sales, which can be a long time coming. Given the declining number of large publishing houses, the death of cash advances and fewer book readers, agents are scrambling to give purpose to their dying profession.

The question a writer must ask is how qualified are such people to perform these new tasks? What do they know about the printing business or more importantly about mass marketing? In the past, they depended upon knowing a few well-placed book editors in some of the large publishing houses. Printing books and promoting books directly to readers has never been a part of their job description.  Now they intend to charge writers while they are on a learning curve.

I came away thinking this new middleman is like a sixth toe, interesting but entirely unnecessary and certainly expensive. I congratulate these new agencies on their inventiveness as they attempt to maintain a connection with a changing publishing world. I’m only sorry their mode of survival is to breed as parasites on the writer-host.