Tuesday, May 15, 2012


When you hire someone, you probably expect them to work for you.  The relationship might be contentious at times, but you expect that the two of you will work together to advance mutual goals.  Were the other party to go behind your back and do things that cost you money, you might get just a little bit upset.
I've written a few times about agents.  We've often been told that it's near impossible to get published without an agent, so most of us go off in the hope that we can find someone who will help us realize our dreams.  Underlying that assumption is that our agent is supposed to represent us to those big bad publishers, since we're just too rube to figure out all those complex contracts ourselves.  Those who are published breathe easier knowing that an agent has your best interests at heart.  Or do they?

I'm certain that there are wonderful agents out there who work tirelessly for their clients, re-working deals to make sure the writer gets everything they can.  However, recent events make it appear that not every agent is so awesome.  I discussed in my last post, the DOJ is in the process of reaching a settlement with the Big Six publishers over allegations of price fixing.  Part of this stems from a way of selling books to distributors called the Agency Model.  The particulars of this are a little on the boring and technical side, but at the end of the day, authors made less money in royalties on their books than they used to under the Wholesale Model.

The part of this that sucks is that a group of 13 agents, including a couple that I had queried at some point, wrote a letter to the DOJ where they defended the publishing industry for allegedly fixing prices.  They even defended their clients making less money on the specious claim that doing so would allow the book industry to survive.

This is a free country, and you are free to support or oppose anyone you wish.  However, I expect agents to represent their author clients, not the publishing industry.  The ones who wrote the letter are agents and are hired to represent writers but chose instead to go to bat for a publishing industry that looks out more for themselves than for its authors.  To a certain extent, I expect that - publishing is a business where a company is, naturally, expected to do what it (legally) can to increase its bottom line.  If it could get bestselling material for free and keep every ounce of cash, I'm sure the publishing industry would do just that and not bat an eye.  However, as writers, we expect the shield between us and the industry to be the agent we hire.  They should be looking out for our interests and doing all they can to increase our bottom line, not the publisher's.  A lot of the time, ours and the publisher's bottom line are related, but if there is a dispute between who should take home more money, I would think the agent we hired to look after our best interests would come down on our side.  That 13 of them have chosen to side with publishing practices that earn their clients less money is appalling.  Why would this even happen?

I think it stems from the fact that these agents know which side their bread is buttered on(mmm...butter...).  An agent named Janet Kobobel Grant recently said that, "except for regular-selling authors with momentum building, authors can be replaced. And crowds of new writers are working hard to do just that. So, really, how valuable is an author?"  On the other hand, there are only six big-time publishers from whom you can truly pick to sell your clients' work to.  Writers with googly-eyed dreams of making it are practically knocking down the door of every agent they can find, so it's not like agents are hurting for clients.  But if they become known as "that pain in the ass who always tries to renegotiate our contracts" to the publishing world, they could find themselves shut out of the circle of trust, never to sell another thing.

Agents could have an enormous impact on what their clients got paid if they stood together.  No, I'm not talking about collusion, but if one courageous individual decided not to take such treatment for their clients, thus setting an example to others, and those others then joined in, they could have an impact as a group.  Unfortunately, no one wants to be the first to stick his or her neck out because they know that a lot of others will be all too willing to fill that void.
I know that there are many agents out there who are working hard for their clients, but these 13 who claim to speak for all 475 members of the AAR, although I find that claim dubious at best, are working more for publishers than for writers.  Don't pick up a pen and go off to fight for a publisher - believe me, they have more than enough money to defend themselves.  Instead, fight for those you are supposed to be representing - writers.

On one last note, now that I've completely shot myself in the foot by criticizing agents in a published post, anyone have a guess as to which way I'm leaning when it comes time to get my work in front of readers?

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