Monday, 1 April 2013

A-Z Blogging Challenge: A is for Agents

I've thought hard about what theme I should have for this, my first A-Z Blogging Challenge and decided that since all of my completed novels are now out, I should write about the business of writing and publishing. 

A 'Guide to writing' or 'Helena's Writing Life', if you like.

Sooo, on this April Fools' Day, I am going to talk about Agents. (Seriously, not in jest, although the temptation is huge....)

When, a few years ago (hmm...try ten years - how time flies!) I took my MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, (more about this on a later post under 'M'), it was a fact universally acknowledged that you could not be a proper writer, or a published writer, without having a Literary Agent. Getting accepted into the golden stable of an Agent, however, was harder than getting a publisher to publish your work. And most publishers wouldn't even consider your submission if you didn't have a literary agent on your side. 

The job of the literary agent, we were told, was to sell your book to publishers. They would only take you on if they knew they could do this - or as it's called in the industry lingo, 'place your book'. I have lost count of the amount of agents who have told me in letters and emails that they like my writing ('I love your work', 'you have talent', 'you can write'), but that they just couldn't see where to place it. Of course there are several examples of famous writers who struggled to get and agent or a publisher, and went on to sell millions of copies when someone finally believed in their of work. (JK Rowling with Harry Potter and lately E L James with 50 Shades). 

Agents' letters
But times have since changed. 

Today there are several commentators, such as the successful writer, Sean Wesley Smith who believe agents are rapidly becoming extinct as a literary species. Why should you, argues Sean, give your hard earned 15% to someone who is just, figuratively speaking, sitting in your basement, living off your hard work, when you can get your book to market, and straight into a reader's lap without so much as a wink in the direction of the said agent. 

But there are others who feel that an agent still has a place in the physical publishing world. 

Take the author of Wool, Hugh Howie. Hugh self-published Wool in a series of free-standing e-novellas, and when the books became best-sellers online, was contacted by several agents. Reluctant at first, he did sign with an agent (on his terms), and with her help managed to get a unique publishing deal with Simon & Schuster which excluded the e-book rights to Wool. This deal is a first of its kind and something which most independent publishers/authors dream of as the ultimate goal. 

This is worthy of a sideline explanation: To publish printed books takes time and money, as opposed to e-publishing which on the face of it doesn't cost a bean. Not counting all the costs of editing, cover design, online advertising, and the time and effort the author puts into both the writing and the marketing.  So, when an author has already done all the hard work of getting the e-book out, why should a publisher sweep in and take a large percentage of the e-book sales as well as of the physical book sales, which is the part he'll make an actual investment in?

But I wonder if Howie would've got the book deal he really wanted without the help of his agent Kristin Nelson? I somehow doubt it.

So, although a writer no longer needs an agent to publish and make money out of his/her e-books, I personally think in the traditional publishing world a (good) agent still has an important role to play.

This, of course, may change in the blink of an eye. But then, that's today's publishing industry for you!

I hope you enjoyed this first post in April's blogging challenge. Tomorrow I'll be writing a post on the subject of 'Blogging - should writers blog or not?'


Unknown said...

Here is another article about deals similar to 'Wool'

Apparently this type of author is called 'hybrid'. See how quickly the industry changes?

ScotSue said...

I enjoyed your post in this year's A-Z Challenge. As a fellow contributor I was interested in finding other bloggers and came across your site. I have no aspirations or ability to become a creative writer - blogging suits me fine - but I look forward to reading more of your experiences.

Unknown said...

Thank you Sue!

I will be doing a round of other A-Z sites later tonight & will call at yours!

Helena xx