This one time at Writer's Camp…
A Very Bad Idea
In the past few weeks, we have heard rumblings on the borders of a coming war. Between traditional publishing and the battles for authors to retain their e-rights to the industry, as a whole, ignoring the vast importance of the growing ebook phenomenon, authors have been watching as the entire industry has begun to adapt (poorly) to the growing change of media. This week the war has finally spilled forth as agents have fired a shot across the bow.
In the past, an agent was the go-between for authors and publishing houses. They received a 10-15% commission on the sale of the book and were considered to be the gatekeepers of a very selective industry. Now, however, agents are sometimes ignored as the various new publishing methods have taken precedent. Gone are the days when every single author queries an agent and said agent has his pick of the litter. Now, agents are scrambling to fill voids in their client list by pushing the few who have remained loyal to the agent while the industry has, more or less, moved on.
(disclaimer: I would like to have an agent; however, I do not feel I need one. I can read, and going line by line through a contract can be done just as easily by an author as an agent. The only reason I would want one is so I don’t have to worry about film deals later on (if that ever happens))
So what happened? Well, I would say it started back in the 70’s and 80’s, when publishing houses began to open their doors a little wider for the slush piles. For those of you who don’t know, a slush pile is where most submitted manuscripts go to die. I’ve heard horror stories about how people have had their books in a publishing house’s slush pile for 18 months and were unable to submit it anywhere else due to the publisher’s rules. Agents had slush piles as well, and had them for much longer than publishing houses did. The agents functioned in the “gatekeeper” facility.
But publishing houses began to accept manuscripts through the slush piles, and didn’t require the author to have an agent when dealing with them. The agent began to be cut out as mid-list authors, the ones who (in the past) needed the agents the most, began to secure their own multi-book deals with publishers. The field began to shift.
Then the Ebook Revolution began, and everything changed.
Gone are the days where a publisher could dictate terms to the writer and the writer was forced to accept it, glad for the “handout”. Gone are the days when self-publishing holds such a stigma that nobody would carry it in stores, or even admit to publishing through that route. Now, places like CreateSpace and LightningSource assist writers to avoid the traditional publishing route with Print on Demand (something that smaller publishing houses have been doing for 8 years now). Authors like Amanda Hocking have made insane amounts of money without the publisher or agent getting a cut. This has publishers scrambling, and agents seeing new opportunity in a door that had begun to close on them.
Ed Victor, a literary agent, has begun his own self-publishing house called Bedford Square Books. In a sense, this was inevitable. Too many writers have self-published (and earned too much) without the assistance of the traditional gatekeeper, and Mr. Victor has seen an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. It wouldn’t be a problem, normally, except for the fact that Mr. Victor has opened up a salvo on poor, unsuspecting writers who don’t know better. He’s (inadvertently or not) trying to shaft them with an non-greased pole.
Now, right off the bat Mr. Victor claims to not be competing with traditional publishers. That sets off warning siren number one. If he’s not competing, then he’s colluding with them. If that is the case, then why is his new publishing house milking writers out of a reported 50% of the net earnings (minus production costs, of course… which means he could take another client out to lunch, talk briefly about your book, and BILL YOU FOR IT)? What services is his venture providing? What are the exact contract details? What niche does he think he’s going to fill?
And for the love of nachos, will someone tell me how this is any different than when a writer self-publishes their ebook on Amazon???
Ethics aside for a moment (and trust me, this is so unethical that the UN might actually pay attention to it), the idea of an agent telling a writer “Oh, foo on traditional publishing. Let me do all the hard work for you, and we’ll split it 50-50” sounds good on the surface, until you peel back the pretty picture he or she tries to paint. Dean Wesley Smith broke it down here, actually showing the math on how this is a Very Bad Idea for writers. Allow me to quote:
You put up your own book and you get around 70%, give or take, of the money.
Price your book at $4.99 and you get $3.50 per sale.
Yes, you might have to learn a few new things, hire someone to help you with a cover, but folks, this is not rocket science.
Make Your Agent Your Publisher
Now, go with agents doing the same thing you could do because YOU WANT TO HAVE SOMEONE TAKE CARE OF YOU.
The agent puts your book up for sale for $4.99. How much will you get????
Let’s do the math.
— At first NOTHING. “…will recoup expenses first…”
That’s right. Whatever the agent sees fit to call expenses, those come off the top FIRST.
So more than likely that includes the salary of the person doing the work, the cover art, and so on and so on. You get nothing. And that’s if the agent is actually being fair to you. We are talking about agents here, remember. (For a lesson on agents, see Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog last week.)
And remember, that amount for expenses comes out of your share. (See below.)
And wait, do those expenses count the accounting department’s expenses every time a new check comes in? Who pays for the accountant’s salary?
When do the expenses stop????
—- Second, “…then share net receipts 50/50.”
That’s right, you get 50/50 split of net after those unknown “expenses.”
What the hell is “NET?” How is that defined? Does that deduct the assistant’s lunch and everyone’s coffee every day???
So being nice and assuming that “net” means the amount they say they got from Kindle, then you sell the book for $4.99, money comes in at $3.50. You give your agent $1.75 of that and you get $1.75 of that. So from getting $3.50, you get no money for a time to clear expenses and then get $1.75 per sale.
Of course, at $1.75 per sale, it might take you years to just work off the “expenses.” Because that’s how much goes against expenses. Not the agent’s half.
All because you were too lazy to learn a few new things, hire someone for a flat fee to do stuff you didn’t want to do, and take control of your own career.
Yes, you read that right. This venture of agents has begun because it sees an opportunity to take advantage of lazy writers. You know, the writers who can’t seem to be bothered with piddly stuff like “marketing”, “formatting”, “cover art” and “editing”. This is an agent, who writers are supposed to trust with their books, deciding to publish the book instead. I don’t know about you, but considering how long it takes a writer to get royalty checks now, the idea of the gatekeeper holding all the cards sends a fright through me.
Reading the comments below the article on Ed Victor really worries me. Why do people think this is good for the writers? How does this really help the writer make more money? Does it really work, or should the writer have just gone the CreateSpace route and taken the 70% of earnings?
This has no end in sight. Remember to read your contracts before you sign anything, and for the love of nachos if someone approaches you with a venture like this, run. Run as fast and as far away as you can.
Because even the good guys can get exposed by this in a nasty way.