This one time at Writer's Camp…
Afraid of being left behind in a new money-earning venture, lit agent giant Curtis Brown announced today that they were exploring bringing out-of-print titles back into the publishing venue by creating their own publishing branch.
I was against Mr. Victor’s push into publishing, partly because of the ambiguity about what they wanted. Curtis Brown has been more frank and, quite honestly, I’m more inclined to look at their venture. Bringing back out-of-print books in a publishing venture is a good idea, save for one tiny problem: these books went out-of-print for a reason.
One of the things that most writers see in their contracts is that the publisher owns the “first refusal” rights of the books until the book is no longer in print (i.e., they have first dibs on any related book or sequel), which then the rights revert back to the author. Going with out-of-print books in this sort of venue is terrifying, because then there is the potential problem that the rights never revert back to the author. Yes, a literary agent is supposed to represent the author and do what is best for their client, but when they gain the rights of the book as a publisher and no longer an agency they stand the risk of alienating their clients and turning their back on their bread and butter. This, as I mentioned Wednesday, creates one hell of a conflict of interest. How is the author supposed to take their book to another publisher with their agent when their agent is the publisher?
Confusing, no? Now, I’m assuming right now that the authors are all on board with this venture by Curtis Brown. It’d be insanity if they didn’t approve, right?
*sigh* It’s looking more and more like authors are going to have to start fending for themselves. This is a good thing, as it’ll weed out the weak. But still, it’s very disturbing to see the people who were supposed to represent us turn into the very beast they were protecting us from.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, independent literary agent Mike Kabongo is running a “worst cover letter” contest over at his blog. He’s not charging, not publishing it to make money off of you or anything. He’s just doing it for fun. Go check it out.