It’s been a while since I wrote a post about the faults of the traditional publishing system. For anyone looking to criticize self-publishing for being an inadequate system only has to look at traditional publishing as a rival. I’m not going to single out the particular agent who participated in the #askagent discussion on Twitter because it speaks of a larger problem. Within the Twitter thread there are many choice quotes that had me pulling my hair out:
Asked whether the agent would be interested in web fiction, the answer was –
If your blog got thousands of hit per day (in the range of 30,000 hits per day) #askagent
Asked when she’d be interested in a self-published book, the answer was –
When you have sold about 10,000 copies on your own. #askagent
This makes no sense. Zero. What she is saying is: I’d be interested in selling your book when you’ve proven yourself to be perfectly capable of selling the book on your own and you don’t need me whatsoever. 10,000 copies of ANY book is respectable. 10,000 copies of a self-published book is Dan Brown territory. If you’re selling 10,000 books on your own and doing it right by making more money per book – 10,000 books could be a $50,000+ profit, or better than many advances from traditional publishers.
Yes – it’s true that an agent could sell a book to the trad market and then get better distribution, so 10,000 could turn into 50,000. But this total bias of agents requiring unreachable numbers from self-publishers is basically just another way of saying: I will never represent you. It’s a closed-minded approach to writing that made me flee the traditional system in the first place. If a self-publisher is able to sell 1000 books, this is commendable and worth a look from those in traditional publishing because it is so much harder to sell books.
This should not come as a great surprise but she ends the dialog by saying:
I routinely turn down extraordinary books because I know I won’t be able to sell them. #askagent
What it comes down to is sales – that’s all that matters. Not how extraordinary a book is, but how much it could sell or has sold. Horrible. I can’t think of a better illustration of what’s wrong with the traditional publishing mindset.
An Agent’s Defense
At the risk of sounding self-serving, every serious author needs an agent. Not just any agent, of course. You need a good agent. One who is an advocate, who is willing to fight for you and who is able to tell you when you’re being unreasonable and doing your career more harm than good…
So, how does the digital revolution change the fact that you need an agent? Not at all. Sure, you can upload your manuscript on the internet yourself and you can do all your own accounting when you start selling the downloads. But, if you’re serious about writing books, you’re still better served having someone else handle the business side of being published.
Certainly, having a good agent is a positive proposition, as is having a good editor – but when the overwhelming mindset is about how much something can sell, how is this being a good advocate? That’s not a hand-holder who can walk you through this tough and terrifying process. It’s a pimp. Really – it’s someone who sees you only as the amount of money you can make.
Tough, yes, and I don’t really see agents as low as pimps. Agents love books and wish the system were better, and they’re forced into being realists. But don’t sell to me the importance of agents when they make as many mistakes as bad writers.