Agents on Konrath

As someone who’s been critical of JA Konrath, who basically sees the only good self-publishers are the ones who make a living at it, it’s somewhat strange to come to his defense for this Publisher’s Weekly piece about his recent deal with Amazon Encore (covered here on SPR).  Nevermind the number crunching in the post, which is debunked in Konrath’s post, Publisher’s Weekly Epic Fail, what really irks me is this paragraph:

Ira Silverberg, at Sterling Lord, was more blunt about how uneventful Konrath’s move was. “Certain authors will feel they’re doing well in schemes like this,” he said. “They flip off the publishers who rejected them, claim new technology will support their career, and they get attention they never had before. Let’s see if we remember who those authors are in a few years.”

Cue my age-old irritation with literary agents (of which I’ve had four, to be clear).  Who is the “we” in “Let’s see if we remember”?  Clearly, this a person who’s overly enamored with agents role as gatekeeper and kingmaker.  That writers can only be successful until getting the agent’s stamp of approval – all the other accolades and book sales are meaningless. Only that determines what “we” think is a good book.  That one pronoun was really irritating.

Maybe there’s the whiff of desperation in this kind of criticism – Konrath bypassed the agency process and did this by and large himself (should be noted that he had an actual agent to get the best terms for the deal).  But if more and more writers start doing this, then agents become less important.  The digital revolution is, in part, an end to the old style of agent-based publishing.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the article is the announcement of Diversion Books – which doesn’t yet have a site up:

Scott Waxman, of Waxman Literary, is one agent who’s recognized this changing dynamic and has created a company to fill the void. His new Diversion Books, which is a separate business from his literary agency, is similar to AmazonEncore, “somewhere in between the big houses and the lonely road of self-publishing.” The company, which currently has about 20 projects signed up, offers e-book publication and distribution as well as POD, with a focus on the e-book frontlist.

Waxman said Diversion Books will take on authors who cannot sell books in numbers that make financial sense for the major houses. “If you have an author with a platform who can sell books, we’re happy selling 5,000 to 10,000 copies,” he said. While Diversion isn’t paying advances, it’s not taking everyone who comes in with a manuscript. “This isn’t self-publishing,” he went on. “[With us] you get real publishing support. I know you don’t get that with self-publishing. This lives in between.”

5-10,000, is that all?  That would be considered a bonanza for many small presses, but this is a good development in the hybridization of traditional and self-publishing, along the lines of what Mick Rooney discusses in his post, Paid Publishing or Be Damned.

  • The agents *we’ll* remember are those who are embracing self-publishing and new technology. Esther Newberg opened up BEA with this: “I’m scared to death. One of the only good things about being old is that I’m not going to have to deal with this [digital publishing] for long.” Why would anyone want to throw their hat into the ring with ‘professionals’ like that?

    “If you have an author with a platform who can sell books, we’re happy selling 5,000 to 10,000 copies.”

    I’ve sold that on my own. Why would I want to split my money with him?

  • Linda Reed Gardner

    That is one nasty article in PW. Is it really not all right to Sp…in order to simply be published, to communicate with the world out there? Anyone else who might be interested in the subject?
    What else can one say, other than, what is BEA?

    • Nothing wrong with it – though, ironically, Konrath himself hasn’t been so positive about the merits of self-publishing and self-expression. To him it seems mostly about moving books.

      BEA: http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/

  • I’m having an Ayn Rand moment. “We” is anathema.

    It’s “I” “Ego” “Me” not the collective borg that creates real progress in the world.

    Seems like that agent needs to read, “Anthem.” It’s even on the list of books written by “real authors.” Whee!

    And it’s free in the public domain. So he can afford it. And will be able to afford it even when his job is obsolete.

  • I don’t see agent’s jobs as becoming obsolete, but I do see their focus changing in the next set of years. I’ve self published my first book, but if Hollywood ever came knocking, I’d be looking for an agent to help with negotiations. Foreign rights, speaking engagements, tours — these are the things I see agents handling in the future — some of which the publishing houses do now. Or don’t do, depending on how much push they want to put behind any particular author.

    • No doubt, but many agents’ jobs will be obsolete if the bulk of their work will be to negotiate contracts. Then they’re more like lawyers than gatekeepers who decide what’s good and marketable. Writers will have already shown that by drumming up sales. Doesn’t seem like there will be need to be as many agents who now take on clients based on taste/writer’s marketability. Contract negotiations are less subjective and so can maybe be handled by a smaller field.

  • lindareedgardner

    Who said life is a great leveller? Courtesy of the intertnet I read that Justin Cronin’s agent managed a winning bid of 5.5 million dollars, apparently not counting the now-secured movie right cash, for his novel about, wait, let me guess, yes… vampires.
    Apparently there is no end to the demand for more books featuring vampires, and no end to the advantages of going the traditional publishing route, if you are one of the authors who can find something new to say about the species. An excerpt is online.

    • I don’t get your comment. This is proof that publishing works?

  • lindareedgardner

    My thought is that in this case, if he had self-published, he would only be one of many hopeful authors writing about a book about…vampires, and attempting to capture interest in it, on his cown. Instead, he has gone the traditional route & engaged the interest of a powerhouse agent, who must have called in every favor. Take at look at Justin Cronin’s website and see the extensive & expensive author tour that has been put up for him. The publicity machine is in high overdrive already. A book excerpt is on his site.
    In this case, the advantages of going with traditional publishing seem unbeatable. He now has the financial freedom to write whatever hhe pleases for the rest of his life. Imagine it.
    Are there really many writers out here who would not sell their first born in order to have this kind of machine behind them? He’s made for the rest of his life, from my point of view. No more fighting for a few minutes to work at the end of the day, and trying to even remember the subject of one’s book. An entire lifetime, just to write.

    • I’d never argue that agents don’t put together big book deals or traditional publishing has no value. But I don’t get “something new to say about the species” when this seems to be exactly opposite of the case. Another vampire book.

      And I find it decadent and totally wrong for one book to be getting 5.5 million dollars. Publishing has gone the way of Hollywood. Doesn’t make sense for “Robin Hood” to cost 225 million dollars either, which is the equivalent of 225 potentially-better movies.

  • Linda Reed Gardner

    It seems to be the equivalent of highly-paid NFL player bliss, among other things They can demand these high salaries only because the team figures to get their money back in view of the fan demand to see these guys play.
    I know, I know, the thought of yet another vampire book puts me to sleep, especially when it sounds just like a rehash of two popular vampire movies starring Killian Murphy, & either Will Smith or Eddie Murphy. They want human blood, they can’t be killed, they are active at night….wake me when this is all over.
    But, big but, Cronin has an MFA, which is getting big play, and he is clearly a competent writer, and he has read his market perfectly, and I would give about anything to have a lifetime of freedom to now write as I wish. Stay tuned. The guy is bright, and he has hit the big time. Unlikely this could have been done by SPing. Too bad, so sad.

  • lindareedgardner@yahoo.com

    Oh woe,the story just keeps getting better. Look up the 2007 NY Times article on Cronin and one discovers that his agent, Ellen Levine, submitted the novel in the bidding war when it was only half-done, the rest an outline & a box of notes, and submitted it under Cronin’s pen name. The rest is history, and a bidding war that would do any pack of sharks proud. The moral here would seem to be, write a popular genre novel, whether the subject interests the writer or not, and having thus paid your dues, collect the money and fire up your computer. And for ten years all I’ve read on the blogs is that submitting an unfinished novel to an agent is the kiss of death, the true “mark of an amateur,” and an assurance of an immediate rejection.
    I suppose this proves it can be done, one way or another.