The interview with Nathan Bransford @ Alan Rinzler’s blog has a couple of very fascinating comments. The first is a comment from someone who goes by AE, without a link to a homepage:
The statement about agents becoming the tastemakers is hopeful, at best, and obviously smeared in self interest. No agent wants to accept their demise. What is more likely is that editors will simply band together and form a brand of their own and through this brand the electronic works will be siphoned and accordingly, stamped with approval.
This is inevitable because the publishing houses will disappear as books go electronic and POD replaces standard publishing. Books will go to stores in small batches, Book stores will be more like specialty, luxury shops where the products will be loaded with ’special features’ like DVDs are now.
The likely fate of the agent is similar to the writer: competition will become extreme as their position as gatekeeper will diminish by orders of magnitude until they are really just not required at all. Writer’s will be divided between those that understand how to build a platform and those that don’t. In fact, agents would be wise to transition now into publicity as the world will be swamped with electronic titles and only advertising will cull the crowd of them.
Agenting is openly a game of defense and soon this will be redundant. Electronic book format will create a situation where only the cream rises to the top (market driven) and editors will simply scoop it off. What’s more is that the breakdown of the big houses will leave editors with new opportunities to involve themselves in the culture of books in the way that small presses have attempted to do. But it will work, the editor will emerge as the co-star to the novel in that they brand the book, they determine it’s access to the huge sales streams and their opinions and contributions will become as important, publicly, as the writer. From there, writer/editor teams will replace entirely the agent as the editor will be working for the largest possible profit viz the actual market.
Nathan Bransford responds:
You write, “What is more likely is that editors will simply band together and form a brand of their own and through this brand the electronic works will be siphoned and accordingly, stamped with approval.”
What makes you think editors are going to do this instead of agents, or that this would represent a better deal for writers?
Agents might not be particularly popular among the unagented, but our approval ratings are far, far higher for those who do have agents and who have successfully published. Our interests are aligned with the authors, whereas editors have to answer first to their publishers — it’s not in an editor’s interest to give an author the best deal possible. You need an agent to get the best deal. I don’t doubt that there will be small presses who do precisely what you outline, but authors will always need agents to negotiate on their behalf with whatever companies are distributing content.
Again: we are on the side of the authors. As long as authors are around, agents will be too. If we didn’t earn our commission we simply wouldn’t be around right now. Who is going to submit an author’s work to film studios for a movie adaptaion? Negotiate contracts? Work out distribution deals? Get a better deal for an author when their work takes off? Serve as business/creative managers? Sure, authors can do this on their own, but a) who has that kind of time, and b) you’re not going to do better than someone who has this kind of expertise.
I feel like a lot of times people let their frustrations with agents result in some misguided hopes for our demise. Just remember, we’re on the author’s side. Hoping that we disappear so that authors can face the Amazons and publishers of the future on their own is not particularly constructive.
I just can’t agree with this statement: “Our interests are aligned with the authors, whereas editors have to answer first to their publishers.” Ideally, yes, but too often it seems like agents are aligned with the demands of publishers. I remember sending out my Hollywood novel to an agent early on. He replied, “Oh, a novel just sold about the magazine industry, so that’s what publishers are looking for now.” This is insane – a fanatical devotion to the current market. It’s not uncommon. There may be many good agents out there with their author’s futures at heart, but this marketing-obsessed dynamic is held by agents as much as editors. The reason I’m looking to self-publishing now is to avoid this very maddening system – the idea that the opinions of a handful of people is the full barometer of a book’s worth.
I speak from a position who’s had a number of high-profile agents – I’m not a person who’s been rejected countless times, so now I’m bitter. They’ve had better success selling my stuff overseas (Hachette Litteratures in France, Canongate in the U.K.) But in the States I have seen a lot of evidence of agents being fully culpable in how the industry is driven by marketing. That doesn’t mean that agents are useless, as AE implies. Agents and traditional publishers are great if they’re driven by better instincts.
There’s no better way to get a book into the hands of readers than having mainstream distribution. Though I wrote that sales don’t matter, traditional publishing is – for the most part – preferable to hustling to sell a book yourself. Yes, there are people who argue that profits are better with self-publishing, but by and large, you don’t make a great profit if you’re selling 200 books. However, as a fallback plan, self-publishing makes perfect sense, which is why I take issue with anyone who says you shouldn’t do it, or agents who say it’s a deathnail. No, the old system is the deathnail of self-expression – and really does seem to be spoken by people who cling to being the gatekeepers.
About the Author: Henry Baum
I’m the author of The American Book of the Dead. The novel won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." I'm also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Visit henrybaum.com for more information. I’m the editor of Self-Publishing Review.