Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Should Agents Publish? (Writers Beware!)


The answer to this question is a resounding don't even try to argue with me NO!

How can I say this when so many have neat little answers? Because it is like having your lawyer be your judge. In the last few months I have seen the book agent turn tail and not only abandon all ethics of their business, but chase the money like so many drowning rats. Am I being to harsh? Maybe, but I have good reason.

First, your agent has a job. That job is to get you a book deal with a real publisher, and after that to get Sub rights and so on... This job is like having a partner in your corner helping you so you don't get screwed over by a big money-hungry-publisher. NOW, as they turn into publishers they went from your friend and partner, to something resembling a wolf covered in a sheep skin. They make a deal for YOU but with THEIR interest in mind, not yours.

I know, they are good people, they rock, they are nice and have done so much for you and... and... and. It is all the same. A lame argument. And I have seen them all. It is to HELP authors in this changing market. We just provide a service, well... we have a different publishing house, it is not the same... Oh, and we can make sure you have good editing! Don't forget we know the book business!

I am sure you can name a few more, but in the end it is all about the money. Agents are scared, they don't know where their job is going, what will happen as more authors realize that they don't really need agents outside of Sub rights.

*Note: I want to say, I have no problem with a EX-Agent publishing, but not both at the same time. If you want to be a publisher do it, but don't do both.

I work with some of the top agents in the country. You know what they do for me? They do their job, and bring me authors and work with my existing authors to sell Sub rights. But most the time they are not on a book deal as the author can talk to me direct. So they have to work harder, but we all do, it is a job after all.

Now my friends, yes I am talking to you the writer, the one who has stars in your eyes. The one who will take a bad deal because all you want in life is to be published, so you let all reason go out the window. If your agent wants to be a ePublisher ask yourself one thing... What do they know about publishing? Really... what?

They sell books to a publisher, they are in sales. They sell to one-five people at a publishing house. How does that mean they have any skill in selling to the public? To bookstores, to make sure your cover art is good? How can they sell to the public when all they do is sell to a corporation? They, I am sorry to say don't know what books will sell, they just know what books they can sell to a publisher.

I am not discounting their power and pull, but do you see how all of the agents doing this are only going E for the most part? Cuz they don't want to work at the print side of the business, the marketing and distribution. So the end result is a well edited book (MAYBE) with little to no marketing and a bad cover and one super excited author that thinks they will make it big cuz their Publisher is somebody.

So here is what you will get:

*Bad cover art 90% of the time
*Good to fair editing
*Out of touch marketing or no marketing
*eBook only or POD printing
*No print distribution
*Good in with Sub rights (maybe)

lets call a horse a horse. They want a piece of the pie, want to do as little work as they can and pool from the list of authors they have in their pocket, for some easy cash. This is WRONG! In so many ways. I know how authors think, they will jump at almost anything without thinking of the long term. Give away their book all in the name of being published.

So what should you do?

First, do not ever sign up with a agent/publisher. No matter how nice they are, deep down your best interest is not at heart. Second, if you are at that place, just publish on your own and have your agent look for Sub rights. Only pay them when they make a deal. But you hire someone to convert your eBook and do a cool cover. I know a host of cover art people, eBook converters and so on. Most any indie press or author can help you out for free. You can do it for a low price and why give them a % when they offer nothing you can't on your own.

Or... find a small press to work with. I work my tail off for my authors and even behind the scenes I am trying to do even more. But I am a publisher... Do I post all this because I am scared they will take all the good authors? Lol... NO... We are so busy we can't really take on any more new authors this year. I say this cuz I see so many of my fellow authors getting burned and thrown into this mess and I feel for them.

On a side note, please run from these little so-called publishers that are popping up everywhere. Bad covers and poor quality will kill your brand if you are not careful. Just be smart and ask around and don't ask authors, ask people in the business or ask your agent who is not a publisher. One of out agents we work with told me the other day, he said he would never get into publishing, he is an agent, he is good at what he does and will not sell out his clients like that.

I respect him and am glad we still have some agents out there that really do care about their clients and don't talk themselves and others into thinking that this is all okay.

Now to end thins I will say that I know of some publishers that are agents part time. But they were publishers first and the work they do as an agent is for another house and they never refer clients to their own house. I also know of agents that quit and started publishing houses, I have no problem with this, as they are not riding the fence but made a choice.

I could go on and on about this but I leave it to you. What do you think? Why do you think it is okay or not okay? Do you see this as a long term solution to publishing? Why do you think agents should publish? What do they know about publishing outside of selling a title? As a writer do you trust them? Should you trust them?


Author Aaron Patterson: Blog: The Worst Book Ever.


  1. You came out swinging on this one Aaron. As well you should.
    I think a more fitting correlation is the attorney you hire is both the prosecuting and defending attorney. You don't know from one moment to the next which side they are on. But either way, it can't be good for you.
    This is the real danger with an agent who also starts a publishing company but still tries to be an agent. Whose side are they on at that point? No matter how much they try, they can't work in the best interest of both their publishing business and their author at the same time.

  2. "If your agent wants to be a ePublisher ask yourself one thing... What do they know about publishing? Really... what?"

    This is the part that really bugs me. What qualifies them to suddenly call themselves publishers? Agent skills are NOT interchangeable with publisher skills - they're two totally different parts of the business.

  3. Totally agree. The whole thing creeps me out, especially the smarmy rationalizations I've read from a number of agencies, in terms of how they're trying to spin this whole thing as a 'service' to authors. They don't bother to mention that they're essentially charging about 400X of market rate for that service (err, forever, in most cases, as these are almost all percentage deals) or that they are not qualified to provide that service in the first place.

    Honestly, the language really gets to me, too...most of it implies (in some cases, overtly) that authors shouldn't worry their "pretty little heads" about all this "business-y stuff," because it's too haaaard. Like it's worth it somehow, for the average idiot writer to let their agency essentially skim for years on end just to avoid the hassle of having to learn their own trade. It tells me they really think the majority of us are morons (and hell, maybe we are, but they could *hide* their scorn a little).

    This whole, "leave it to the experts, sweetie" crap is just plain insulting.

    And then my question of course comes back to the same as K.C.'s - experts in what? The cover art and cover copy/blurbs I've seen so far coming out of agent "non-publishing-but-really-publishing-just-don't-call-us-publishers-or-we'll-sue-you" agency houses has been a crime in some cases, an embarrassment in others.

    So...nice post!

    And your covers are amazing, btw.

  4. LOL, JC, you made me laugh. It is so true... The agent used to be the one who read the contract to make sure it was good for the author... now they are writing it!? I love book agents and think that half the time you need them but as the world of books changes it is no longer a need but a extra person to help you make bigger deals. But if you have any business know how you don't need an Agent. I work like I said with a few and they do a great job, but they work to get me a deal not a deal for themselves for their own houses.

    The other thing I hate is how authors put agents up on this God-like status. It is like they are the end all be all. What is stopping me from saying that I am a agent? Do I need to go to school? Get some degree? Hmmm, maybe I should be an agent/publisher/author/distributor/jackofalltrades/guru. =)

  5. Ha, yeah - true enough! And there are definitely situations where I would consider using an agent, especially for the purposes you outline above. I have met quite a few who really impressed me over the years, too, people who really seem to know the industry and look out for their clients. It's hard to generalize about this stuff because it's more overall tendencies/memes, not individual people or even the profession itself necessarily.

    But yeah, I think their importance has been way overinflated in the past few decades. The god-like status thing really gets to me...I see it in friends and on panels at conventions and so forth. In general, I guess I want more writers to grow a pair, figuratively speaking! :) When you're not looking for someone to "save" you or hold your hand, you tend to make much more rational business decisions in general. A lot of writers seem to want agents to take care of them, and that's super-dangerous...and probably more temptation than a lot of them can handle. It's like an invitation to steal.

    Besides, I lived in NYC, I got to know the business culture there. Most of them would just shrug and assume you're an idiot if you adopt that trusting of an attitude. I've known quite a few, in fact, who believe you deserve whatever you get when you do that kind of thing, for being such a dumbass, lol.

    Or maybe that's the old's supposed to be a kinder, gentler place these days. :)

  6. Who are these agents I keep hearing about? Aren't they some sort of hang-over from pre-tech times, like town criers or the fifth scullery maid? They are certainly very thin on the ground over here in Australia, and given the fact our publishers are busy following the other dinosaurs into the shadows, I can't how they could possibly make a living.

    As to agents not knowing the publishing business, it's becoming increasingly obvious that most publishers don't either.

  7. A bang-on article, Aaron. I would love to interview you on Nurture Your BOOKS if you have some free time in your schedule.

    You can email me at:

    Thanks so much.

    All My Best,
    Bobbie Crawford-McCoy

  8. Aaron, great piece.
    Cut through all the crap.
    I, too, would like to offer you a guest spot on my blog.
    If interested, contact me at chrisreddingauthor at yahoo dot com.

  9. Jacqueline, I agree. Most publishers are out of touch and missing the market. They have been doing the same thing for so long and the world changed and they did not see it. As to the agents... I fear they have as hard a road as bookstores and publishers in the future.

    JC, lol you crack me up! =)

  10. Great post, Aaron. So glad to find another Idaho author. I'm a new follower and I'm glad to be here.