A few months ago, I posted my thoughts regarding the need for Literary Agents to reinvent themselves so that they may remain relevant in the context of a changing industry. Since then it seems that some ‘enterprising’ persons and/or organisations have done just this and developed a business model that looks to address increasing demand in ePublishing.
These emerging models seem quite profitable to the agents themselves, but (and it’s a very big BUT), to the financial detriment of the author. Ordinarily, agents charge a percentage of income earned by the authors they represent. They don’t charge fees to read submissions or to sign an author up. Typically, literary agents liaise with publishers on behalf of authors. They take care of submissions, and negotiate contracts that are in the authors’ best interests. Basically, it’s the agent’s job to sell the author’s manuscript.
But that is not what this new mob of ‘literary agents’ are doing. It seems that some persons calling themselves agents are targeting authors in rather unscrupulous ways. They are charging huge (sometimes even exorbitant) upfront fees to represent authors, as well as claiming a portion of any royalties earned. And some are less than forthcoming in explaining the extent of the representation they’re offering.
Some agents do not even bother trying to get the author a publisher―for eBooks or paperbacks. They simply take on the role of distribution with the currently available eBook distributors. At best they might secure a contract with emerging ePublisher such as the new Penguin venture (discussed at length here).
Once you have parted with your hard-earned cash, these contracts do not involve the promotion of your eBook, but leave you locked into a contract where you lose control of the rights, sometimes for years at a time.
There are legitimate businesses who will design your eBook cover and format your manuscript for the various eReaders available. And of course, you can always do your research and engage a reputable editor to go over your manuscript before you submit or self-publish.
While the publishing industry is undergoing the technological metamorphosis it's currently experiencing, I guess it's inevitable that the rapidity of change will leave many confused about how best to establish or maintain themselves, their work and their profiles as authors. When the dust settles a bit, it will be interesting to see what we're left with. But in the meantime, just be careful about signing any contract with anyone.
There are plenty of organisations that can advise. The Australian Society of Authors has written about this very issue. And there is a great website called Editors and Predators that monitors the behaviour of agents and publishers, and keeps tabs on other matters relating to publishing for writers.
The impending changes are exciting for authors. We just need to move through them with eyes wide open.