Friday, August 5, 2011

The Literary Agent's Indie Ebook Roadmap

I mentioned previously I think the next chapter of the indie ebook revolution will be written by literary agents.

It's starting to happen. In the last few months several literary agencies began working with Smashwords. I look forward to welcoming others in the months ahead.

Today I posted a presentation at Slideshare titled, The Literary Agent's Indie Ebook Roadmap to review the opportunity I see for literary agents and their clients.


As I mentioned in my prior post on agents, literary agents can add a lot of value to the publishing process. They're the trusted author advocates charged with helping authors maximize the commercial potential of their works. A great agent brings passion, smarts and relationships that can multiply an author's success several-fold.

Literary agents represent some of the most commercially successful authors and author estates.

In the presentation below, I share my ideas for how literary agents can better serve their clients by adding e-publishing services to their clients services mix.
The Literary Agent's Indie Ebook Roadmap
Access the complete collection of Smashwords presentations here: Smashwords Slideshare Library


I view the publishing services ecosystem as a spectrum.

At one polar extreme you have traditional publishers who provide a wide range of service capabilities to authors, including editing, production, sales, distribution, marketing to accounts payables/receivables, and more.

Publishers take risks on books by investing their resources to bring them to market.

With the rise of ebooks and self-publishing, authors now have the opportunity to perform many of these publishing functions on their own, should they choose.

On the extreme left side of my spectrum I have what I call the "DIY Anarchists." These are the rare minority of hermits who do everything themselves and only sell on their personal website for fear of sharing a cut with a retailer or other intermediary that sits between them and their reader.

The vast majority of indie authors are somewhere in the middle. Many might use Smashwords for ebook conversion, publishing and distribution, then use POD printers for their print book. They might perform some responsibilities themselves, or they might farm out roles to specialist freelancers or service providers.

Some indie authors, basking in the new-found freedom to publish on their own terms, have an inclination to take on more than they should. Just because you have the power to assume all the responsibilities of a publisher doesn't mean you should bear the burden alone. This is where the publishing services specialists come in.

In the end, the decision to outsource some or all of your publishing services to an intermediary comes down to time. How can you best utilize your time?

For many authors, as I noted in my post, The Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, their time is usually best spent writing great books. Focus your energy on writing a book that sells itself. If your book sparks intense passion with readers, they'll market your book for you. I tell folks if they have $2,000 to invest in marketing they're probably better off investing that money with a professional editor who can help drive the next revision (I also advise authors to pinch their pennies; never spend money you don't have; and never go in debt to publish your book).

Literary agents have a unique opportunity to do for their clients what many of them do not want to do - or cannot do - for themselves.

What does the entry of agents into the publishing services field mean for you, the author? I think it's great news. Over time, it should allow agents to take more risks on more authors.

I've spoken with numerous agents who've shared how they loved an author's work but were unable to sell it, or unable to rep it because publishers wouldn't buy it. For agents who got into the business for their love of books and helping authors, it's a soul sucking experience.

Now agents have another reason to say yes. They can help release books think readers would want to read, rather than being forced to focus on books they think they can sell to a publisher. What publishers want to buy and what readers want to buy are usually VERY different things.

It's in every indie author's best interest, as well as the best interest of readers, that more agency-repped authors release their books as indie ebooks. Books usually get better when touched by an agent. Speaking from personal experience, I know the novel my wife and I wrote got better thanks to the feedback of our former agent at Dystel & Goderich.

Every indie ebook released by an agent creates a rising tide that lifts all authors and brings new credibility to this humble practice otherwise known as self-publishing.

16 comments:

nospinpr.com said...

Good presentation Mark, but as I said on Twitter, agents don't have marketing/PR expertise and they certainly don't currently do the kind of career promotion authors need. They'll have to acquire this kind of expertise through strategic alliances, direct hires, or investments in continuous learning.

I don't think people prefer reading books on any kind of screen - price, availability and instant acquisition are the three main benefits of ebooks - there is no inherent superiority of format (quite the opposite) except for the matter of storage. I think rather that when POD availability catches up to ebook production, if there's a link or concession made on price so you can have a printed copy of an ebook you've purchased, read, liked, and decided you want to keep, ebook sales will indeed overtake printed book sales.

Susan Wells Bennett said...

I disagree with you, nospin. As a lifelong reader, I was skeptical about the Kindle and other ereaders...at first. Now, I honestly prefer my Kindle because it is lightweight, easy to use, and doesn't torture my hands or my eyesight when I'm reading in bed at night. In fact, I have purchased more than a few ebooks after obtaining hard copies of them -- just so that I could read them comfortably. As for reading on a "screen" -- the Kindle's lack of backlighting makes it the perfect "book" for me. I don't feel like I'm reading on a screen at all.

While I believe there will always be a place for DTBs (mostly on shelves), my ereader is the best investment I've made in the last few years.

ChulaSlim said...

Interesting and fairly courageous post, as most of the blogs predict dire consequences and conflicts of interest for agents turned publishers. In my opinion the two functions might find a match if the boundaries were set properly and the agents provided sufficient value-added to the author's interests.
At this point I belong to the near left end of your spectrum, willing to spend in the areas I need it and unwilling to farm out those tasks I can accomplish by myself.
As to the previous comment, I take a different view. Most people who will read this post already spend significant amounts of time reading the kind of material contained herein. So, what so different about the material contained in this blog post and the material contained in an e-Book?
When browsing the net, reading is a normal, constant process yet people complain they want paper over eBook and won't settle for less. The ironic part of it is that they complain on the same medium that they say they won't use. I think it's just a nostalgic attempt to cling on to a dying medium of expression.

nospinpr.com said...

@Susan Wells Bennett - fair enough - I bought a Kobo last Christmas and most (not all) of the books I've bought for it languish on it unread - it only works for me with books that aren't in any way demanding, which doesn't constitute the majority of books I read. Yes, I love the fact that it will fit in my winter coat pocket, yes I love the idea of being able to take it on trips with me and not have to haul back six hard covers I've already read on the plane/train etc.

I think one of the key points about ebooks is that now that they exist in quantity and enough people have ereading devices (whether it's iPads or dedicated readers), they have to be made available, just as when you're trying to communicate with a broad group of people (i.e. everyone) you have to make the information available in a variety of ways: phone number to call, fax, email, web site, printed brochures, etc.

@ChulaSlim Trust me, I often read books that are 600 or more pages in length. I never read blog posts that long. I've also read the same book both on screen (when reading author mss prior to publication) and even on my iPod touch. Reading them on paper is my preference for a variety of reasons - it doesn't make me a dinosaur - it doesn't mean I can't imagine some people don't prefer ebooks - but in the same way I'm very tolerant of direct mail but very intolerant of telemarketing calls, we are all allowed our communications preferences, no matter how old fashioned they may seem.

nospinpr.com said...

@Susan Wells Bennett - fair enough - I bought a Kobo last Christmas and most (not all) of the books I've bought for it languish on it unread - it only works for me with books that aren't in any way demanding, which doesn't constitute the majority of books I read. Yes, I love the fact that it will fit in my winter coat pocket, yes I love the idea of being able to take it on trips with me and not have to haul back six hard covers I've already read on the plane/train etc.

I think one of the key points about ebooks is that now that they exist in quantity and enough people have ereading devices (whether it's iPads or dedicated readers), they have to be made available, just as when you're trying to communicate with a broad group of people (i.e. everyone) you have to make the information available in a variety of ways: phone number to call, fax, email, web site, printed brochures, etc.

@ChulaSlim Trust me, I often read books that are 600 or more pages in length. I never read blog posts that long. I've also read the same book both on screen (when reading author mss prior to publication) and even on my iPod touch. Reading them on paper is my preference for a variety of reasons - it doesn't make me a dinosaur - it doesn't mean I can't imagine some people don't prefer ebooks - but in the same way I'm very tolerant of direct mail but very intolerant of telemarketing calls, we are all allowed our communications preferences, no matter how old fashioned they may seem.

ChulaSlim said...

@ nospinpr.com “Trust me, I often read books that are 600 or more pages in length. I never read blog posts that long.”
I'm 67 years old, a relic of the “baby boomer” generation. If a demographic was more likely to be clinging to old habits in terms of preferences, it would be mine. Yet I frequently read e-Books of 600 pages or more on my Kindle. I've read the entire “Game of Thrones” series on the device plus many others.
The experience of reading on my Kindle is no different than reading a paper book, except for the fact that these tired old eyes can adjust the text size and the device is more comfortable and lighter than a paper book.
The publishing world should take note that people of my generation are numerous and with money to spend on reading entertainment, and the text size of a paper book is frequently too small.
I recently looked on Amazon for an old science fiction novel that I'd read previously. The price of the paper book was $135.00! The price of the eBook was $9.99 (still too expensive). Guess which one I bought?

Des Greene said...

Mark, for the first time I regret that I have to disagree with your normally acute take on the trend of ebooks and indie publishing.

The role of agent is one that owes its existence to the paradigm of traditional publshing. They were the additioal filter between the writer and potential publisher. Their role stemmed from the proliferation of content being submitted to the publisher and the last thing the writer wants to do is recreate this role (albeit much changed into a utilitarian function of editing, PR and promotion)for the enviable return of 15%!

The indie writer needs services (if he/she chooses)but at a fixed price not a percentage!

Mark Coker said...

Hi Des, no hard feelings if you disagree. Honestly, it's a bit spooky at times when I don't get disagreement.

I suppose you can ask any author what an agent's role is, and the answers might vary like a Rorschach test.

I boil the role down to, "maximize commercial potential," or, "maximize author income," since that's ultimately how the agent keeps their own lights on.

I agree, the agent's role of gatekeeper to the publisher gatekeeper will diminish as publisher gates disappear for lack of publisher or acquiring editor on the other side. Yet once you are at the gate, and a deal (or better yet an auction) hangs in the balance, I think I'd gladly give 15% to someone with experience maximizing such outcomes.

BFuniv said...

I don't have an eReader yet, but I'm glad to hear all these others do. Eventually I'll have one. My TBR of DTBs is huge ;-}

I think the point where conflict arises for agents is their prior close association with publishers. The key however is rights. If an agent helps me, but I retain my rights, then I'm still the publisher.

I greatly prefer a one time fee based arrangment; but a percentage if justified/profitable will be considered.

Red Haircrow said...

As usual, I really enjoyed this article and helped me better understand the continued evolve of the indie market.

I also think it's a win-win situation when agents can/choose to become involved with indie authors without necessarily have a publisher also in the mix.

For the ereader apps: I don't personally have one as I strongly prefer print books. I do have a review/interview site specializing in indie authors and it primarily accepts ebooks. It's just me, but ebooks over 300 pages on the devices are tiresome, though I'd never hesitate to read a 1000 page print book.

Caz said...

Interesting Post. One major issue to overcome with ebooks is not the number of ebook readers and people using them, but the quality of the ebooks themselves.

I was an agented author some years ago and I do agree that an agent can take a good manuscript and whip it into great shape. My manuscripts were always so much better after wading through the hoard of 'stickies' and making the grammatical corrections she offered via her wicked blue pencil. And she was always right!

I purchased my Kindle this past Christmas, and have not picked up a book in paper, since. I like the size, the weight, the ability to re-size the print, and its portability. I am a voracious reader and can't part with any book I buy. So storage on my Kindle, rather than dusty bookshelves suites me just fine!

I do see ebooks being the future, and I see great possibilities, especially in the area of Education - School Books - where ereaders could actually forward and impact learning. I do see electronic books replacing paper in the decades to come.

The drawback to what I see going on now, in my humble opinion, is the quality of 'ebooks' being offered. The big publishing houses can offer a book that, for the most part, is grammatically correct, has been written well, with a good story line behind it, complete with a plot; a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense. And that is usually because an agent has helped the author make the book sale-able, and the Publisher has polished it all up.

What I am seeing is a lot of trash - short pieces that are poorly written, badly formatted, and not spell checked - being thrown up in the hopes of making a few bucks. It takes away from those serious authors who really can tell a story, those who take the craft seriously, and who have polished books. From my - an author's - pov it feels like a huge whirlpool where my books get tossed in and sucked to the bottom because there is just so much garbage on top of it. Frankly, I am always surprised when I see that someone has purchased my book(s) because I have no idea how they even found them!

Agents and Publishing Houses are overwhelmed with submissions. Now, every ebook indie publishing site is overwhelmed with submissions. I truly believe in freedom of speech, and would protect it vehemently. I just know that when -I- try to purchase an ebook to read today, I often give up on the Indie hoards because I get overwhelmed and I end up back at the major Publishers, looking for favorite authors - because it is easier, and most times, I am guaranteed a decent story where words are at least spelled correctly!

Perhaps even Smashwords may have to come to a point where their authors are 'agented' just to weed out quality from junk. Being too top heavy in 'junk' may drive serious authors, agents, and readers away.

Just thinking out loud...

onepoker said...

I have to disagree that agents steer publishing houses away from stuff readers like to read. The purpose of a publisher is to publish books they can sell. The only people that pay money for books are people who want to read them.

I would be happy to share my revenues with any agent that helped me produce a book that was a better experience for my readers. Unfortunately like many other indies, I don't have any money to invest in my books. I can't afford to pay someone to edit, I have no idea how to effectively market, I even struggle with making a decent book cover.

the more people we have working towards a better product the better it will be for readers and authors alike.

ChulaSlim said...

Fortunately there are places on the net that not only offer self-help to anxious authors but also encourage Indies to “clean up their act”. I refer to groups like the Indie Authors page on Facebook. It's a place that not only provides help, but also admonishes Indie authors to seek the highest quality they can when publishing their work.
I wonder how the individual cooperation of Indies in producing quality work offsets the services provided by agents. If Indies can police their own house, then where do the agents reside?
If an agent can demonstrate a value-added service that provides what cannot be found in in these type of interactions then I'm interested. Otherwise, the cost is not worth it.

Cyndi Tefft said...

Interesting post. I agree that agents will need to be changing up their long-term strategy to stay in the game, and that the agency model will differ drastically five years from now.

However, I think the pre-publication services mentioned are a small piece of what an indie author really needs. Getting people to find your book and read your book is the greatest challenge and therein lies the true opportunity.

An agent (or other service provider) who can make that happen, who can successfully market your book, will earn their commission.

Wordsmith & Wesson said...

A really interesting read.

I have over a decade's experience in PR and some marketing (consumer and tech), and when I queried my novel to agents just over a year ago, I got great responses to the half dozen full manuscripts I was asked to forward in just two weeks.

All were complimentary of the concept, the ever-illusive "voice" and, most importantly, my writing. However...The most common response was that the economy/ebooks made it almost impossible to sell a debut author, let alone one with a niche product, and who can blame someone who works on comission from taking a pass even if they belive in the book?

I was shocked when two different agents suggested I leverage my PR background to publish it myself, given the novelty of the concept. I'm so glad they did! I have so many ideas for how I want to promote it, and to grow the concept into peripherals - to build an entire brand. I may never have gotten a say on anything had I held out for a traditional agent or publisher.

That said, just as previous poster commented on how (most) agents don't have extensive/practical PR and Marketing knowledge (it's crucial one find professional guidance on PR&M BEFORE they publish), I would be thrilled to have an agent on board to help me navigate the waters, maximize opportunities and grow the project with me.

I'd love to see this model adopted. I'd love even more to see agents & PR people join up in teams.

In the meantime, I'm taking my time and learning everything I can, while working with professional editors and creative people to make sure I deliver the most entertaining, professional and polished book I can.

Thanks for the great read.

@Wordsmithwesson

Marcus said...

enlightening presentation. like other commenters, i'm also not too sure about most agents' abilities to catch up. they're symbiotically tied to big publishers. in the indie space, there's a bunch of new ones who'll get it & be able to do the work & share your vision.

interestingly, about a month ago, i wrote a more or less passionate blog post exactly about this dilemma.