It's starting to happen, but like any new idea the early agency and author adopters may face vilification before they're recognized as heroes.
Some critics claim that agents-as-publishing-service-provider creates a conflict of interest. Hogwash. Agents owe it to their clients to consider all opportunities to connect an author's books with readers.
Some indie authors have piled on Joe Konrath for his decision to allow Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (DGLM) to manage the e-publishing of his forthcoming title, Timecaster Supersymmetry. At least one anonymous poster claimed Joe is a hypocrite for abandoning the indie ethos he has so effectively championed for several years.
His detractors miss the point. Joe's not a hypocrite. He's a smart business person.
The power of publishing is shifting to authors, and authors have the flexibility to enter into myriad business relationships of different shades and colors. Now is the time to experiment and take chances.
The author is running a business. The most successful authors are great writers who make smart business decisions. I often see talented authors undermining their success with poor business decisions grounded in fear and uncertainty (I touched on this last year in my post, the Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Failure). Joe's critics succumb to the FUD.
Smart businesspeople realize that just because they can do something on their own, doesn't mean they should do it on their own. Smart businesspeople align with business partners that add value.
Consider everything involved in getting a book from a writer's brain to the eyeballs of readers.
There's research, writing, revising, more revising, editing, proofing, book production, cover design, pre-pub marketing, sales, distribution, post-sales marketing, retailing and fulfillment.
These essential inputs are services. At one far end of the spectrum, the indie can go 100% Do-it-yourself and perform all the services on their own. At the other extreme end of the spectrum is the full-service traditional publisher.
Between these two extremes lies a vast middle ground where indies can avail themselves of the value-added capabilities of service providers like agents.
Literary agencies have an opportunity to do for authors what some authors don't want to do on their own. The trend also means agents now have the ability to engage at a deeper level with all their clients.
Some of the commenters on Joe's post questioned the value of agents' e-publishing ventures. In response, Barry Eisler poked fun at the DIY-extremists:
I just wanna say that real self-published authors write their books longhand using quills they've made and inks they've concocted from materials culled from the forest floor, on parchment they've pounded out with their own fists from trees they've felled with their own neolithic tools, and sell these books by hand in the public square, which they reach shoeless and on foot, eating roots and berries they gather along the way. Anything else is corruption, sabotage, and hypocrisy! Fight the man, people!I'm surprised by the number of writers so quick to pass up opportunities in favor of jealously guarding that X%. Some writers have a near-allergic aversion to allowing any intermediary to profit from their book.
The Equity Equation
There's a simple analysis any author can perform when deciding whether or not to cede that XX% to an agent, a distributor, a retailer, a publisher or whomever.
Paul Graham, the venture capitalist, published an elegantly simple formula in 2007 called The Equity Equation that entrepreneurs can use to determine the benefit they must receive to justify giving XX% of their company to an investor.
The formula works equally well for authors. When Joe gives DGLM 15%, it's easy to determine the minimum amount of value-add DGLM must provide for Joe's decision to be a smart one.
Using the formula of 1/(1-n) where n = .15, we see that if DGLM's involvement can increase Joe's results 17.5% above what he'd otherwise accomplish on his own, then Joe's ahead in this partnership. Good agents can earn their entire keep with a single phone call, and great agents work that magic continuously for the lifetime of the relationship.
Top tier agencies like DGLM are successful because they're expert at delivering multiples of that 17.5% for their clients.
Joe gains not only from DGLM's investment of time, money, smarts, connections and enthusiasm, but he also gains time to produce more writing.
I'm reminded of a pearl of wisdom from my mom:
If you plant a $15 tree in a $5 hole, you get a $5 tree.The writer's book (or the writer's career) is the tree, and the hole is the environment you create to establish roots and acquire the life-sustaining nourishment of readers and sales.
If a quality service provider is willing to invest alongside an author and fertilize the effort, the author is penny-wise and pound foolish not to consider the options.
Should agents provide indie ebook publishing services to their clients? Definitively yes. They'd be irresponsible not to.
A growing number of literary agents are beginning to use Smashwords for their clients' ebook distribution. This is good news for all indies.