How Self-Publishing Has Changed Author / Agent Relationships

Several months ago, my agent confessed that she “messed up royally.” Actually,  Rachelle’s post was a clarification of her previous post entitled Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too? This post stirred up lots of pushback, most notably from self-published authors who felt she was siding with “Big Pub.”

Frankly, I thought it was an overreaction on the part of many of the commenters and reminded me a lot of THIS POST
where I suggested that waiting to self-publish was a good idea, was
linked to some guerrilla self-publishers, called bad names, and I ended up
doing a lot of back-tracking. I felt a similar (over-) reaction
occurred toward Rachelle’s post.

Don’t get me wrong. There was
lots of reasonable, civil, compelling arguments for why self-pubbing is
better than traditional publishing and how big publishers can and do
take advantage of authors.

Perhaps the big bat was the one swung by James Scott Bell in his lengthy comment, which began:

I
found the very form of the question somewhat disconcerting. “Will my
publisher LET ME?” Like I’m in third grade? Rather, the question should
simply be, “How May I Self-Publish Successfully?” I’m not owned by a
publishing company. I am not begging for Kibble. I am a writer who knows
what he’s doing, who can deliver the goods, and to whom readers pay
because of said goods.

Writers who are “gung ho” to write more and
make more money are doing what writers only WISHED they could do in the
“old days.” And our mantra is, we can work with publishers, too, as
long as a mutually beneficial deal can be worked out. Which is how it
should be.

The comment thread is actually very
informative. It clearly gives you the sense that the tide is turning
(has turned?) and the chips are on the side of the “underdog.” And,
frankly, some of the anger is warranted. I mean, I’ve invested far more
time and money to market my books and further my brand than any
publisher has. This doesn’t mean I will, henceforth, forgo traditional
publishing. It means I’m going in with the realization that I still need
to work my ass off.

What I found most interesting, however, was
the insinuation that Rachelle’s post showed she was on the side of big
publishers and not being an advocate for her clients.

I thought this was absurd.

Granted,
this could be because I actually know Rachelle, have worked with her,
and have never gotten the sense that she does not have my best interest
in mind or that she’s a shill for the evil “Big Pub.” In fact, I’ve
self-published two books since joining her team. No strings attached.
And she’s been nothing but encouraging along the way.

Which is why I appreciated what Ramona Richards, a novelist and acquisitions editor, said on Rachelle’s follow-up post:

Rachelle,
your posts don’t often surprise me, but this one did. Anyone who would
think you would be on the side of a publisher over a client is either 1)
new; 2) not paying attention; 3) never negotiated a contract with you.
As a “traditional” publisher who HAS done that last one, I know from
personal experience that you are an excellent advocate for your clients.
The industry is undergoing a sea-change right now, and there are a lot
of unknowns. Your devotion to your clients is not one of them.

Amen.

I think Rachelle was right to issue a follow-up, apologize for her “royal mess-up,” and clarify her position. I
couldn’t help but wonder if her mea culpa is indicative of the tenuous
author / agent relationship created by the new world of publishing.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many similar “clarifications”
in the near future on the part of agents assuring clients and potential
clients that they are not lapdogs for traditional publishers and can
play a legitimate role in an author’s career.
 
Which means that the
default position for literary agents will be teetering on the tightrope
somewhere between those “evil” publishers and us newly empowered, and
quite ready for payback, authors.

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.