Agents as publishers

I know many of you have heard about agents who are now becoming publishers – whether for ebooks, or facilitating self-publishing ventures. There are a lot of differing opinions on this, but I recommend reading Victoria Strauss’ blog post on this issue. As is her usual style, Vic breaks down the controversy into nice bite-sized pieces so that writers have a clear view as to the potential hazards of this alarming trend.

I realize that as a publisher, I would be against agents becoming publishers. But the issue goes deeper than that, and Vic nails it on the head when she quotes Peter Cox:

“Once you become your client’s publisher, you then become a principal in the transaction [which] means you can no longer function as the client’s agent.”

I don’t care if well-respected agents are doing this – it’s a conflict of interest. And who loses? The author. It’s always the author – make no mistake about it. And I think what bothers me the most is that big name agents are doing this. Given their credibility and reputation, writers are under the mistaken belief that the agent is working in their best interests. Are they?

Is it possible to work in your best interests if they have a vested interest in keeping you right in their back pocket? Will they ignore that request for pages from a publisher?  Will they recommend not accepting that contract offer? It’s hard to ignore the fact that publishers have more experience selling books to the marketplace and better distribution than an agent/publisher. Selling books to the marketplace is what we do for a living. If your agent’s time is split between being an agent AND publisher, then are you getting their full attention?

I applaud Vic bringing up the influence an agent can wield with a writer. Think about it; you’ve signed with Ms. FaboAgent, and she wants to discuss the possibilities of going ebook, or self-pubbing. And hey ho, Ms. FaboAgent can facilitate this! So do you really believe that writer will get a fair and balanced picture, or will Ms. FaboAgent present a very biased perspective because she has much to gain?

I realize agents are scrambling around trying to remain relevant in this ever-changing world of publishing, but is this the right way to go? It appears as though my question is merely rhetorical because I think they will. But I cringe at the playground for potential abuse that is being opened with this growing trend.

All the more reason why authors must learn the industry in order to make informed decisions that will impact their writing careers.

5 Responses to Agents as publishers

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I forget who, but I heard today about an agent deciding to quit being an agent and become a book shepherd. Is that a sign of the times?

  2. Very possibly, Ninjie. I, for one, will sorely miss agents should they go the way of the dinosaur. They are godsends from Heaven who make my life worth living.

  3. Pelotard says:

    I’ll repeat what I said in another venue: when you do business, it’s all about trust. An agent becoming a part-time publisher might set it up in a way which doesn’t bring the interests into conflict – but I can no longer verify that this is so. They lose transparency, they erode trust.

  4. Pelo, this is the problem. No matter how you slice or dice it, there exists the appearance for abuse that doesn’t necessarily work in the author’s best interest.

  5. This whole murky mess of agents going into publishing is futzing with the ethically challenged.

    I read this blog about the loss of the literary agent and wondered what your take was. It expands on the issue of agents going into the business of publishing.

    http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2011/06/literary-agents-endangered-species.html

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