There has been some serious blowback about the controversy of agents who decide to add publishing to their repertoire. The biggest problem is conflict of interest, which I blogged about here. Victoria Strauss wrote a very concise post on this subject as well. Then came the incredible blog post on According to Hoyt, where author, Sarah Hoyt, talks about the kerfluffle between her and The Knight Agency – more directly, her agent Lucienne Diver.
This particular blog post is alarming because TKA insists they are not a publisher, in spite of the fact that they’re buying the ISBN, assuming all costs for editing, cover design, controlling the pricing, and putting it out on all the online databases. Rather, they insist they are an “assisted self-publishing initiative.”
Assisted is akin to what book doctors or packagers do, for a fee, which is prepare a book to either send out to query or to self publish. TKA is going the extra mile and publishing the book. This is especially egregious because they aren’t submitting their client/authors’ books elsewhere. They are submitting it directly to the buying public.
This is pretty damning stuff for an agency who has enjoyed a lovely reputation in the industry. But moreover, what would I do if they pitched one of their authors to me?
Consequence #1 – submitting to editors
Chances are I’d avoid any agent who has a publishing arm because of the conflict of interest to their authors. Their heads are now in two competing business models, so I worry they’re not adequately representing their authors. If their focus is split, then a consequence could mean a breakdown in communication, which is the lifeblood of the agent/author/editor relationship.
Now why should I care about the agent/author relationship? Let’s say a problem arises between the editor and the author. This is where a good agent is worth their weight in gold because they become the go-between in order to preserve the relationship. If the agent is busy playing publisher, then where does that leave time for author/editor advocacy?
I am a publisher, and I know what kind of time is involved in producing a book. There is no way I could assume agenting responsibilities because there aren’t enough hours in a day or legal drugs on the market that would seduce me into working myself into a straightjacket.
I can do one job well – publishing. Are agencies trying to tell me they can do their job and my job?
Consequence #2 – Suspicion
Agencies who add publishing to their business model unwittingly create an air of suspicion because authors have to wonder whether they’ll have their agent’s full attention. Additionally, authors may wonder how aggressively their agents will pitch their books to outside editors if they stand to make more money keeping the book in-house.
It’s possible that none of these concerns are realistic – but reading about what The Knight Agency is doing, and how they treated one of their authors, I would rather err on the side of safety than become a victim to bully tactics. And yes, I think TKA has created a very large air of suspicion by claiming they aren’t publishers when, clearly, they are.
There are things that don’t mix; oil and water, the beagle and sobriety, and agenting and publishing under one roof. Both jobs are full time, and you can’t possibly do justice to both.
How do you feel about agents who foray into the publishing industry? Do you believe The Knight Agency is “assisting” or publishing?