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Sunday, August 25, 2013

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.

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


  1. Last year, I self-published my book and had a miraculous success with it. I am writing my sequel and wondering about my next step. If I self-publish, I would like to somehow include my agent on the journey. Is that possible? Are other authors doing that?

    1. Heather, I've heard of some self-published authors who incorporate their agents by deferring the actual publishing process: cover design, formatting, digital distribution, even editorial suggestions are the agent's. The question you'd need to ask is whether or not your agent's 15% cut (if that's what they're making) is worth not having to worry about those things on your end.

  2. My only gripe with self-publishing fiction is for new writer who don't get a professional edit. As Sr. Editor here at Novel Rocket, I've received a boatload of requests to read self-published books. I've seen one that was worth talking about. And it came from ... James Scott Bell.

    Too many new writers are over anxious to see their name in print and call them selves published. They don't want to put in the time or hard work it takes to get published. If they do put in that time, then I say, "Go for it!!"

    But don't forget about the small presses that offer larger royalties and out out a great product. You may not receive an advance, but I'll take goods royalties any day!

    1. Not just a professional edit: a competent edit. Just because you've paid for something doesn't make it good.

      Especially not if the 'edit' was by the 'editor' at your vanity publisher.

      I have nothing against self-publishing. But I have a lot of bad thoughts about those companies that charge a huge amount to publish a book, promise an edit, then publish a book that shows no one involved has ever seen (let alone read) books like Revision and Self-Editing for Publication or Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

  3. I think self-publishing is a good thing and has definitely leveled the playing field for authors (and really for their agents as well). It's given us all more options and I'm pleased with the new paradigm.

    My only problem with self-publishing is when a writer uses it as a short-cut to publication. It takes as much time and energy to learn the craft and evolve an excellent self-pubbed project as it does a traditionally pubbed project.

    Great post!

  4. I'm more than a little curious how much self-published authors are really making, not the favored few, but the majority. I had someone try to talk me into self-pubbing, talking about royalties and getting all of what I earn, etc. When they actually told me how much they were making and how many books they sold, I about choked. (It was pretty minuscule). Are most self published selling tens of thousands of books or just hundreds? I doubt anyone other than the most successful would dare share the actual numbers. Getting only ten percent doesn't sound as good as getting 100% but 10% of 100k books sold (plus a hefty advance) is a whole lot better than 100% of 300 books (and no advance).


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