The Big Tabloid Divorce

So, here I was, trying to explain the reason I’m unagented, so that I wouldn’t have to answer a bunch of questions at Worldcon, and so that rumors couldn’t circulate that turned this into the big Hollywood divorce.

Can you say “misfire”? Sure, I knew you could. All that’s lacking now to complete this circus is for me to be caught with a blond in a skimpy bikini (and wouldn’t his chest hair look funny poking out of the top) and for Lucienne to be caught with an heavily tattooed contract (No? Are you sure?) and the farce will be complete.

Ah, well, as we know these Hollywood breakups usually are great publicity for both parties. Let’s hope that’s true this time. Lucienne and I deserve it.

I’ve been writing blog posts online for well nigh on ten years, most of them under various noms de blog, and something that I’ve found out is that there is absolutely no way to state something so clearly that someone, somewhere doesn’t take offense. If I wrote a blog post which in its entirety is “Kittens are adorable and cute” someone will email saying I hate dogs, and next thing you know, twitter will be a-twitter with rumors that I am into kitten white-slavery.

Even with all that, I was surprised at the storm in a teacup created by my VERY personal explanation as to why I’d chosen to go unagented for the first time in my career.

I thought I made it fairly clear to all and sundry that I’m not quitting this agenting relationship because I think Lucienne is a bad agent or in any way crooked. On the contrary, I explained up front that Lucienne is a great agent, the best I ever had, and that she is also a fine author. As for the Knight Agency, all the contact I’ve had with them is through Lucienne, save for a party at RWA three (?) years ago.

Not only didn’t I mean to say or imply anything that would hurt Lucienne’s or Knight’s reputation, but I believe – and have told several friends looking for representation – that if you absolutely must go with an agent (and right now, as my post makes clear I wouldn’t) then Lucienne should be your first choice.

Yes, I did say that Knight had become a publisher as well as an agency – I confess that was based on my interpretation of their letter and that some parts of it still lead me to think that they’re treading too close to that line. However, Lucienne is an honorable professional and she says that’s not what they’re doing so I’ll take her word for it. Below I will post their letter (not breaking confidentiality, both Lucienne and her agency have posted it on their blogs already) with notes on which parts led me astray. I will freely admit I might have made a leap of reasoning on that, but it is part of how my mind works to try to figure out how these things would work out contractually and also – as a science fiction author who was taught early not to call a rabbit a schmerp – to strip away semantics and try to understand the essence of something. Again, since there was no sample contract attached to the letter, it’s entirely possible I went one leap of reasoning too far. If so I apologize. I really, really, really am not a kitten white-slaver.

For that matter, my entire post was based on my interpretation of where the field is. I just re-read it and I seem to state several times that I’m working without a net and taking a leap based on my impressions of the field just now.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve posted several times – starting circa January – on the direction of the field and the demise of the gatekeepers.

Having taken the rather momentous step of going unagented, I intended this post as another point in that discussion. I did not view it and still do not view it as an attack on Knight. For that matter, if they had become publishers, I would not view that as something bad necessarily (I love two of my publishers) but only as something that is bad for me right now.

When I saw Lucienne’s email and comment this morning, I was going to be satisfied with simply reiterating the fact that nothing I said in the post on Wednesday was meant to reflect negatively on either Lucienne Diver or The Knight Agency. However, as I sat at my desk, still naked and about to miss my ride to the undisclosed location I call office-ish, a phone call came in threatening me with legal action. Now I learn that Deidre Knight tweeted “So, the blog by @SarahAHoyt stating that we are publishers is fully inaccurate and dangerously misleading.”

So I put up Lucienne’s email to me – yeah, I shouldn’t have labeled my comments as PS, which is confusing, but I was sleepy and trying to get dressed – and said I’d deal with it more fully this evening. So, now I am.

Once more with footnotes – if I had been dissatisfied with the KNIGHT AGENCY or LUCIENNE, or if the post had been about THEM at all, it would have been called “why I’m changing agents” not “why I am unagented.” They were not the main subject of the blog, nor the main focus. Part of the problem seems to be they THINK they are, and so agglutinate comments on agencies and the agency business in general with my passing remarks about what I understood their venture to be.

It is clear from e-mails, tweets and the phone call I received (more on that later) that my thought process and generalizations of the changes in the industry were “misunderstood” by some. So, let me clarify even further.

First, I reiterate what I said in my post and in comments later. Lucienne is the best agent I ever had and she is a very talented author. Nothing I said in the post was meant to do harm to or reflect negatively on her or on the Knight Agency.

With that said, in the original post, one of the first things I said was that the post was “to explain my reasoning” in coming to the decision that it was time to go without an agent. My reasoning and my deductions were based on communications from the Knight Agency as well as others in the field.

When I said “they’ve started their own digital publisher”, I said what it appeared to be true from my understanding of an email. The phrase used in that email was and “assisted self-publishing initiative”. However, several questions were raised that led me to believe they were entering the digital publishing arena. I presume this conclusion was wrong, since they posted the letter and don’t seem to think their words are in contradiction with their statements that they’re not becoming a publisher. Since these are people used to dealing with the exact language of contracts, it must be my understanding that was at fault. I apologize for that fault – But, as I said, the original post was to explain my reasoning, nothing more.

Apparently exception is being taken to comments made several paragraphs below the one referenced. In that paragraph, I noted the following: “First, they’re not transitioning. They’re remaining agents and charging you for the privilege of selling to themselves”. However, I was not referring to the Knight Agency or anyone associated with that agency as is clear when the paragraph is read in context. In the preceding paragraph, I said “I know I’ve said here in the past that this was the logical next step in digital publishing. Agencies already sift through slush. They already promote their writers, to greater or lesser extent. So, why not transition?” Clearly, I am discussing agencies in general and not The Knight Agency in particular.

Later in that same paragraph, I refer to the fact that agencies are loading the deals with upfront costs. Again, in context, it should be obvious that I am speaking in generalities and trying to figure out what a viable agency model will be in the future and not speaking about the Knight agency in particular.

I appreciate the fact Lucienne responded this morning to the post. It is good to know that my faith in her had not been misplaced. However, I still have issues with literary agencies that are supposed to be trying to sell any author’s work to publishers entering any sort of publication role, whether it is as a publisher or as part of an “assisted self-publishing” format. While I do not believe there would be any malfeasance on the part of Lucienne or the agency, it is still too close to a conflict of interest for my liking. (For more on possible conflicts of interest, see here.  Also here.  (That is how I feel and should not be taken as anything more than what it is – I’m uncomfortable with this new role and so, instead of having it strain my relationship with Lucienne and impact how we would work together, because I value her as a colleague, I decided to exit the professional relationship. (As you can see that has worked wonderfully, which should encourage you to take my advice whenever you can, of course.)

Also in response to Lucienne’s comment posted to the original entry, I am glad to know they still believe in the viability of traditional publishing. THAT comment, again, was in generalities. However, having talked to other authors, agents and editors over the last few months, it is clear to me that there are those in the agenting field who do believe traditional publishing is done for. There are some in the traditional publishing field as well who believe this, though I have that information at a remove (or several different removes, since this has come at me through several colleagues) and am therefore not going to pass on particulars. Hence my comment.

If I haven’t said it enough (have I said it enough?) I do want to assure Lucienne, and The Knight Agency, that nothing I said was intended in any way to damage their reputations. In her letter that I posted to this blog earlier today, Lucienne concluded by saying ” I’m very disappointed that you’ve said something very publicly that I feel damages my reputation and that of the agency. I do hope you will print a retraction. ” While I don’t feel anything I said in the post did this, I hope this new post clarifies that position. I don’t want to damage Lucienne’s reputation. I like her as a professional and as a woman and writing that letter terminating our relationship was one of the hardest, if not the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. (And this blog thing is probably second.)

However, I must comment here about the phone call from the agency which I mentioned earlier. Instead of giving me time to read and respond Lucienne’s comment and e-mail, I was threatened with a law suit. Now, those of you who have read my blog for a while, or even my books, know this is entirely the wrong way to handle me. (I don’t kow tow to bullying.) It is also a bit puerile.

Saying that someone has become an epublisher might be wrong – I’d have been QUITE happy to have posted Lucienne’s clarification of this and hers and Knight’s response, since I have no malice toward either of them. In fact, I was considering how to ask Lucienne for a short statement to insert in my blog (Look, morning, no caffeine, words hard. Particularly when words relate to a misunderstanding I didn’t think could exist.) I suppose someone forgot I live in Mountain time and while I get up at six in the morning, I don’t sit at the computer till eight or later. In fact, in days I go to office-ish, I often don’t see it till the evening. It was a minor miracle I saw that email at all. But apparently, two days after being up that post had become an all-fired emergency that required threatening me.

Be that as it may, last I checked, calling someone a publisher was neither an insult nor a libel. Heck, my favorite publisher has it put on her name tag at conventions. So it would be REALLY hard to make that stick. As is to make the idea that I perceive a conflict of interest as being a problem into a libel. It would be fairly hard to make it stick in any case when speaking of a post that labels itself as my reasoning process – i.e. my opinion.

And worst case scenario, if they managed to make it stick – Guys, I’ve talked about my financial situation before as relates to payments due and also to whatever insanity is going on in the field. And ALSO to two sons in college (note when I reference the field I do not mean The Knight Agency. I know these things can be hard to remember, but I refuse to label all my posts from here on out... I know, this is a hard thing… Just try to remember ’kay?) In the unlikely event they would bring a lawsuit and make it stick, the sentence “you can’t get blood from a stone” applies, and pretty much all I have to spare plus a bit more goes to the IRS.

Of course, a lawsuit would be great publicity. However, frankly, I prefer to write than to engage in publicity stunts. Which is why I’m rather tired of this Hollywood divorce thing, too. Guys, I am not that important to deserve that kind of attention. Just an obscure writer with an obscure blog. Go back to more productive work and let me get back to mine.

So, is The Knight Agency becoming a publisher? According to them, no. I’ll leave it at that. Did I mean to impugn their character? Absolutely not. Do I agree with the path they are taking? No. Does this mean I think everyone should run madly away from them? Positively not.

I was simply explaining my own reasons – and reasoning – for taking the action I did. And everyone informing me by various means that I’m wrong and the Knight Agency is the way to Win The Future or whatever it was, please note I made it a point of saying that making predictions is hard, particularly about the future. While my decisions often cause friends, acquaintances and passing strangers to say “WTF” I don’t think this is what they mean at all.

If you are happy and confident in your going with Knight’s offer, or ignoring it, but continuing to use TKA for your representation, then DO SO. I don’t feel either comfortable or confident, so I’m not doing so. In fact, I think the way the industry is going, I feel better and more confident pursuing opportunities that are hard to do with an agency, including co-op and micro publishing, as I’ve mentioned. Your mileage not only CAN but WILL vary.

Yes, as in all good Hollywood Divorces, while this marriage could not be saved, due to the party of the first part having decided the concept of agency is outdated, the relationship would have been fine with better communication and if someone hadn’t tried to scare someone else with a lawyer. As is… (Waggles hand) I hope all parties involved can find a way to dismount from the soap box and shake hands and be friends, if not now at some future point.

Below is the letter from Knight with my comments in bold below the sentences that misled me. Once more, Lucienne says that I was wrong, and Lucienne is an honorable agent, so I accept that I was wrong. But I do not aknowledge their right to try to intimidate me. Now or ever.

 

Dear Authors:

As you know, The Knight Agency has been working on a very exciting assisted self-publishing initiative that will aid authors in digitally republishing backlist titles, as well as allow clients to publish select front list titles which the author and agency will hand-pick together.  For example, clients and agents may select novels, collections, or shorts that mainstream publishers may not consider remunerative enough for acquisition, or that the authors and agents believe would be better served by our sleek new system, which will allow us to monitor and act quickly in terms of pricing, promotion, bundling, etc.

I admit here, I said in the blog they “started their own digital publisher”. They call it an “assisted self-publishing initiative.” One of my issues with this is that there can be the appearance that the agent – be it someone from Knight or any other agency entering into this sort of venture – might not put as much work into placing a title with a legacy publisher now that there is another alternative that the agency has a large amount of control over. I’m not saying it would happen. I’m saying there is the appearance that it could and that is something I don’t choose to be part of.

We’ll be taking our standard agency commission of fifteen percent (15%), absorbing all costs except those associated with copy editing. As always in our work as your agents, our objective is to allow you as the author to focus on what you do best, which is writing the most wonderful books possible while we take the time-consuming and tedious business elements off your shoulders. For our fifteen percent commission, we will provide self-publishing assistance in the following areas:

Okay, this was the crux of my problem. They don’t tell me they’re taking the 15% fee to cover the costs, they tell me it is their “standard agency commission.” I am a simple woman who reads these things far too literally, perhaps. “Agency commission, as far as I’m concerned means that they are taking a commission for selling the book. But to whom are they selling the book? Well… to the public. What does a publisher do? A publisher absorbs all costs, cover, etc, then sells the book to the public to recoup those costs and make a profit. Oh, hey, I’m going to be the first to say that 15% is a great deal in relation to what publishers offer. And if that contract has a firm termination date, it might even be a great deal overall. (As someone has noted on a blog, the costs associated with processing a book are arout $300. $1k if you go fancy. While for most small publishers publishing most authors the cost might well never be recouped even at a much larger percentage, the author has to ask himself how much he hopes to earn over the lifetime of the book. Income compounds, see. Suppose your book earns $200 this year but $1k next year and $10k the next… how good the deal is depends on how good your income is. I’m going to say – not just about the Knight Agency’s deal, but about the entire field that an author should insist on any epublishing contract coming with either a termination or a cancel at will after x time.) For all I know the Knight Agency does this. (According to Lucienne, it’s a 2 year term.) I haven’t seen a contract. This is merely a side note for those unfamiliar with digital publishing.

Meanwhile and for the record, the 15% means the agency has to collect it before forwarding the rest to the author, right? Which again is a function of publishers. Again, they say they’re not publishers and I believe it, but do you see the source of my confusion, and the source of my remaining discomfort? I’m perfectly willing to believe it drinks ammonia and eats arsenic, but I hate the fact that this schmerp looks like a bunny, okay? I would never trust it not to dig up the backyard. This is my paranoia and not meant to dispute the opinion of experts.

 

Content editing – the agents will act, as we regularly do, as editors, reading material and offering suggestions for revision.

Line and copyeditor referrals – since none of us are copyeditors ourselves, we’re creating a database of quality freelance editors who can provide line and copyediting services.

 

ISBN Number assignment – we’ll take care of the cost and work of getting an ISBN assigned to your work. Not all venues require an ISBN, but many do, and of course you’ll want the widest possible distribution for your work.

 

My first thought here, after realizing it doesn’t take much time at all to acquire and assign an ISBN, was is there going to be language on the front page of the e-book tying the publication to TKA? If they’re not a publisher, I assume it’s not. On the other hand for the widest distribution some sort of aggregation of titles is often needed, so this statement worried me.  Wouldn’t they need an ISBN that lists them as publisher to take advantage of the aggregation?

Copyright registration – in the event that a book is backlisted, this may already be taken care of, but if a work predates automatic extension or is a new work that requires initial registration, we’ll have it covered and absorb the cost.

Cover copy – although previously published titles will have cover copy, it will be proprietary to the publisher of that edition, and new copy will have to be written. We’ll handle writing or provide feedback on author-written copy.

Does the agency have final word on cover copy? It is unclear from this provision, especially since it says they will handle writing the cover copy if there is no author-written copy.

 

 

 

Cover design and consultation – we’re well aware that it takes good, professional quality covers to indicate high quality works, and can handle cover design in consultation with the author.

This is one of those areas where I wondered if this would be “expensed” back. Since no sample contract was included with this letter, I couldn’t check there. Other questions that arose were along the line of where was the art coming from and how much decision power would the author have if they left cover design to TKA? If TKA is paying for the cover, would they let an author pick a more expensive artist? If not, why not? WHY is TKA paying for the cover if they’re not a publisher? Do you see how confusing this is?

File conversions to ePub and mobi – this is where a good deal of the work comes in, and it’s something we’re equipped to handle.

This is a wonderful statement, but since this is a new venture for them, I couldn’t help wondering if they were doing the conversion in-house or if they were shopping it out. Also, there is nothing here about whether DRM would be applied, or recommended. If DRM is not applied or recommended, the going rate for this seems to be around $200 to $300, so “a good deal of work comes in” seemed a bit odd.

Uploading files to major retailers – there are many places self-published authors can’t reach on their own, but we’re establishing relationships with e-tailers to make works widely available.

Such as? I will believe they are only assisting self publishers and that they are not a publisher, but since etailers make these relationships with PUBLISHERS, you can see, again, where it left me confused.

 

 

 

Dynamic pricing – as mentioned above, we’ll have detailed pricing plans and will be able to move quickly to change pricing to build sales momentum.

This clause concerned me because it implies, at least to me, that TKA will be in control of pricing. If that is the case, that brings them, again in my mind, very close to the line of becoming a publisher.

Metadata – the agents, in conjunction with the authors, will develop a list of key phrases to serve as tags to increase title visibility on various retailer sites and search engines.

Search engine optimization — When promoting e-book titles, TKA will employ the latest techniques in SEO to maximize search rank visibility

Marketing plan – one of the advantages to the assisted self-publishing program is that The Knight Agency will help promote the works in various formats, including a digital newsletter, a new digital showcase area on KnightAgency.net, on Twitter, in blogs, etc.

Subsidiary rights – as with all titles we represent, we’ll work on the subrights for these books, including film, foreign, audio, etc. at our standard commission rates.

Royalty tracking and payments—collecting and tracking revenue with a variety of digital outlets will require vigilance. If any problems arise, authors will have TKA as their advocates.

Having talked with a number of authors who have gone the indie route, as well as with small e-press publishers, the major platforms open to e-publishing are quite easy to monitor. Also, my thought here is that it still adds a layer of delay in the reporting. Instead of getting the reports directly from the e-tailer, it will go through the agency and then later to me. While this is normal between a publisher, an agent and author, if you remove the publisher, the agent is reporting on my sales to the public, which IS what the publisher does. Another source of my confusion.

 

 

 

Oversight of existing contracts and obligations—non-compete and option clause language will become even more important in existing print contracts. TKA will have full career oversight, making sure that authors are covered and clear to enter into digital self-pub arrangements.

So can my attorney and honestly, my current one doesn’t charge me in perpetuity for the life of the contract. This is not intended as a comment on TKA in particular but on all agencies. When it comes to midlisters, full career oversight is often somewhat less than exciting, from what I hear.

Down the road, TKA has long-range plans to help clients arrange for print publication of these titles via print-on-demand or other avenues.

We’re developing a simple agreement that states our terms in writing so that our responsibilities and yours are clear. We have our first wave of titles in the works and anticipate launching the first books in September.  Please let us know if you have any material you’d like to discuss putting into this program and also, of course, if you have any questions.

This letter was received on the 20th of this month. No, I didn’t send questions because on the 20th all it elicited was a sinking feeling that I would have to break the relationship. I’d been suspecting for some time that going unagented was the best for me. The letter just made it real. Should I have sent questions? No. As I’ve said before, I thought that I was better off unagented. The British galleons versus the Spanish Armada in historical terms – the smaller, lighter vessel moves fast in stormy waters. And publishing waters are frankly roiling, just now.

All the Best,

Deidre, Judson, Pamela, Elaine, Nephele, Lucienne, Melissa, Jia and Jamie

Of those above, I’ve had contact with Lucienne and Jia, both of whom I recommend heartily as professionals, should you decide you need an agency. I think that this is the very first time Deidre mentioned me in her tweets in the two? Three? Years with the agency, so hey, the Hollywood divorce was good for something. Frankly, I thought I was too far below her notice to matter, and I’m immensely chuffed that I’m not.

 Meanwhile, for the people who read my blog before the tabloids came by to snap flashes in my face, you’ll be (I hope) glad to know that I finished Darkship Renegade. I’m entering changes and edits right now and hope to send it to “beta readers” tomorrow morning. After that I intend to go on vacation for three days, so, if any of you intends to sue me (hey, maybe the settlement will give you my debts!) or send me email threats for me, my children or my cats, please hold your fire till Monday. I’ll be out of internet reach till then.

* I’m crossposting this at  According To Hoyt Classical Values and Mad Genius Club, we due apologies to my fellow MGC authors for stomping a bit on Chris’ McMahon’s post and tomorrow’s poster. It simply seemed important this be on all those venues.*

7 comments

  1. Wow. They actually threatened to sue you? That seems a huge overreaction to your original post, I think.

    And having read the letter now, I must say it seems quite a bit like publishing to me, too. Of course, I have no experience in the matter, having never been published, but I have a working brain, which sometimes helps me. (A little.)

    Congratulations on Darkship Renegades, and I’m very happy to hear it, since I loved the first book. 🙂 And I hope you enjoy the vacation. In traditional Hollywood fashion, it’s good to get away from the tabloids. 😉

    Seriously, I hope you do enjoy some down time away from this. It seems to me that they’re making a tempest in a teapot, but it must be pretty awful for you. I mean, really – lawsuits?!?!?

    Hang in there. 🙂

  2. Shrug. How to make something of nothing. This would have vanished without a trace if they’d smiled and waved. Their response — not, let it be absolutely clear — your comments or original post, would put me off recommending the agency to other authors. They’re supposed to deal with those prickly people, authors and publishers in a tactful manner to the benefit of both parties. My agent may suggest I self publish. That could be perceived as part of Mike’s job. The minute he engages in anything that means he derives money from this process (be it fees, or hiring second parties or subcontracting various work), I’ll P&E list him — which won’t be for being something as benign as a publisher, either.

  3. Walks like a duck?

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t find your original post hostile to your agent or her agency at all. In fact, I thought you were a bit defensive on your agent’s behalf as her world was changing as well.

    The “assisted self-publishing” thing would likely seem like a good plan for an author with a back-list they would like to make available without having to take care of the details themselves. I didn’t find what you said overtly disapproving, even, just disapproving for you, personally. In fact, I thought you actually came down on the side of approval of the sort “this makes sense, who can blame them.”

  4. Oh, and I just re-read Darkship Thieves. I’m very much looking forward to Renegade. Yay!

  5. Sarah, your post didn’t strike me as derogatory towards the agency.

    I’ve heard of literary agents in Australia offering the same options as this agency. WIth the industry changing like it is, we all have to evolve or become extinct.

  6. Cutting directly to the one truly important part of this post … I’m SO glad I’m not one of your beta-readers. Having to deprive oneself of the luxury of wallowing shamelessly in a Thena book, in order to provide critical analysis? I do NOT envy those people.
    So, has Toni said yet when I’ll be able to pre-order it?

Comments are closed.