Ah. Just when you think it can get no more silly, we have an entry from someone who has me thinking that perhaps reincarnation is real. I don’t know if it is the actual ghost of P.T. Barnum, but there certainly seems to be a belief that one born every minute, and they’re not very bright. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but really this is quite insulting to even luke-warm IQ’s like mine. A more flawed piece would be quite a find, but, as the author resorts to claiming logical fallacy in Howey’s ‘science’… let me point out the one which his entire thesis rests on:
“I don’t say these things because I am in bed with the major publishers. I fight with the major publishers all the time ”
I see. So given the above, and a heaven sent opportunity (via Hugh Howey) to get a better deal for the people he supposedly works for, from the people he fights with for them…
Does he blog… 1) Now there is evidence that self-published authors can achieve the same or better status and sales and a far, far higher income, I will point this out to them and to the publishers (that I fight with all the time) and tell them they’ve had a bumper year of profits, and unless they want to lose their authors, we’d better re-negotiate a much better deal on e-books. Or 2) does he pooh-pooh this analysis as ridiculous, and state that therefore authors had better cling to publishers and, as they’re obviously not going to increase the give to authors, authors should just suck it up. Does he claim without any supporting figures (but lots of handwavium waffle) that the other that e-book income is huge?* That “value of a guaranteed advance ** vs. royalty money that may or may not come along down the road’ is better? That the status quo is unalterable and good for the authors he claims to represent, because the publishers won’t change?
Logic 101 question. If 2) is true, and 1) false: can the statement “I don’t say these things because I am in bed with the major publishers. I fight with the major publishers all the time” be true? And if it is demonstrably false, how much of the rest is likely to be true?
The answer, having looked through it: not much. But as a lesson in how to spin, gyre and gimble The Brillig Blogger is indeed a nonpareil and could have a great future in political speech-writing if the ‘supporting’ authors in self-publishing venture follows literary agent-gatekeeping for traditional publishers down the rabbit hole. For example he tries to spin pricing into a death spiral myth. No one has ever suggested this — what has been said, and is true, is that self-pubs do not carry the vast overheads – New York premises, a lot of staff at NY wages, doing something… that has little bearing on and adds little value to the author’s book, and a need to pay huge advances — which may not be coming your way. Self-pubs can afford to undercut New York Publishing – and can turn a profit from far fewer copies.
Literary agents started as something quite different. They were luxuries that very successful authors had. So when Ernest’s publisher was late paying, either Ernest came back from the Bahamas with a bull-whip or his lackey went into the NY publisher’s office to kick some ass or chew gum during the national gum shortage. The whole ‘gatekeeping‘ lark was like the current venture into ‘supporting’ self-publishing. There wasn’t as much money in the lackey game as there had been, and not enough demand. And besides, they wanted more, had contacts… and you can see how it all flows from there. There are still a few in the old lackey trade, and some do it as a sideline, and use it as a lever. But publishers in general saw them as a great way to 1)get rid of slush readers and the pile, and 2)get out of the awkward personal contact with people you’re screwing over. And the authors get to pay the agents for doing this (if you believe that 15% is coming out of the larger advance they get you, I have some remarkable bargains to sell you. Just send me your bank account details and password. And thank you for proving P.T. Barnum right.) I will point out the relationship I have with my agent is different. It’s more like how JK Rowling started with hers. Mike was a first reader who believed in my books, read some of my proposals and partials, and became an agent to sell them. I backed him because I thought his taste and skill better than most agents.
The chance of ‘your’ agent engaging in a bit of dickering for a better deal with your publisher exists. It’s not high for the average noob, but it exists. The chance of him telling all of his main buyers something seriously unpalatable is non-existent. If he was YOUR agent he’d be in there kicking ass and maybe even wielding the bullwhip. But you are a replaceable widget to him. Authors – at least up recently – were queued up begging to be a widget. Publishers on the other hand were much rarer and getting more so.
Only I think ‘authors as widgets’ is over.
Logic says literary agents will continue to get subs… But who will they get them from and how tolerant and patient these submitters are, is a very different matter. Yes, they’ll still get from: 1) the terminally thick and bad; 2) the uninformed (a dropping number); 3) the vastly insecure and needing validation, 4) the reasonably good but-you’ve-got-four-weeks-and-I-sent-to-all-of-the-agents-at-once – which they at this stage won’t accept. 5) the midlister who fits ‘we got a deal before but never found an audience (PC, message, not much entertainment)’ profile = failures.
Why would the successful bestseller keep one, except as a lackey, and why would a midlister with a decent following do so? Why would a go-getter noob put up with years of waiting? If they’re kept waiting they’ll self-publish, and if that succeeds they’ll perhaps need a lackey, but not a literary agent. So of those the agent gets the losers who fail at self-pub. Now of these 2) and 3) can produce some great books. Even the losers at self-pub can, with a bit of help. But 2) will leave as they get clued up. And as the stigma of being agented grows – yes I said stigma grows. It will, given what they’ll get, 3) will desert them too. So they’re left with the untalented and needing help.
Which is why you have the effort, especially from agents, to re-enforce the perception that self-published authors are inadequate and not nearly as good, and that well, publishing is rock solid and inflexible.
“Your advice to publishers is for them to (a) lower e-book publishers (b) give a bigger share of their lower revenue to the authors they publish. Obviously, the publishers are not going to take this advice. There is no business model for them in taking in less money while simultaneously giving more to the authors.”– The Brillig blogger
Really? Well yes. IF self-publishers were an irrelevant failure and not starting to eat the publishers’ lunch and doing much, much better financially than their traditionally published peers selling the same volume. IF authors continue to solicit agents despite this. IF authors (especially the successful ones with a following) are happy with a pittance, while paying agents, and having their publisher take the cream. IF authors ignore Hugh Howey data-trawl. Howey has published an expanded version, with a far bigger data set, and here is a post on it by Mark Coker of Smashwords.
Now that is something one can expect from Mark Coker. It’s his business.
But not in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY.
Two years ago I’d have said there’d be about as much chance of this as of the Pope canonizing Richard Dawkins. But the winds of change are plainly blowing hard, and PW is looking to a future too.
There is a business model in keeping prices competitive (no, that’s not an ever-diminishing sum***), and paying authors a FAR bigger share, and providing a lot more service. It’s called the new ‘Do not follow the agents in bankruptcy’ model. It involves giving up that New York address, and expense account and all those ‘useful’ meetings. It involves really adding a lot more value to the work those incredibly valuable people. To the widgets you call ‘authors’.
As for agents – rather than looking at nice new New York premises — instead of worrying about the small if of contractors, they might want to look at the big IF above. Maybe they’d do better to take Mark Coker’s advice to publishers, and find some way to add value to authors, who can do without them. But that’s kind of down the track. The question is just how far?
* Trust me, to the author, it’s not. Just through webscriptions (a fraction of Amazon’s reach) sales I can tell this.
** Which could be on average oh, as much as $3000, and falling (it was 5K when I started). In three tranches (effectively 1K every 4-10 months. You can live on that, can’t you?), two of which will be late. Like your bi-annual royalties. If you ever see them in the opaque accounting, 12-18 months later. Trust me on this. An advance is good because it ties a weasel down and you may actually get all of it. But it sure is hard to beat that monthly trickle and transparent accounting.
*** “How elastic is the demand for books? Yes, at the margins, you can increase sales some by lowering prices. But after a point, that stops working. There are only so many people who like to read with only so many hours in the day to do it. You can’t have a never-ending price war.” – the Brillig Blogger. We have no idea on either demand via price OR subject/book type. So… we assume you have it right on the present track record? That’s hilarious and totally illogical. A coarse guess is that the traditional industry has lost around 3/4 of the possible market by terrible targeting, and probably another 10% by overpricing. But that’s the subject for another post. It’s not infinitely elastic, but it’s a LOT bigger than now.