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ALLi Watchdog: Agent Assisted Self Publishing.

agent assisted self publishingAgent-assisted SP takes many different forms. At one end of the scale, it mean an agency encouraging one of their authors to upload their backlist, and showing them how, without taking any payment, content with the revenue boost this will give to the trade-published titles they represent.

At the other are the many agents now uploading files to Amazon or other etailers in an account in their own name, and collecting 15% of the sales revenue ad infinitum.

Some agents are actively seeking unpublished writers to “assist” in this way. Some are even calling for the author to pay for editing, cover design, marketing, etc., then uploading the file in the agent’s name and account.

Some authors believe, and some are even being persuaded, that choosing this pathway, and paying that 15%, may smooth a pathway to trade publication for them.

Few of these deals are good for authors, who lose their ability to directly manage their books (e.g., pricing, files, distribution) not mention 15% of their sales revenue indefinitely.

And if they ever want to leave an agent who holds the ASIN (Amazon Identifier Number) and/or ISBN of their book, the author will have to re-upload to a new KDP account in their own name, which will cause them to lose hard-earned rankings.

In short, the Alliance of Independent Authors advises caution. If you need  advice about your particular situation, you can contact us at info@allianceindependentauthors.org.

Melissa Foster, an ALLi Community Builder says: “Two years ago I thought Agent Assisted Self-Publishing (AASP) would help me sell more books and get my future work traditionally published.

Indie Author Melissa foster

Melissa Foster

What I’ve learned is that it’s essentially a way for agents to stay afloat in a changing publishing environment.

An agent’s purpose is to sell your work to publishers, and as publisher’s deals have become less attractive and self-publishing books have taken off, there are fewer significant traditional publishing deals many agents trying to recoup income from self-publishing sales of manuscripts they were unable to sell.

What has become a “standard” of AASP equates to self-publishing authors handling and paying for all of the work for their titles; formatting, editing, cover design, and marketing — and the agent manages the digital dashboards, such as KDP and PubIt (along with many others).

In exchange for managing those dashboards, that agent receives 15% of your income for the life of the book. While it may feel great to have an agent “on your side”, digital dashboard management can be taught to you in seven minutes–without a loss in revenue.

For those looking to traditionally publish, don’t get roped into thinking that if an agent helps you self-publish, you’ll have a better chance at reaching traditional publishers with your next manuscript. Agents try to sell work they deem worthy of their representation. If they cannot sell the work, then capturing income by taking 15% of your hard-earned self-publishing revenue should not be an option — unless they are securing a marketing deal for you elsewhere.

KDP White Glove

Securing a marketing deal can sometimes require an agent’s collaboration. Programs such as KDP’s White Glove Program (WGP) require an agent. In those cases, agent earn 15% of your income, which is reasonable, but not if the contract stipulate that this is for the life of your book — long after your WGP contract is over.

While WGP can be very helpful, I suggest that authors negotiate a shorter term for the revenue split.

Selling of foreign rights, audio rights, and film rights have nothing to do with AASP and should not be confused as such. Agents do not need to earn 15% of your self-published book’s income in order to sell those additional rights. Those rights are handled as separate contracts, with revenue/advance income negotiated for each.

AASP is quickly becoming a new income generating model for agents, and I strongly suggest that authors take the time to understand what they are giving up in order to be agent assisted — and what they stand to gain.

While some programs are worthy of the agent revenue grab, such as WGP, there’s no need to sign away lifetime revenue.

A little negotiation goes a long way.

~~~

 

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23 Responses to ALLi Watchdog: Agent Assisted Self Publishing.

  1. Pete Morin April 25, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    My agent, Christine Witthohn, tried like hell to sell my book, and when it wasn’t going to happen with any house with a contract she’d allow me to sign (I do not over-exaggerate), she encouraged me to self-publish it – and we fought over whether she’d earn any commission.

    I argued she should get something, she refused to accept anything. My thinking was that since she was still repping me and additional works, it was a team approach. Her argument was “I’m not paid for not selling your book.”

    I’m a lucky man, aren’t I?

    • Melissa Foster April 26, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      You sure are Pete. Many agents are requiring authors to sign agreements stating as much. I did that two years ago, and while my experience with the agent was a wonderful one, I realized how much I lost by doing so, and when I left that agent, I further realized that betting on a “team” approach by losing revenue is not the smartest thing to do.

    • Melissa Foster (@Melissa_Foster) April 26, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      You are, Pete. I tried that team approach two years ago and although I had a wonderful experience with the agent, my writing took a turn toward a different genre and we parted ways (for future ms submissions), so I’m not sure I’d ever sign away revenue based on the hope of a “team” approach again. That being said, I, too, felt horrible when an agent had spent 6 months trying to sell a ms that didn’t sell, but really, that’s their job. We spend a year writing, they spend a few months trying to sell. As the market changes, it changes for both of us. Authors are able to secure the major deals (or at least not as many) and agents have to work harder to “sell”. It’s a changing market, and we’ll see how everyone adapts as we move along.

      Again, negotiation is key. If you were to do that, I’d limit the length of the revenue grab.

  2. Hypnotic Dreams April 26, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    If the agent provided the marketing and publicity, that would be worth paying for.

    • Melissa Foster (@Melissa_Foster) April 26, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

      Yes, that is very true. None that I have heard of do any marketing, unfortunately. I do think there’s a market for agents who can connect with PR reps who have successfully gained exposure for books for self-pubbed authors. I also think there is a market for book club rights to be sold for self-pubbed authors. That would be fantastic and well worth a fee.

  3. Max W. Miller April 26, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    Extremely valuable information. That’s why I like Ali!

    Thanks

  4. Jane Steen April 26, 2013 at 3:18 am #

    This is a very alarming development. Agents are cashing in on the prestige they garnered during the years when they were almost the only route to publishing. If they took on the financial risk of putting a book on the market, they might be deserving of some percentage (but not, I think, forever). To ask 15% for the EASIEST part of self-publishing – uploading the books and following sales data – doesn’t seem ethical to me. Also, if the agent does the uploading presumably the money from the books goes to the agent – are there any safeguards in place to ensure they pass on the author’s share promptly and accurately? Brrrr, the more I think about this the more nervous I get.

    • Melissa Foster (@Melissa_Foster) April 26, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

      Jane, that was my point of the article. If they are offering a marketing program then that would be one thing, and I suggest, as stated above, negotiating a short-term revenue grab, but if the rights come back to you – you lose the ranking that you worked so hard to gain when you reupload to KDP and other venues. You can keep your reviews, but the ranking is lost and must be re-earned.

      You might be interested in reading this article where I outline suggested guidelines for such cases: http://melissafoster.com/content/agent-assisted-self-publishing

  5. Mark Young April 26, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    Interesting article. Thanks for posting this.

  6. Hannah April 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Would you feel differently if an agent had put a lot of editorial time (for free) into shaping & polishing your work with you prior to trying to sell to a publisher? Surely their input is worth something even if the traditional deal didn’t come off?

    • Melissa Foster (@Melissa_Foster) April 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      Great point Hannah. That’s really part of what agents do when they rep your work for sale, and two years ago, it never would have crossed an agent’s mind to ask for compensation even if it didn’t sell. Also, many manuscripts are out on submission for 4-8 months, and given that, the author has already lost a lot of compensation while waiting to be turned down. Given that, I’m not sure I’d sign away a lifetime of income for someone doing their job. Again, a little negotiation goes a long way.

  7. Debra Eve April 26, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    I have two friends who went the agent-assisted route. Both seem pleased with the situation and feel their agents helped shape their book (they’re with the same agency), as Hannah mentioned. I need to check back with them and see how they feel now. One is selling extremely well and the other is not, and I’m wondering if they got any marketing help.

    I tend to agree with Melissa. I think if authors knew how easy it is to upload their own books, they’d be less inclined to outsource it. Agent-assisted publishing isn’t something I’d even consider right now.

  8. M.H. Vesseur April 27, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Thanks for sharing these stories. It’s good to know what’s going on with the agents, even while I’m focussing entirely on solo self publishing right now.

  9. Orna Ross April 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks for dropping by Melissa. Folks, when considering the agent question and whether it is worth it in your case, the following links are also helpful. From David Gaughran: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/agents-and-publishing-a-roadmap-for-writers/ assesses the different kinds of agenting models emerging now. And this from David Vadagriff, ALLi’s Legal Advisor, is an interesting exploration of the conflict of interest issues: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/07/2011/agents-in-conflict-with-clients-issues-and-responses/

  10. Linda Gillard April 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    I’d just like to put in a good word for agents – or at least mine. I was traditionally published before I went indie. I’d had the same agent for many years and I’d never earned her much. When I was dropped by my last publisher she spent 2 years trying very hard to find me a new publisher. When she failed, she gave me full backing to go indie & lots of advice, but she said if we were to stay together, I would have to pay her commission on the indie books.

    I was happy with that. I still saw it as a partnership because I wanted her advice about my indie books, I still wanted her to read & comment on my mss, I wanted to run my publicity by her, I wanted her to sell my film and translation rights, I wanted her enthusiasm and encouragement. I was also pleased to be able to pay her something for all the years she’d worked for me for almost no return.

    I don’t miss having a publisher AT ALL, but I don’t know how I’d manage without my agent (who has sold translation rights to some of my indie books). She only deals with the things I want her to deal with, so I still feel in control, I’m still indie, but I’m paying her to be a source of advice & support – a kind of safety net. If I run into publishing problems of any kind, I can turn to her.

    I now earn an income from my ebooks so I suppose my agent is being paid generously for her time now, but she wasn’t when I had no publisher, nor when I had a publisher but earned peanuts.

    The workload is heavy for indies and we need back-up. That’s how I see my agent – as an expert, ally & friend. I wouldn’t want to have to dispense with her judgement & expderience, nor would I want to indy-publish without her. But I realise I’ve been very lucky in my agent. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to say, publishers are optional, but for me a good agent is essential.

  11. Holly Bush May 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Great article Melissa. Who knows what the role of the agent will be in the future? And in the meantime, caution should be the role of the day.

    I’m at the Romantic Times Convention in Kansas City and there is a marked difference between what I’m hearing from the self pubs panelists and what I’m hearing from the agents and publishers. The latter seems a bit behind on what is really going on.

  12. Charmaine Clancy May 5, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    I assume this is not a new tactic in the industry, there were ‘publishers’ taking advantage of writers and now certain ‘agents’. I ” because they’re not an agent if they’re not representing you with the intention of growing your success.

    If an agent could move my self-pubs into bookstores and other retail outlets, organise a higher exposure of marketing and take care of all the production needs of my book, I would seriously consider forking over 10-15% of my income. However, at this stage it seems agents have no more pull than a savvy author, so I choose to educate myself on the industry, hire freelancers for design and production needs and market my own book. But gosh it’d be nice to give up the marketing work so we could write more.

  13. Sharon Maas May 20, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    I have just signed such an agreement, and some of your information is wrong.

    For a start, my agent is acting as just that, an AGENT, with Amazon and co. I have also signed an agreement with Amazon clarifying that the agent is acting for me, and that I am the publisher, I hold the rights. Implicit is that, I believe, is that should I ever terminate the agreement with the agency then yes, I can continue in my own name without a hitch.
    Secondly, the agreement is not at all in perpetuum. It is set out clearly in the agreement that after three years, I am free to leave.

    There is a lot of negativity being spread about agent-assisted publishing, by people who it seems have not actually read a contract and don’t know all the details. I know that some agreements allow their authors to leave after two years– better yet.

    The book I am publishing is an out of print book. It has been doing nothing for ten years. Whatever I earn on this route, is profit. I am not interested in the nuts and bolts of publishing, and I think 15% is well worth whatever the agency can do to get the book up and running and, most of all, use their connections to help with marketing, which is part of the deal. I am a nobody in an overcrowded world. My agency is a big New York house. If they can position the book in such a way that it stands out from the crowd, if they can use clout to draw attention to the book, then they have certainly more than earned that 15%.

    If my agent gets rich with 15%, it’s wonderful — I’ll be even richer! Not that riches mean all that much to me. I like turning that old cliche on its head: people say time is money, but I say money is time, and it’s short. I’m 61. I don’t want to learn html or about metadata or SEO or all of that. Knowing all that stuff will not enhance my time. I work full time, and have a disabled husband as well. Time is precious, and I don’t want to waste it.

    A lot of people are shaking their heads, but it’s early days yet. Really, in my case, nothing can go wrong. If it makes a lot of money, great. If it doesn’t, well, so what? I think we should all just wait and see.

  14. Geri August 9, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    I know that this whole process is changing with the advent of digital and self-publishing and that agents’ rolls are and will be changing -if they want to remain relevant.
    I think agents can offer something worthwhile in getting international rights, movie deals etc- but I would think you would also need a lawyer to protect you in all this.
    Sharon I am not sure I understand what you are saying. It sounds like your agent is doing PR and helping to get your book ready for publication, is that right? I did not know they did this kind of work.
    It seems that any author has to know what they are doing and with whom before signing anything. Be very careful in giving away any of your rights – and money!

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