The future of agents--should you care?

So, Joe Konrath posted a guest post by Lauren Baratz-Logsted in which she, and then he, note that they will be relying on their agent to help produce their books. Earlier, Courtney Milan (via PV) noted that she is doing the same. In exchange, the agent gets a percentage (usually 15%) of the book proceeds.

As Konrath notes, this is not an uncontroversial decision: 

A notable opponent of this methodology is Dean Wesley Smith, whom I admire and greatly respect. He feels authors shouldn't share royalties when the tasks of bringing an ebook to market can be work-for-hire sunk costs.

My response to Dean is: I have to try it before I can judge if it works or not. I also believe (I may be wrong) that Dean and his equally smart and savvy wife Kristen Kathryn Rusch are incredibly prolific authors who have many pieces of writing that aren't yet available as ebooks even though they own the rights.

Well, come on Dean and Kris! These are all properties that could be earning money, and every day they aren't live is a day you missed making some dough. If you gave an estributor [his term for an electronic book distributor] a cut and they get these live sooner than you can, you'd be earning more.


If you read Smith and Rusch's blogs, you are snickering. If you don't: Smith and Rusch stopped using agents before they started e-publishing. They stopped using agents because their agents stole from them. A chirpy "come on Dean and Kris!" is not going to change their minds.

But for newer writers, all that is really just a diversion from the larger question: If all these writers are using agents to produce their books, then shouldn't you?

I'm going to point you again to Konrath's argument why Smith and Rusch should consider using an agent: Because Smith and Rusch have an unpublished backlist of something like 100 titles. That's a lot of books.

Hmmm, and have you noticed something about Konrath and Baratz-Logsted and Milan? They are all established authors. They all have unpublished works! They all have a fan base! They all have been in the business for years, if not decades!

Does that describe you?

You have to look at this from the perspective of the agent. Wouldn't you like to get 15% of Konrath's income? Hell, yeah! It's totally worth it to bring your A game to service somebody who could earn you $15,000 in a single month!

As a writer, are you worth that much to an agent?

Chances are, the answer is no. Chances are, an agent is going to treat you very differently from the way they treat Joe Konrath.

You see this in the financial-services industry. People look at certain things rich people do--for example, invest in hedge funds--and say, Gee, I'd like to be rich, why can't I invest in a hedge fund? But the fact is that nobody gets rich by investing in a hedge fund--you have to already be rich. The reason is because hedge funds are as risky as hell, so you have to be the kind of person who can comfortably lose every last dime you've invested in order to get into one. Rich people buy $4,000 watches, too--but buying a $4,000 watch won't make you rich. It's correlation, not causation.

Joe Konrath can get an agent who will throw her body across mud puddles so that he doesn't get his shoes dirty. Amanda Hocking can get a $2 million book advance. That's not how they became successful--they can do these things because they already are successful. They became successful by writing a lot of books and selling them at a reasonable price.

I know there's a mentality that if you want to be successful, you should mimic successful people. But that's too simplistic: You need to figure out what's appropriate for you where you are now, not where you'd like to be in 10 years. Aspirational thinking (I want to be rich, so I'll act like I'm already rich!) is a God-send to the flim-flam artists of the world. Nobody starts at the top--they work their way up. You need to imitate the "working their way up" part, not the "what they do once they're up there" part.