Monday, January 7, 2013

An Agent Bashes Self-Publishing and Amazon

Over the weekend, I attended a wonderful conference on story mastery, which was fun, inspirational, and chock full of interesting attendees. I had a marvelous time--with one exception--the agent who was a guest speaker. It wasn't the first time I've heard agents bash self-publishing and Amazon, but since it's important to me to educate authors about self-publishing, I wanted to write out some of what the agent said, and my opinion of his opinion. :)

First of all, I want to be clear. I am NOT bashing agents. I know and respect many agents. I have one of my own, whom I admire. Nor am I bashing traditional publishing. I'm also traditionally published and may be again in the future.

Before yesterday, I'd heard this agent/literary attorney speak several times. This weekend, when he was discussing selling a screenplay to Hollywood, including what should and should not be in the contracts, I thought he was very sharp and knowledgable, and I considered pitching my screenplay to him.

That opinion changed when he started talking about the importance of having an agent for books. He said editors will ONLY read agented submissions. (There was no mention that authors can pitch to editors at conferences or that editors now troll for best selling self-published books and make offers directly to the authors.) The implication is that an agent is vital for your publishing career.

However, that wasn't what annoyed me.

Someone in the audience asked his opinion of self-publishing. The agent responded by giving the audience opinionated, misleading, and sometimes false information, some of which I will detail here.

The agent was obviously against self-publishing, quoting the old statistic that 97% of authors sell less than 100 books. I know there are more recent surveys, and I also know that these surveys don't tap into much of the self-publishing community. I know a LOT of self-publishers who sell more than 100 books. They sell more than 100 books a year, a month, a week, a day, or an hour. Granted I hang out in the romance author circles, and romance fiction is a big percentage of the market, but I also know authors of other genres who have sold more than 100 books.

I spoke up, not to challenge the guy, but to educate the audience. I stated that I was a successful self-published author who had made the USA Today list and sold almost 100,000 books in a year. The speaker then made his point by saying that I was obviously one of the 3%.

The agent stated that with self-publishing you have to be your own editor and do your own marketing. He said that you want to go with a traditional publisher because they have wider distribution and can get you into brick and mortar stores. All true. But he didn't present the complete picture--that with self-publishing, you pay others to edit your work, and that no matter how you are published, you have to do promotion. Also most new or midlist authors don't receive a lot of promotion from their traditional publisher--so it doesn't matter if the possibility exists for wider distribution and promotion.

The agent was against small publishers, not even mentioning that there are some hot small pubs now that are doing far more for their authors than traditional publishers do for most of their authors. I think you have to be careful and do your research to discover them, but some small publishers are making exciting inroads into the market.

As for brick and mortar stores.... They are less and less viable for authors because many of them don't exist anymore. When my local Borders closed, I started buying my books at Amazon. Stores offer limited shelf-space, that mostly goes to well-known authors. And there's a limited amount of time a book will be available in the store.

The agent did grudging admit that a self-published author could receive higher royalties, but he mentioned that you could make 70% on a $10.00 book. (Untrue, you make 35% on a $10.00 book. You make 70% on a $9.99 book.) Granted, I'm being picky here. But if you are educating your audience, you have to give them the correct information.

Someone asked the agent more about Amazon. The audience member seemed to be asking about Amazon's traditional imprints, but the agent kept referring to Amazon's self-publishing platform. I spoke up and said that Amazon has traditional imprints. The agent responded by saying, "I would never submit to them because Amazon is destroying publishing. And I don't know any other agent who submits to them either."

Wow, really? No other agents submit to Amazon imprints?

I knew some of my fellow Montlakers had their books submitted by agents. Today, I took a survey of my Montlake friends and found a large percentage of authors had their books submitted by their agents. And if you look at Publisher's Marketplace, you'll also see agented sales to Amazon Imprints. I can't believe this agent wouldn't read PM.

Here is a guy who may be acting to detriment of his clients due to his own ideology. This agent is denying his clients the opportunity to have offers from the Amazon imprints, which may be much better than traditional publishing offers--or at the least spark some kind of bidding war. In my case, I had a big six editor approach me for my Montana Sky series. Her terms weren't as good as Montlake's, so I declined her offer. I know several other Montlake authors who had offers from big six publishers, and they, too, went with Amazon's better offers.

Then there is the potential for promotion and generating sales (and thus making money) that Amazon imprints offer. For example, my two Montlake books have sold about 100,000 in four months and a week. Much of those sales are due to Amazon's promotions. I know authors who've had way better sales with Amazon than I have. I certainly know I wouldn't have sold as many so quickly with a traditional publisher.

Amazon is destroying traditional publishing. Yep, that's true. And it's not true. Traditional publishing has been destroying itself. I won't go into the ways it has done so. There are plenty of blogs and articles that address this issue.

One of the things Amazon has done to strike a blow to traditional publishing is opened opportunities for authors. The company made the Kindle a viable option for readers and established a free, easy to use, self-publishing platform. Authors are flocking to self-publishing, many combining a career that includes self-publishing and traditional publishing as a way to have the best of both worlds. However, in the process, agents are becoming less and less important, and may, at times, be a detriment to an author's career.

Think carefully and do your research before you decide you want an agent. Then before submitting to agents, carefully check them out. You want an agent who's future oriented, not stuck in the past. Read their websites and blogs, and speak with their clients. Read PM and see what they've sold. Listen to their podcasts or CDs of when they speak at conferences. A good agent will be gold and do marvelous things for your career. Make sure that's the kind you have.


  1. Debra, this is very informative, not just about agents but about self publishing in general. Thanks much for a great article.

  2. Excellent post, Debra. Sadly, and this is something we're seeing more of now, agents seem to be closing their eyes to how the market is changing and refusing to adapt. Agents who start thinking outside the box and who start moving with the changes are the ones who will survive.

    I've witnessed several agents speak out on self-publishing over the last year, and many of them try to use scare tactics to keep authors from going in that direction, and most of them don't seem to want to know the facts. There are plenty of agents out there who are willing to work with self-published authors. Mine does, and I know several others as well. It's important for authors to do their research and know what they want for their careers before they make any decisions. And there is plenty of research to be found.

    I'm not against traditional publishing. I've had offers, like several writers I know, but it was in my best career interest to turn them down because I make better money self-publishing. I don't need to make a bad career decision just so I can say to myself, "Hey, I'm a traditionally published author." I don't need anyone telling me I'm credible. Half a million sales has done that for me just fine.

  3. He's not very in touch with the industry's pulse, is he? I wonder how many *new* writers he takes on as clients. My guess is...not any.

  4. Excellent post, Debra. I'm rather sorry for the agent because he's hurting his career.

    I'm not one of the blockbuster successful indie authors, but I sell about 100 copies of my books a week, and in good months over 1,000 a month. I'm sure there are many of us out there that are "mid-list" indies, and the number is growing.

    I think it's an amazing time to be a writer, and I'll always be glad I made the decision to self-publish. It's been great!

  5. Times they are a'changing! The better agents will need to keep up because this is the future, like it or not. My agent told me several times that she did not deal with small press and refused to send my material to certain houses, but now she's on the band wagon and will continue to sell her authors and have even greater success.

  6. My agent and her entire agency are thrilled I'm with Montlake. When my agent hesitantly approached me about pitching them, I said, "Why not? Everyone buys books at Amazon." This agency also facilitates self-publishing for their authors who want to go that route. Times change. Change or slowly starve.

  7. An excellent post Debra. Thanks for the insight.

  8. Good for you for speaking up and telling that agent the way it is!!! I'm in awe of the success my self-published friends have had. Especially you, Debra!

  9. Great post, Debra. This is the most exciting time to be an author. Authors have more power, more say in their careers than ever before. Now, we have choices. My agent and I knew that Amazon's Montlake Romance line was the best choice for my second series. The deal was better than I would have gotten with a New York publisher. Montlake has been wonderful. They take care of their authors.

  10. Thanks for sticking up for us. I'm not a USAT or NYT best seller, but I've sold a whole lot more than 100 books per title.

    And it seems to me that the last time I saw some industry figures, ebooks out sold paper books by some mega number. Yes, there are diehard paper fans. Paper is nice. I like paper books, but I also love ebooks. But it's been more than one year since I've read paper.
    E. Ayers

  11. Great post and very informative. I've self published and gone to epublishing so I guess he would seriously bash my books.

    Nikki Prince

  12. So many people fear change and belittle what is different. We have to wonder how many clients this agent has lost to self discovery? I'm on the lower rungs of the ladder but the first and most important lesson I've had to learn is no one elevates themselves by stepping on someone else.

  13. Well said, Debra. I'm published by Montlake now (a fantastic experience!), but I've been self published since the fall of 2010. But even before Montlake, in my first year as a self-published author, I earned far more money and sold far more books than ever I did in traditional publishing. And I did it with books in a genre that was effectively dead for traditional publishing. Happily, because of the economics of self-publishing, writers can live very nicely in niche markets.

  14. Good for you for standing up to people giving misinformation to forward their own agenda. I have been traditionally pubbed for 15 yrs and also self epubbed for 3 mos - the more I learn about the process the more my eyes are opened to the stuff many agents and publishers have done and said that was simply not the case (not saying they lied, they just had it wrong and operated on that wrong premise and advised me accordingly).

  15. Agents generally do public appearances to help with their submissions and get more clients. I don't know that this guy is going to be in business for long.

    I like that you took the time to write this post and share your opinion. Thank you.

  16. Hi Debra,
    Great post. So many agents today have little or nothing to offer self-published authors who by definition aren't going through a traditional publisher, thus no agent percentage. Could he be suffering from the no-money-honey syndrome?
    Stella MacLean

  17. In this era of dramatic change in publishing, people who can't embrace change, like that agent, are going to be left way behind. As you say. i worry for the people he represents.

  18. Great post, Debra! Thanks for correcting so many misconceptions this agent may have spread.

    My agent sold my books to Amazon's Montlake Romance imprint and the experience has been great for me. I've been traditionally published, now have a self-published backlist and have one book published by Montlake so I've experienced a range of choices. They all have their pros and cons but I cannot imagine a professional agent refusing to explore any avenue for the good of his clients. That's shocking to me.

    Montlake was quite new when I signed with them, but my agent, who's very well-respected, thought it was worth talking to them. Turns out to have been the best decision I've made in my publishing career!

    Anyone whose agent categorically refuses to submit to ANY reputable publishing house should fire that agent...or at least have a long, serious conversation with said agent. Your agent works for you, not vice versa. You should have the final say over which publisher your work goes to.

  19. Interesting post. I think a lot of agents are running scared as they see the publishing gravy train running dry. Amazon may be dealing trad publishing its death knell, but you are so right that publishing's demise is self-inflicted. They haven/t had a viable business model for a long time now, and haven't adapted swiftly enough to changing technology. Btw, this isn't the same agent we've discussed at plot group, is it?

  20. Well said, Debra. I encountered the same attitude from long established agents, who bashed self-publishing, small press, and Amazon at various conferences and workshops in the past year or so. When one of them attacked the quality of editing in self-published books, I cited an example of an eBook from a traditional publisher full of typos and other mistakes (about 5 per chapter). He became very defensive. They fear they’ll soon become obsolete in the new publishing landscape. Fighting the current instead of adapting, however, will not help them survive. I like your comment about not all small publishers being equal. I found it to be so true.

  21. Some good advice here, Deb. I've also read articles with a paranoid message that Amazon IS trumping the big six in sales, terms for writers, POD, distribution, promotion, and other areas--even putting books out at below cost--only to take advantage of writers, raise pricing, etc. etc. once they dominate the marketplace. Time will tell on that score. Meanwhile, we authors have a tremendous opportunity to reach our readers. I enjoyed your blog!

  22. Deb,
    Good for you! Perhaps fear was driving this guys slant on things. But fear won't help him as the biz continues to change. Many agents have seen the light but it sounds like this is resistant and I have to say this, "Resistance is futile." :) He'll be the ultimate loser.

  23. Great post - Deb - Agree with everything you said :-) This agent is an idiot! And I've heard more than one agent in recent months state outdated and incorrect information. If you're going to be against self publishing, at least get your facts straight!

  24. Excellent points, every one, Debra. The idea that an author can self-publish successfully must intimidate this agent.

  25. This agent is a very sharp man when it comes to Hollywood scripts. But for books, the outdated info is detrimental. Like many of you, this isn't the first time I heard an agent bash self-publishing and/or Amazon. That's why it's so important to me to help educate writers.

  26. Great post. This guy is afraid of the way the publishing industry is going. Or he's clueless.

  27. Thank you for posting this. It's kind of sad to think that at least some agents are still feeling this way. I thought that in the last year, self-publishing had climbed a few more rungs up the ladder of respectability.

    Oh well. Since I have sold well more than 100 books, I guess I'm one of the 'elite' 3%. It's funny how every single self-published author I know is in the same elite 3%. (and I have a bunch as FB friends) Either I just keep really good company, or 3% is some number an agent pulled from his...well, I'll let you imagine where he pulled it from. ;-)

  28. Paul Krupin here.

    Bashing creative individuals who are striving to achieve success. How novel. The agent and the big publishers are grinding their teeth on the fact that they no longer have a monopoly on creativity and that the access people have to creative works of writing, photography, music, film has changed with the Internet and advances in technology. What the agents and publishers now look for are the people who have not only created a decent piece of work, but have also created and can freely exercise the multitude of media platforms that get the word out to people and result in sales. And to do that means mastering the messaging so that people get turned on and buy whatever you have to sell. Self-publishing is the beginning step and it is followed by continuous self-promotion so that you help the people you can help the most doing what you can do to interest, inspire, entertain, enthrall and motivate the people who you aim at reaching. Whether you sell books by speaking, by doing articles and interviews, blogging, tweeting, or selling books out of the back of your car in the parking lot -- you have to figure out yourself and if you aim at quantity and longevity, then it must be a process you can maintain and support. And if you can do it independently the self-publishers way, like so many others are now doing, then what do you need an agent and a major publisher for? Go for it.

    Paul Krupin

  29. Hi Dr. Debra!

    Way to go! I was reading this on my lunch break and almost said "You go, girl!" outloud... Lol I wish I could remember his name, but there was an agent at nationals that did the very same thing. When I first walked in the room seemed packed, but after he started speaking, writers begin leaving while muttering stuff like, "I don't need to hear this!" and "This isn't what I signed up for..."

    And sitting next to me was a l great writer from the LA rwa chapter whose had wonderful success in the self-pub world and I kept expecting her to say something, but she never did.

    BTW, this sort of stuff is so great to hear as a newbie. We get enough negativity every where else that makes you want to stop before you even start...

  30. I think if agents like this had any idea how many self pubbed authors are making 5K or more per year on their books, they would be shocked. If you are making that much, then you are making as much as some agented, published, mid-listers (and more than many who never get publishing deals at all after years of trying). Moreover, as all of us know who hang out in self pubbed circles and do self pub, many folks are making much, much more than that. I always laugh at these comments from agents, editors, owners of certain small presses, and look again at my royalty statements from self pubbing. :)

  31. Great post, Debra. That's one reason I take everything I hear with a grain of salt, or a shaker. The industry is changing SO fast, it makes your head spin.

  32. Great post I also found it informative. Would you say this applies to all genres in self-publishing

    1. A.E. I'm not sure how to answer you because I don't know what you mean by "this." Could you ask me a more specific question?

  33. Thanks for speaking truth to power, Debra! I guess I'm in that ever-growing 3% with you--sold more than 125,000 books in 2012, made the USA Today Bestseller List in September, netted six figures (after LOTS of money spent on fun things like conferences/conventions and research trips). And I did it all on my own--no agent, anyway. I have a huge "entourage" as I call it--multiple editors, lots of beta readers, a street team (Kallypso's Street Brats) who pimp me out everywhere they go, and lots of loyal Masters Brats (my fans), too.

    I was approached by a Penguin Group editor after making the USA Today list. She wasn't interested in a deal that excluded my digital rights, though (and I don't foresee doing any deal where I lose my digital rights--my mama didn't raise any dummies). While it would have been nice to have someone handle the foreign distribution (other than Amazon and Kobo's international online sites), translations to foreign editions, and the audiobook editions, but I'll get there eventually. This month my priority is getting the fourth book out in paperback. next month, I open my merchandise store. Then I hit my first conference of the year and am doing a book tour of Texas the week after. (Taking advantage of my airfare for the conference--and another chance to meet readers.)

    Self-publishing is not only the way to make money in this business, but also a way to maintain creative sanity. I couldn't have gotten a publisher (whether NY or small e-pub) to publish my books the way I wanted them to be written. They'd have nixed all kinds of things I do--the very things that my readers say they love about my books. Readers want unique voices. They've been spoon-fed by gatekeepers too long. And while they may have to sort through some unprofessional examples, those of us who are in that top 3% (or however much--and I'm with you, it has to be much higher now, based on my friends who are quitting their jobs and devoting themselves to full-time writing), there are some really great writers out there who do hire professional editors, cover designers, and others to make their product the best it can be.

    Onward and upward, folks!


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  35. I attended a writers conference last summer, and experienced the same thing. The speaker who was a literary agent was derogatory and negative and stated that out of the nearly 200 writers gathered, to not expect more than one or two in the crowd to ever find an agent to represent their work and pitch it to a publisher.

    She was impressively annoying, and if she were the only agent to ever approach me about representing my work, I'd STILL not let her do it.

    Excellent post! Thank you for sharing!

  36. A fantastic post revealing the true landscape of today's authors' continued up-hill battle. The fact that we ARE publishing and doing it well appears to be a threat to those who used to have the power. Thanks for shining another light on the issue. Well done.