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A friend pointed me to Dean Wesley Smith’s blog post about the state of publishing, titled The New World of Publishing: There Are Suckers Born Every Minute and They Are Writers.

As one of the suckers, I will say that Smith makes some points I agree with. For example, when talking about indie vs. traditional publishing, he says “Adopt this phrase: BE SMART. DO BOTH.” I absolutely agree that writers should be exploring both paths, and in general, it looks to me like writers who dip into both streams are having the most success. And he ends the post by stressing the importance of story, another point I strongly support:

“Keep focusing on writing better and better stories. If you aren’t spending more time learning how to tell a better story than marketing or mailing, then none of this will matter.”

But Smith also warns writers to “Avoid agents at all costs,” saying:

“If you have one, fire them now unless your agent is also an attorney. No reason needed. A writer in this new world needs a good IP attorney on board. And not an agent who has other clients with the same publishing house that you sell to. That agent will NEVER fight for you. Ever. An attorney will fight for you and cost you a ton less money.  (I do not have an agent and can see no reason now to ever bring one back into the picture.)”

There are two things going on here. In part, he’s talking about agents who act as publishers and the conflict of interest there, which is an ongoing and important discussion. But he’s not saying “Fire your agent if they’re also a publisher.” He’s saying “If you have one, fire them now,” and that he “can see no reason to ever bring [an agent] back into the picture.”

Here’s a reason — I’ve earned a pretty good five-figure income this year from my writing, almost matching what I make in my day job. Close to half of that comes from foreign sales my agent made via the contacts he’s built up over the past few decades. Sure, he takes a commission (25% on foreign sales), but he then doubles my income.

I might be a sucker, but I think the math works out in my favor here.

My agent also reviews my contracts, challenging clauses and explaining things I simply don’t have the knowledge to fully understand. Smith is right that a good publishing lawyer could do the same thing, of course. But a lawyer works for an hourly rate, whereas my agent works on commission. Based purely on money-as-motivation, I prefer working with someone who’s motivated to get the best deal as opposed to someone who’s motivated to take as long as possible to do the work.

There are bad agents out there, and a bad agent is worse than none at all. I also know several authors who do quite well for themselves without an agent, and that’s great.

I’m not one of them. I’m not in a position to represent myself as well as my agent does.

Smith several times refers to the stupidity of writers. In my case, walking away from someone who has had a strong and demonstrably positive influence on my career seems like a stupid move. I could probably negotiate my own deals with DAW (my U.S. publisher) at this point, though even now my agent has talked about several long-term issues with my contracts that I never would have considered. But I don’t have the overseas contacts my agent does.

This is getting long, so maybe I’ll wait until later to respond to the oft-repeated assertion that writers are stupid for taking 15% or 25% from a major publisher when, in Smith’s words, they could “simply indie publish and get 70% of Gross Income instead.” Here’s a preview of my response: 15% of 10,000 books sold is generally still a better deal than 70% of 1000…

I just wish writers on their soapboxes (and most of us climb up there from time to time) would recognize that people’s careers are different. What works for one writer might not be the best path for another. I’m glad Smith is doing so well with self-publishing and going agentless, but suggesting that we should all follow that same route is misguided at best.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 81 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
The idea that agents add no value if you're getting published by a traditional publishing house is right up there with the usual "there's a secret cabal in publishing designed to keep people like me and my Best Novel Ever out!" rants you see on self-pub sites again and again.

This person who has a positive influence on your career is doing things that would eat your time for a cut of your profits. Imagine re-learning everything that person knows, and then hopefully getting close to as good as they are at it, and then having to do it. How many books would that cost you in time spent?
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC)
Preacher, meet the choir :-)

What frustrates me is that there's some very good information in Smith's blog, too. I just strongly disagree with some of the conclusions he's pushing.
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Nov. 21st, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:47 pm (UTC)
Yeesh. I love my agent. My agent made my career HAPPEN. I'd still be wandering around feeling vaguely flattered that anybody wanted to publish my work at all and getting half the advances that I do, never mind the bit with the contract vetting.

I think what people like this fail to realize is that some of us are NOT fighters, we cringe at the thought of bothering people, and we are fundamentally incapable of being demanding on our own behalf. I NEED an agent. I want to sit in a small room and write and have somebody shove checks under the door, and thank god there are people willing to take on the bit where they yell at people about where the checks are and where is the contract and how dare you try to lower that number there, I SAW that, you horrible little weasel, and now we're going to have a serious talk about this clause here because you don't change the contract on me after we've agreed to it and I'm gonna make you REGRET it.

Agents are like backbone for hire. I don't know how I'd manage without one.
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
I love the fact that my agent handles any necessary confrontations for me. I think I could do that if I had to, but I'm much happier letting him do it and allowing me to have a more "pleasant" author-editor relationship.

I like my editor a lot and I don't think negotiating my own deals and such would change that. But it's a relief that I don't have to do the confronty parts.
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:47 pm (UTC)
Jim, I hate absolutes.

(Yes, the ironic potential in that statement is amusing.)

But seriously, what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. Maybe you can do it all, but not everybody can. And people do have day jobs, too: they can't spend every available moment on writing stuff. And if they did after work hours, they'd quickly find themselves divorced (if married). In my job in the IT field, you could spot the divorced people by a mile, because they were the ones who routinely put in 70-80 hours a week coding.
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:52 pm (UTC)
The day job is a big part of it for me. I can barely make time for the writing; having to make time to agent my own stuff might push me over the edge...
and therein lies the rub - Scott Nicholson - Nov. 22nd, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - swords_and_pens - Nov. 21st, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swords_and_pens - Nov. 21st, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC)
I disagree with Smith as well. My agent watches my back and I'd be screwed if she wasn't there for me. Now that I've spent some time in the trenches, I realize how vitally important that is. One Size Fits All Advice is never a good thing.
Nov. 21st, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
I do think there's some advice that applies to most writers. "Money flows to the writer" is usually a good one, for example. (Though there are exceptions to everything.)

But there are so many different ways to break in and to have a successful career that saying "This is the One True Path to writing success" just becomes ridiculous.
(no subject) - suricattus - Nov. 21st, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
Yes, why on earth would an agent fight for you to have a fair shake in your contract when they have other clients with that publisher, and establishing that the agent will in general demand fair treatment for their clients is totally a bad idea because...um...wait, I'm sure there was some bad idea there.
Nov. 21st, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
I don't get that part. I thought he was referring to the agent-as-publisher conflict of interest, but it doesn't really read that way...
(no subject) - temporus - Nov. 21st, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Nov. 21st, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 21st, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Nov. 21st, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 21st, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 21st, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Nov. 21st, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 21st, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ursulav - Nov. 22nd, 2011 02:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 22nd, 2011 03:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 21st, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Nov. 21st, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seanan_mcguire - Nov. 21st, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 21st, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Nov. 21st, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bookishdragon - Nov. 21st, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 21st, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Laura Resnick - (Anonymous) - Nov. 23rd, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
Maybe it's because I'm tired, but somehow, this (yes, it's on YouTube) comes to mind.
Nov. 21st, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
Hm ... and now you've got the parody-writing wheels in my brain a-spinning.
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Nov. 21st, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 21st, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
I love my agent. She deals with things so I don't have to (line-checking details on deals, chasing checks, etc) and she gets to play the heavy when needed, so my editor and I don't carry bad feelings into the actual work part of the relationship.

Also, she is part pshrink & handholder when I start to twitch about a book, the industry, a panic attack...

And she understands that there are some projects I'm doing on my own. No fuss no stress, no "where's my 15%?"

Why the HELL would I leave that?

Dean's a smart guy, and I respect his experience, but no.
Nov. 21st, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
Exactly! My agent's told me on occasion that it's her job to be the bad guy so that my editor and I don't have to deal with the baggage there. Even for that function alone she'd be worth the money, let alone all the other crazy practical details.

I sometimes suspect that people who don't have a hard time chasing things aggressively and micro-managing their own careers forget that some of us aren't so good with that and would much rather somebody else do it.
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 21st, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
I kinda feel like Smith's advice on writing applies equally well to most careers. A doctor can make more money running his own practice, a programmer can make more money consulting, etc.

There are reasons most people prefer to work for someone else, and those reasons are not actually 'because they're idiots'. :/
Nov. 21st, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC)
On a related note, IIRC Rusch (Smith's wife, also a writer) recommends agents for foreign rights, even though she's otherwise pretty much just as down on them as Smith.
Nov. 21st, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
Um, yeah, really. The bit about spending more time on writing than on marketing or mailing is excellent, but also gives me reason to completely ignore the advice to get rid of my agent. Because if I did, I could not follow the earlier piece of advice, which seems much more germane than this vaguely paranoid "get a lawyer" stuff.

Also, even IP lawyers do not know the ins and outs of specific publishing contracts the way an experienced agent does. I had peripheral dealings with some early in my career, and there were a lot of things they did not get. They also, though this may have been the specific lawyers, took a really unnecessarily adversarial approach to things.

Nov. 21st, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
I suspect a lot depends on the individual agent or lawyer. I've only needed to retain a lawyer once (we ended up going through two of them). Both did a good job in helping us get what we needed, but I can see where that background might lead to a more adversarial approach. And my experiences definitely didn't leave me with the sense that a lawyer would be a good money-saving option...

And yes! One of the reasons I need an agent is because I'm working two jobs, and I don't have *time* to do everything he does on top of the rest. I'm struggling enough with making time to write the books!
Nov. 21st, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
The guy seems to have had some bad experiences, which he assumes are universal--he's been bad mouthing agents for as long as I've been glancing at his posts.

And yes on the bad advice mixed with the good. I've pretty much given up on his posts because I'm tired of trying to tease them apart.

And important thing to remember is that this is all the language of flattery. Look at this recent post: it's a glad hand to the self-publishers who are reading him to butter them up and encourage linking. That's clever marketing and I hope he sells a lot of his books. For me, though, it's not worth reading.
Nov. 21st, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)
Whenever one of Dean or Kris's posts get discussed on the internet, I see responses that assume they are just bitter self-publishers who haven't been able to sell their novel or "had a bad experience" or something. So I think it's worth noting that Dean and Kris are both longtime publishing insiders who used to run their own traditional publishing company (Pulphouse) and were grizzled veterans of the business back when many current writers were in diapers. Whether you agree with their ideas or not, I think it's only fair to give them credit for knowing what they are talking about.
(no subject) - burger_eater - Nov. 21st, 2011 08:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 21st, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - burger_eater - Nov. 21st, 2011 11:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 21st, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
Couldn't agree more; there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the UNIVERSE, let alone in the microcosm that is professional creative endeavours. Trying to imply that there is - now that is the real bonehead maneuver, if you ask me.
Nov. 21st, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
Joining the chorus here. My agent helps me to work toward a long-term career, to be patient when necessary and to take action when not. Not to mention negotiating on my behalf far better than I could do on my own.

I admit to being just a tad leery of advice from someone who seems to have made most of his writing-related income from teaching "how to succeed" seminars. But I could be way wrong about that; it's just an impression. In person, he's a nice guy.
Nov. 22nd, 2011 08:39 am (UTC)
It's simply not true that Dean Wesley Smith has made all of his income from teaching "how to succeed" seminars OR indie publishing. He had published over 100 novels traditionally, including many new york times bestsellers, and was advising people not to use agents long before he was self publishing.

(no subject) - ursulav - Nov. 22nd, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nobu - Nov. 23rd, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahjross - Nov. 22nd, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 07:57 pm (UTC)
Let's also note that by the time Mr. Smith went Indie he had Quite The Name and fans would read his stuff published on a roll of paper towels if they had to. That makes a bit of a difference :>.
Nov. 21st, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC)
Hey, here's an idea - if folks are up for it, list their "good agent" under a separate post? It's even better than the general websites, cause we get exposed to agents with stories and a face!

It's just an idea...
Nov. 21st, 2011 08:23 pm (UTC)
I'm just curious, do you pay your agent any commission for the self-published stories? I know it sounds like a silly question - common sense would say no since you seem to do the formatting and everything on your own. Common sense also says you might not want to share that about your contract, which I'd understand!
Nov. 21st, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC)
My agent puts those up for sale in a few places I haven't been able to do myself, and they get 15% on those sales. (iBooks and Kobo, basically.) Sales at those two outlets have been minimal. The commission on those *might* have reached the double-digits by now, but I'm not sure.
(no subject) - finnyb - Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:32 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2011 08:27 pm (UTC)
The "fire your agent now" thing seems pretty radical even for DWS. He has never been that anti-agent before. It has the flavor of something written in the midst of a good, frothy rant, and I am curious if he'll walk back from it once his blood pressure has come down. That statement was made in the context of a larger post detailing some publishing industry abuses that he found very upsetting. The "fire your agent" part comes kind of out of left field, and I'm not exactly sure how he arrived at that stance, since last I checked in on him, he was advising that writers who have agents should keep them, but that new writers should wait a while to let the industry and the agent-as-publisher thing shake out.

I think this is more than a case of "I do what works for me, you do what works for you." DWS is not just talking about what works for him, or what he likes for his career. He is trying to blow the whistle on corruption and abuse in the industry, and any time you do that you have to stamp your feet and shout really loud, because otherwise people stay in their comfort zone and nothing changes. It's definitely worth paying attention to, even if you don't want to take his advice and fire your agent immediately. (I wouldn't either, if I had one.)
Nov. 21st, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC)
I went back and spent some more time on the post. There's some additional info from DWS in the comment thread explaining more why he feels the way he does. I didn't get where he was coming from in the main post. I do get where he's coming from now, although I'm not sure what to make of it.
Nov. 22nd, 2011 04:17 am (UTC)
There's some two or three years of writings on Dean's blog about the writing and the publishing industry, and several of those writings have in one way or another centered on the business model of agents. I've been following them for some time, so I am familiar with his thoughts and why he comes to the conclusions he does.

In the comments here, someone asked if a writer attempted to correct an injustice with an agent. Of particular interest is that there is no one to complain to if a writer feels an agent has wronged her, because agents have no requirements to be in business and no real oversight in place. There are some laws that apply, but they are vaguely applied to the agent model, and hence very few writers have ever won a case against an agent.

So in his article it might seem as though he's glossing over some details, but that would be because they have been covered extensively in other articles.
Ty Johnston
Nov. 22nd, 2011 04:56 am (UTC)
Agree with Jeremy on this one
Dean wasn't just snapping out an opinion, and it's not one he came to overnight. Agree with the man or not, his reasons have been spelled out quite extensively and logically on his blog.
Nov. 22nd, 2011 04:33 am (UTC)
Dean Wesley Smith here
Jim, thanks for the nice comments and I hope you and your agent keep working for decades more.

Just wanted to set a few commenters straight on a few things. First off, I make very little money indie publishing. I have about 50 short stories and a couple collections up indie published. However, I have for decades made my living writing novels for traditional publishers. I have sold over 100 novels now to traditional publishers and am still under a number of contracts.

I had three wonderful agents and never had a problem with any of them. I sold all my own novels, but during the old days of publishing, I needed my agents to help me on various things. Those old days are gone and I haven't worked with an agent now for about five years or more. But I have nothing but good things to say about my agents. No bad blood at all.

In this new world I just don't see agents having a place for many writers. Jim does not agree and that's cool. But for me, in a strictly business point of view, when an employee has nothing to do, you don't keep paying them.

And on a side note to one nasty comment here, the workshops I teach a few weeks a year do not make money. They were mostly funded behind the scenes by bookseller Bill Trojan and Kris and I teach for free, feeling we need to pay forward with our years of editing and writing.

Just setting a few facts straight.
Nov. 22nd, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Dean Wesley Smith here
Hi Dean,

Thanks for responding! I saw that you also had a follow-up blog post, which I'm planning to read more closely as soon as I have a moment.

Nov. 22nd, 2011 09:15 am (UTC)
Having looked at the article, I have to say that I mostly agree with Fire your agent if they are becoming a publisher as difficult as that may be when you're having a good relationship with them. I think agent-publishers and publisher-vanity publishers are a real problem - any time that either an agent or a publisher can make money from a writer other than by, respectively, negotiating a publishing contract on their behalf or publishing them, you have a conflict of interest, and the only way to not open the door to those problems, and not legitimising scammers is to just Not Do It. As a currently unagented writer, I have no interest in signing with an agent-publisher.
Nov. 22nd, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
Once again, not anon ... SueO2
First, Jim, I want to thank you for the concise and powerful posting. I think you hit (almost) all the nails (and made this a stand-alone ready bookcase, no need to nail it to the wall.)

I, too, have heard the "dump all agents" arguement ... from no other than Ann Crispin's co-panelists at a Writer Beware panel. (Ann wasn't present due to illness or I am sure she would have corrected them. These people were so ignorant of the agents out there that they couldn't possibly address the issue well.)

Two things (from reading the comments)
(1) Lawyers are about upholding the law, NOT getting you more money. All a lawyer can do is tell the prospective publisher that they are in violation of xyz.
(2) Agents are in it for the money, and an honest agent makes their money from the money they get you. For this reason they will look for the best deal available. AVAILABLE. Publishers are in it for the money, too, only not in it for your money. You are an expense. This is a business transaction and a balancing act. A good agent has contacts and knowledge and knows what things should go for.

Now, the above is fine for all mid-list and higher authors. (And rules of self-publishing apply here, too.) My question is: what about the new author? We all know that there are many hacks who think they can, then turn to the vanity presses to get in print. Where is that agent/editor filter that up-and-coming authors need?
Scott Nicholson
Nov. 22nd, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Once again, not anon ... SueO2
Anon, I don't know why people get so worried about "filters." From the looks of things in the ebook markets, readers are doing a bang-up job of finding the books they want, while the less-worthy books slide into oblivion. A great editor is a great asset, and plenty can be found outside the towers of New York, on a freelance basis. I'd say an agent is no filter at all. An agent only takes on a book with potential to sell to the few dozen customers (the publishers).

It's possible that some established writers feel that once the filter is stripped away and they are forced to compete on a level playing field in every way, they lose their advantage, I know, I used to think that way myself. I looked down at self-published writers, even though in my gut I knew the main difference was that I got lucky.

I don't know what's right for anyone else. But there's only one person I trust to say my book is worth his or her time and money, and that is the next reader. That's good enough for me.

Re: Once again, not anon ... SueO2 - (Anonymous) - Nov. 22nd, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Once again, not anon ... SueO2 - ursulav - Nov. 22nd, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Once again, not anon ... SueO2 - thesfreader - Nov. 22nd, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Once again, not anon ... SueO2 - Scott Nicholson - Nov. 23rd, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Once again, not anon ... SueO2 - (Anonymous) - Nov. 22nd, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 23rd, 2011 02:19 pm (UTC)
Laura Resnick
RE lawyers, Jim wrote: "I prefer working with someone who’s motivated to get the best deal as opposed to someone who’s motivated to take as long as possible to do the work."

Whereas I use a lawyer because I prefer to have my contracts, which are legally binding documents which affect me professionally for years, negotiated by someone who's an expert in contract law and contractual language, rather than someone who doesn't understand these things well enough to advise on them professionally, as is the case with too many literary agents (including some of my former four agents). I also prefer to have someone negotiating my contracts who will STICK WITH IT until the contract is exactly the way I want it. And I have found my lawyer substantially more dedicated to this than my various former agents were.

It's excellent that you're getting the level of dedication and skill you want in your contract negotiations via your agent. But many agents, unfortunately, do a slap-dash job in this respect. And the fiscal motive is a factor. Many agents are =extremely resistant= to spending the kind of time negotiating a contract that my lawyer is willing to spend, precisely because they DON'T earn an extra penny for invested 3-5-9-12 hours in negotiating legal language with the publisher.

My experience with three of my four former agents (the fourth never dealt with a contract, due to dumping me within months of taking me on) was that they FWD'd me carelessly-negotiated contracts full of clauses that needed more work and then irritably blew me off when I objected. One of my agents routinely dealt with my objections by claiming those clauses were "non-negotiable" (which I later learned through experience was completely untrue).

(And before anyone says, "Well, obviously she was dealing with charlatans on the fringe of the industry," I will add that 1 of my of former agents was reputable, and the other 3 of were and still are very successful, regularly quoted in the trades, and frequently cited as "top" agents.)

By contrast, since my lawyer is indeed being paid to keep negotiating until every "i" is properly dotted, I'm getting the best contracts of my career since I stopped dealing with agents and switched to working with a lawyer.

Moreover, it has turned out to be much CHEAPER for me to work with a lawyer. My agents, like most other people's, got 15% of the advance and 15% of royalties in US deals; they got this even in cases where -I- made a sale while I was agented, since agents often demand their 15% commission when you're a client even if they weren't involved in the sale--indeed, even if they REFUSED TO SUBMIT the book that you've now sold on your own this happened to me with two different agents over the years. So working with agents was very expensive for me: 15% of all income--EVEN in cases where they didn't make the sale.

By contrast, my legal fees for contract negotiation (which are charged as an hourly flat fee, not a percentage of my deals; I'm phrasing it this way to make the comparison in my expenses) have amounted to sums between 0.75% and 3.7% of my advances (and NO percentage of my royalties, obviously). So I have experienced substantially LESS expense by working with a lawyer on an hourly-fee basis rather than with an agent on a commission basis, AS WELL AS getting better contracts for that money.

Nov. 23rd, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Laura Resnick
Hi Laura!

Thanks for sharing this. I wonder if part of what we're running into is just a matter of finding the right lawyer or agent. I've worked with two lawyers for non-publishing matters, and while they did help us with our situation, based on that experience, I wouldn't trust them to be as good with detail-oriented work as yours apparently is. I feel fortunate to have an agent who is very detail-oriented and willing to put in more time, but as you rightfully pointed out, that's definitely not a universal trait.

I'm curious about the agent taking 15% of a commission if they weren't involved in the sale. How does that work? If you negotiated the contract directly, I wouldn't think the agent would or should be listed on that contract at all.

Re: Laura Resnick - (Anonymous) - Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 23rd, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
Laura Resnick
Jim: " people’s careers are different. What works for one writer might not be the best path for another."

Yep. I agree wholeheartedly with this. In fact, it's the subject of my upcoming December NINK column (which I delivered a couple of weeks ago), irritably inspired by a flurry or blogs in recent months suggesting that I (the generic "I") am a gullible fool for not running my career =exactly= the way this-or-that blogger is running his/her career... Even though our opportunities, circumstances, goals, and experiences are all (hullo!) not identical.

RE agents, as you and I have discussed, I don't tell people to fire their agents, or to stop hunting for an agent if they really want one, or that everyone should run their career the way I do (without an agent).

I tell people, rather, that writers have really got to stop spouting the erroneous and wholly false "conventional wisdom" that I STILL hear everywhere I go, along the lines of, "A writer HAS to have an agent;" "a writer is better off with an agent than without one;" "you can't [insert professional goal here] without a literary agent;" "you need a literary agent to [insert professional challenge here." NONE of these things are true. These common statements are all complete rubbish.

What's true is that some (many, actually) writers prefer to work with a literary agent; in much the way that some people prefer to have a personal trainer at the gym or a cleaning lady at home. And there are perfectly valid reasons for someone to make these choices—but these are not the ONLY sound, successful strategies for running a writing career, exercising, or keeping the house clean.

I don't object to writers choosing to work with an agent. What I keep saying is, "That is one possible choice. Working without a literary agent is an equally good choice. Figure out what's best for YOU.... And IF you want to work with a literary agent, then decide what services and what level of service is worth =15%= of your earnings--which is a steep price, so MAKE SURE you're -getting- the level of service you've decided merits that fee."

I also know from all the many "agent problem" anecdotes that people share with me privately (and also that people share in public) that a LOT of writers are NOT getting a level of service worth 15% of their income--and, indeed, many are getting a level of service which INHIBITS their income and their careers. Yet everyone still keeps running around insisting that a writer HAS to have an agent. Which is where I DO have a big objection. (Though, yes, I realize that's indeed NOT what you're saying here, Jim.)

Laura Resnick
Scott Nicholson
Nov. 23rd, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Laura Resnick
Applause. All conventional wisdom is wrong. Once I figured that out and started following unconventional wisdom (the stuff that we don't even know works yet), my career rocketed into the stratosphere.

The first step was to start questioning everything. The second step was to look at my partnerships and see if they really valued me as a partner. The third step was to risk personal responsibility. The fourth step was to leap off the edge of the cliff and see if I had any wings.

So far, so good.
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