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Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Never Left Kansas, Dorothy

There's been a growing list of well-known and veteran authors leaving their publishers, and sometimes even their agents. For the most part, the establishment has stayed out of this discussion, but then came a twist when agent, Scott Eagan used a guest post by Ann Voss Peterson (that appeared on JA Konrath's blog) to discuss this issue.

To be fair, Mr. Eagan never linked to the post, but Ms. Peterson was the only Harlequin author appearing on an indie's blog that week so it was obvious that's what he was referencing. Ms. Peterson spoke on how it was unprofitable for her to continue working for Harlequin.

I would've linked to Scott Eagan's post but he took it off his blog after some unfavorable comments appeared. Unfortunately for him, deleted posts are very easy to recover from the archives. A commenter on The Passive Guy posted the archived link and the comments from the deleted post in PG's comment stream. The comments alone make for interesting reading.

I know a lot of people out there want agents. Some of you have agents. But I lost my zeal for representation a couple of years ago. Every time I researched agents, I couldn't shake the feeling that they were working more on the publisher's behalf rather than their clients.

When I research, I RESEARCH. I read the agent's blogs and web sites. I read the blogs of their client list. I read Publisher's Marketplace on what kind of sales they've made, what kind of deals they negotiated for their clients, and for which publisher. I scout out Absolute Write for the latest rumblings of any agent misconduct. Things like: What they said at a conference, inappropriate behavior, or how they mistreated or misled an author. You'd be surprised what a little sleuthing can turn up. (I might've missed my calling.)

Do I blame agents for wanting to make money? No. But I dislike this mantel of alleged altruism and partnership with the client.

If it were truly a partnership, then they'd be more amenable to letting the money go to the author and allowing HER to divvy it up. The author is paying them for their services. They shouldn't be paying the author for her work.

And if it were a real partnership, they'd sit down and explain EVERY clause and how it could affect their client's future earnings. That's what an advocate is supposed to do, isn't it? 

Instead, authors are treated like milk cows--cows with more than one pair of lips on those teats.

Harlequin is another issue. I sympathized with Ms. Peterson because I understand sweatshop mentality. I cut my teeth on that sort of work ethic when I was an artist. I took any job that became available, working for mediocre wages. But let me tell you, it is nowhere near the agenda that book publishing pushes.

Yes, Ms. Peterson made a living. I'm sure a lot of Harlequin authors do. But they have to work their tails off, spitting out book after book just to make a decent wage. Maybe that sounds good to some of you, but even when I worked in Corporate America, I received (paid) time off and lots of other perks for way more money.

I rarely speak out about these things. It's a personal choice for each writer, and I'm not about to tell anyone how to run his career. But for me, the writing was on the wall several years ago. It just took a while for it to become self-evident.

Some authors will never leave their publishers. Better a meager wage than no wage. That too is a choice.

And I truly believe some agents are honorable and honest with their clients. There's no monopoly on greed or dishonesty in any field. While their place in the new paradigm has shrunk, there's still a need for them in some avenues, particularly foreign rights.

I urge you to put JA Konrath and The Passive Guy on your reading list--not to sway you, but to keep you informed.

This isn't Oz, and the great and powerful wizard doesn't live here. We never left Kansas, guys. Get used to it.


***
By the way, by sheer coincidence, I interviewed The Passive Guy, aka, David P. Vandagriff for the OWW newsletter this month.

***
And if you missed it, Back to Basics is posting regularly now, Tuesday and Wednesdays...and occasionally other days when someone asks a question.

23 comments:

Darke Conteur said...

When I started querying SAINTS, I quickly came to the conclusion that I had a book an agent couldn't sell. It was 'good', but 'not right for them'. Standard form rejection. To me this meant they wouldn't be able to sell it because it wasn't what was 'in'. Fine. Did that bother me? No. I just decided to write another book and try again. Then the whole self-publish thing blew up. Now that I have two smaller books SP, I'm seriously thinking about not jumping into the query slog again. I'm good at my craft (in my opinion. :P), have a good editor, someone who can do excellent cover art. My books are on BN, Kobo, iPad store and a few others, and as far as print goes, I have that covered too. I like doing this by myself, and I answer to no-one but me.

Maria Zannini said...

Darke: I think the allure and the dislike of self-publishing is that the indie answers to no one (but the reader).

For some, it's too much responsibility. Yet for others, it's opportunity.

PS... Thanks for the retweet!

LD Masterson said...

Interesting. Disquieting, from where I am in the process. I'm saving this one until I have time to follow the rest of the links.

Renee Miller said...

It's no secret I think Konrath is a jackass. Sure, he offers interesting insight and some good tips occasionally, but I don't like him. He won't be on my reading list, although I do get why you've recommended him. Lots of writers will find him useful.

As for the rest, you're right. It's a difficult industry, a frustrating industry and churning out book after book for a pittance is not something that really appeals to me. I don't have an agent, I am still seeking one, but I'm more realistic than I was even a few months ago. An agent does not equal published. It's simply an option along the way.

Lots of food for thought here, Maria. I'm glad you shared with us.

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: There are a bunch of links today, :sorry: and the comment streams on Passive Guy and JA Konrath are long, but they're good people to watch just to read the comments.

Renee: I don't agree with a lot of people--even people I like, but I'm smart enough to at least listen so I can make an informed decision.

What a strange turn of events in just a few years. When I started, everyone treated agents like the holy grail. I think they're being perceived more realistically now.

Angela Felsted said...

This is a very interesting post Maria. Stuff I haven't really thought about it, but you'd think with the free market working how it does that when well-known authors leave there publishers, they'd still have a following and that those publishing houses could look at this as an opportunity to find new authors that can fill the void.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: I think it boils down to numbers. For every veteran who leaves, there are probably a thousand more willing to take less and do more just for the benefit of being published.

Deborah Walker said...

Thanks for the links. It makes for fascinating reading.

Anna Soliveres said...

Maria, I think a good writer needs to also be a well informed writer (knowing both the good, bad, and ugly truths). For a young writer just entering this industry, this was a very interesting and well-worth read. Thank you for sharing. I have a lot to think about as I chug along the "normal" process in getting published.

Your personal story is very inspiring, and I'd love to learn more about where you are today and the decisions you made that helped you get there.

Thanks again!
Cheers,
Anna Soliveres

Clarissa Draper said...

I don't know what's the best option but I've decided to not seek representation a long time ago.

Maria Zannini said...

Deborah: The comments from so many veteran authors also made for interesting reading. It's surprising just how small our community is.

***
Anna: No one's ever asked about my story. LOL. It was pretty much by accident. I wrote a story on a fluke, realized it needed a lot of work, buried myself in reading and writing, then entered a contest at a friend's insistence. I won and I've been writing ever since.

***
Clarissa: The hardest decision I ever made was when two agents several months apart asked if I was interested in being represented. On the one hand, it made me feel as if I had "arrived", but on the other, I felt publishing landscape was changing rapidly.

I didn't want to give my 20% for a measly five grand--split into thirds or fourths. I could do that on my own.

Jenny Schwartz said...

As with many of these discussions, the lightbulb moments are often in the comments ... like when you mentioned how small our community is, Maria. I constantly remind myself (my ranty tantrumy inner three year old) of this fact and that whatever I say can later be used against me. So I tend not to comment on specifics of changes in the publishing industry...but like you and everyone...I'm fascinated.

At the moment, I'm one of those who doesn't want the responsibility of self-publishing. But the impact of so many braver people (take a bow!) doing so is a game changer -- apologies for succumbing to jargon.

One of the issues that I wish someone would tease out for me (they probably already have, but I haven't found the article) is the question of curatorship. When I put on my reader hat and look for books to read, the issue is how do I find them fast? To me, this boils down to curatorship. Is it a review site, Amazon algorithms, friends' tweets or a publishing line? A few years back, I did read (unfortunately, failed to bookmark) an article that suggested it's editors and that editors need to promote themselves and, in effect, become a brand. Maybe self-publishing will really kick this off. That buying an editors time comes to also include buying a portion of their brand? Will readers check who edited books one day?

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: Ref: curatorship
I think that's what everyone is trying to figure out and the reason Amazon has risen so big and so quickly. They have managed to infiltrate nearly every avenue of distribution and communication. And they virtually commandeer every search engine.

Ref: editor as brand
Oh, I wish I had read this article. That would be a brilliant idea. In my mind, a stellar editor is far more important than the publisher or agent.

I suppose some readers are publisher-loyal, which is why Harlequin still sells well, but speaking for myself, I would never patronize a publisher simply for the sake of the publisher.

As a reader, I don't care who publishes the book as long as it's a book I want.

You brought up so many good talking points. Thank you!

Angela Brown said...

Interesting. I read that post over at Konrath's blog. My heart couldn't help going out to the author because I can recall the number of Harlequin books my late mom had on her personal bookshelf (that I naughtily read from) and the tons of titles she and her friends swapped with each other.

I didn't understand the assembly line of books getting churned out at that time. But as I go along on this publishness journey, I'm picking up a nugget of knowledge here and a kernel of info there. I'll keep picking up bits and pieces given this industry is going through interesting times now.

Admittedly, when I first started out, an agent was the tops. Now, I've gotten a little more aware of what the agent/author relationship can entail, ways it can benefit me and hope that if I am able to form said relationship, that it will be one mutually based upon both of us having long lasting careers. But I'm quite glad there are options though.

Angelina Rain said...

Great post. I'm trying to catch up on blog reading as I've been busy lately.

When I first started thinking about publishing, I did my research and decided that I only want to publish with presses that don't make you go through an agent. They seem like a useless middle-man.

Mike Keyton said...

Excellent post. Excellent comments - and non of them help me, unless subconsciously so and a decision will eventually emerge apparently from nowhwere. For the moment though I remain in the dark, just getting my head down and learning my craft.

One thing amused me. Lots of things you say amuse me : )

You'd be surprised what a little sleuthing can turn up. (I might've missed my calling.)

It sounds to me you could be competing against Sheri Lamour - only you'd have to change your name : )

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: I didn't understand the assembly line of books either. And it's worse now because in the digital world you're expected to dispense new stories like gumdrops. Had I known this was going to happen, I would've had an arsenal of 8-10 good books before I ever signed on the dotted line for the first one.

***
Angelina: Ref: middlemen
This is why so many of them are started up self-publishing branches for their companies.

***
Mike: Ref: Sheri Lamour
Sadly, I no longer have the gams for it. :o)

Melissa McClone said...

Interesting articles, especially the comments. I think writers need to pay attention to what others are saying. There isn't one way to publish any longer and authors have to decide what works for them. Several I know are doing some traditional publishing then going the indie route for other things. Diversifying seems smart these days.

Sarah Ahiers said...

ugh, i can't stand Konrath. He seems like such an ass. I'm of the firm belief that there is a right path for everyone. For me, it's an agent. I've always wanted an agent. Not because i think they're rockstars or whatever, i just want a shot at the big 6 and i sure as hell don't want to deal with contract negotiations (ugh, no thanks).
Of course, that's not to say my mind won't change in 5-10 years. I guess we'll see

Southpaw said...

Like you say everyone's path is different. I'm not at the fork yet but I'm interested in reading how others made their decision on which way to go.

Maria Zannini said...

Melissa: I think you hit the nail on the head. There's no longer one right way. Diversification is the key--or so my stockbroker says. :)

***
Sarah: I think with the big 6, YA has a better chance at getting more decent advances than other genres. I'm still troubled with the draconian method of dividing that advance in thirds or fourths though. Divided over a couple of years or more, that advance starts to look paltry.

***
Holly: My motto is: knowledge is power. I can't make good decisions without data.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

Wow, that's just scary. No wonder you went your own way. Great, now I've got that song stuck in my head. "You can go your own waaaay..."

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: It remains a personal choice though. What worked for me might not work for the next guy.