Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stating the Obvious

Can we all just stipulate that pretty much everyone in the publishing industry wants to make money? (Stipulate is what the TV lawyers say. ;)

There are some very popular bloggers who've gained disciple-like followings by railing against agents and traditional publishers. Also, some of my writers' loops have been inundated with posts from authors complaining about how publishers or agents or retailers (especially Amazon) are just in it for the money, and how these various entities are behaving in ways that support their own interests.

To which I say, "DUH!"

What I don't get is why some--not all--of these posters seem to think that wanting to make money and caring about books/authors are mutually exclusive.

Sure, not every person in the world loves what they do for a living. Lots of people work in jobs or industries because they landed a job there and need to learn money; and so they plod along, caring little for the products or services their employers provide. I used to be one of those people.

BUT, I would assert that this is less true in the publishing industry than most other industries. Why? Because frankly there just isn't that much money in it. Or at best, the risk/reward balance is skewed such that more people earn a very small living than a great living. You don't go into a business like publishing unless you love books. You don't become an agent unless you love reading and writing and authors and books. I read a discussion recently about how it's almost impossible to become an agent or editor unless you have a trust fund or spouse backing you, because the money's so bad or non-existent for the first many years... (That discussion was about whether this "wealthy white New Yorker" preponderance in the industry biases "taste" and what gets published... but I digress.)

It is also true that the big publishers are now mostly all owned by huge multinationals whose CEOs and shareholders probably don't care about books all that much... but editors and publishers, from everything I've observed, are fighting the good fight for books within these huge corporations.

All that said, I think it's the railing against agents that bothers me the most.

I'm not meaning to suggest, for an instant, that agents' motives are altruistic, but I am sick, sick, sick of hearing authors make anti-agent arguments using, "They just want to earn more money."

Of COURSE they freaking do!!! What kind of fairy tale land are you people living in?

Given all the changes happening in the publishing world right now, I'm very interested in discussions about the pros and cons of some of the recent developments... agents being publishers, retailers being publishers, and everyone trying to figure out what's fair in terms of splitting the proceeds from selling a book in the digital age, and whether agents should earn their normal commission if authors self-publish a book the agent once sold (many years ago) or tried and failed to sell, and whether a publisher can consider a book "in print" paying an author a tiny royalty on a book they aren't promoting, but have up for sale on their website...

All important topics. All interesting. Lots of turmoil and new industry "norms" will undoubtedly be worked out over the next several years, and yes, we authors have to stand up for ourselves and our interests as this all works itself out...

But in these discussions, can't we all just stipulate that everyone involved is out to protect his or her interests and turf? That everyone wants to maximize their potential for earning a living? Including authors? Isn't that obvious?


Molly O'Keefe said...


Kwana said...

Great post Maureen. The obvious stated well.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Yep. I tell people this all the time when they talk about agent woes.

If you're making money for your agent - they love you.

If you're not - they don't.

Now in the beginning you have that "honeymoon" period where they "believe" in you. And based on that belief is going to consider how long they stick with you and how hard they work for you.

I LOVE it when NYT selling authors talk about the love they have for their agents.

Uh...yes... because he/she is making $$ and so you're at the top of the list. Of course you feel appreciated.

For me the measure of an agent isn't how they treat the big guys - but the little guys - and how honest they are with them when it comes time to spit.

Because again - if you're not making $$ if the agent is making $$ then eventually you'll both want to go your separate ways.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I've gotta mention my agent pet peeves: I know that agents are buried with submissions but I would prefer if they did not use their time to tweet about people who do not know the first thing about how to submit. Throw those away and move on to those who submit a professional query. And when an agent does request a full, it's only professional to follow-up, especially if an author has inquired politely about the book months later.

Maureen McGowan said...

Linked within linked this to a post about curling??? LOL

I've heard lots of legitimate beefs against agents. Hey, I've had some myself.

And I think it's smart for authors to remember that the author's best interests and the agent's don't always align perfectly... (like when they might be not submitting client A to a particular editor because of some issue with client B and that editor...)

But I'm reading a lot of "agents are out to earn money and therefore they are bad" arguments lately and those kinds of statements drive me insane.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how much anger there is and how people are willing to publicly state their anger... and I understand, many writers when they are agent hunting feel powerless and getting constantly rejected is hard.

But agents are looking for books they can sell, bottom line, and hating them for that makes no sense..

Eileen said...

Duh, indeed! Don't we all want to be compensated for our work?

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