Thursday, March 17, 2011

Self Publishing

There's a post from Editorial Anonymous from last week about whether you need an agent. I think it makes some great points. And by that I mean it makes one point: Yes, friend, you need an agent.

The one exception: "if you are an intrepid explorer yourself, of a patient and workmanlike nature; if you enjoy the research involved in plotting your own path through publishing, and are flexible about learning more as you go along, then you may not need an agent."

May not. Even if you are actually all of those things (and independently wealthy to boot--this research takes time, which you probably don't have between writing a book and, um, working.) you still only get a maybe on not needing an agent. Not wanting. Needing an agent.

This is probably frustrating to you. You say "But why should I be beholden to these keepers of the gilt publishing gates?!" I hear ya.

But the truth is that "booby-trapped and pathless jungles" doesn't even begin to describe publishing. Self-publishing is just as fraught with peril, if not more so (yes, I can defend this claim).

For our next series, I think it's useful to talk about agents and their role in the self-publishing world. I hope you guys will comment with some of your more pressing concerns on the matter.


  1. Yay! I love your post topics.

    My biggest question: there is a potential conflict of interest here. What if an agent busts her butt shopping a book and only gets with a mediocre offer from a traditional publishing house (perhaps contract terms aren't great, or advance is tiny and no marketing help is expected, etc), and the author might be able to do better by self publishing. How would the agent maintain objectivity in advising the author, given that if they turn down the contract, the agent doesn't get paid for her year (or more) of hard work? Or to turn it around, is there a system in place to make sure that agents do get compensated for their effort in this case?

  2. Doesn't Amanda Hockings have an agent? I thought I saw a tweet about it...

  3. Let's talk advantage as it strictly applies to the writing itself; if there is promise in your writing, a literary agent will spot it, and if that literary agent happens to be of an editorial bent (and not all are) you will always know that your work is going to be presented in it's best light. In addition, your writing is going to improve by the expertise of the agent you work with; making those future manuscripts much easier to produce right the first time. I can only speak for myself; but I'd rather go the literary agent route rather than self publishing because I would always have the doubt lurking in the back of my mind that perhaps my work wasn't as polished as it could have been with the intervention of an literary agent.

  4. @Eliza -- she does! :) She signed with an agent after selling a great deal of self-pubbed Kindle books on her own. The agent handles her foreign and film sales.

  5. I have really mixed feelings about this. I do believe that all writers whose work meets industry standard should try to get an agent first before they even consider self-publishing. As in, exhaust every option available.

    If every option is exhausted, it really boils down to two questions: Is the writer good at his/her craft? And, if so, does the writer's work target such a small niche that it doesn't make sense for a big publisher to take the project on? If so, then self-publishing might be the way to go.

    I have a lot of concerns about self-publishing and the direction it is headed, but whenever I voice them honestly, I always seem to p*ss a lot of people off. So I'll just say one thing and leave it at that: the first gatekeeper a writer needs to get past is him/herself. The writer must be his/her most demanding gatekeeper. :)

  6. It seems like people are pointing to writers like Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath as proof that you don't need an agent, but just because a few people are doing well doesn't mean everyone will do well. Just like getting a publishing deal doesn't mean you're going to move as many copies as Dan Brown or JK Rowling. It all comes down to the quality and the work you put in.

    One of the arguments I have with people - mostly with my musician friends, but also with other writers - is the question of quality control.

    In one sense, getting an agent, and then a publisher, means you went through the gauntlet. You put in the time and did the work. When you show up in B & N, you have been vetted.

    But are agents and publishers the sole gatekeepers of quality? Because, while I'm pro-agent, and hesitant to throw stones inside my glass house, the argument could be made that there are (subjectively) bad books that get published.

    Ramble ramble. I'd be interested to hear your take on it, MB.

  7. Rob said:

    " ... the argument could be made that there are (subjectively) bad books that get published."

    I too am amazed at some of the unimpressive books that find their way to the consumer marketplace. The cream doesn't necessarily rise to the top. I propose that said subjectivity is precisely the problem with the publishing industry -- hence the reason why many writers opt to self-publish. Hocking's agent might not subjectively like her work, but the man obviously knows a lot about marketing.