‘Social’ Media: If the Agents Queried You

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Teatro Carignano, Torino / Porter Anderson

Someone needs to listen to what authors want, and respond. Someone needs to help them navigate a complex and challenging publishing landscape.

Clare Alexander, Agent, Aitken Alexander Associates, London
Best Fit, The Bookseller Blogs, January 24, 2013

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Do you know the splendid term impresario

Humor me: say it aloud right now: Em-preh-SAAAAH-ree-o.

You could sing it, an aria in a single word, couldn’t you?

And at the ballet? A danseur noble performs this word in a turning leap, the tour jeté. He ramps up in a springing vault, turning impossibly en l’air—saaaaaah—before landing with spongy precision, retro-hamstrings deployed, somewhere near center stage.

Impresaaaaaario. So Italianate you want another Campari every time someone says it. Thank you for saying it. Cin-cin.

Of whom do you think?

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Serge Diaghliev / Wikipedia

I think of Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929), impresario of the great Ballet Russes. He collaborated with Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Coco Chanel. He staged Nijinsky, Pavlova, Rambert. He hired Gide, Apollinaire, Cocteau. He worked with Picasso, Braque, Matisse, De Chirico. He slept with some of them. He was tough on a lot of them. He was called “Sergypops” by one of them. He discovered them, cultivated them, trained them, disciplined them, befriended them, presented them, partnered with them, bowed beside them, made them better, made them famous, made them Them.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a modern-day impresario, a Brit. You’d know his work. They don’t all sleep with you, you’ll be gratified to learn. Or maybe they just don’t sleep with all of us. Remind me to ask.

Impresario. So much music in the word.

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While corporate publishers become larger, and their search for the latest phenomena encourages many to think only in the short term, then surely more than ever agents should be the ones who promise long-term loyalty to their clients.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit, The Bookseller Blogs

Now, of course you know the word agent. Not so musical, maybe. Not so dancerly, either. As words go, it thuds on touchdown, a matinee understudy who needs more time at the barre.

Cin-cin. Oh. Sorry.

But in our digital recitativo—the story told by this chattering village of busybodies who make up publishing’s opera chorus (“the industry! the industry!”)—this stock character, the agent, is morphing in the most interesting way.

Morphing into? A manager.

I had a long, memorable conversation with agent Clare Alexander in London last month, she’s wonderful company.

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Clare Alexander

She’s advising her agent-colleagues these days that mergers of agencies may not make much sense. The “best fit” of her Bestseller post’s headline means that whatever bigger-is-better mentality may play out in the publishing-house scenes of I Publiacci, the agencies get no benefit from scaling up.

For more and more agents, it’s becoming the thing to include on the client list self-publishers and those AC-DC “hybrids” who publish both ways. What are agents doing for self-publishers? For one thing, international deals.

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Rachelle Gardner

Don’t miss the gentle irony here: Gardner has just this week become an agent who’s a self-publisher. Give yourself a moment to consider how outlandish, even scandalous, that would have sounded a few years ago. (Chorus: “Scarlet letter! Scarlet letter! SCAAAAARlet letter!”) And yes, she uploaded the manuscript herself, she told me so.

We’re all here to help writers find their audiences. Maybe in the indie world that might not always be the readers in the U.S. market, but we also enable them to sell foreign rights, translation rights, audio rights…We also can free their time so they can sell their own books and do what’s most important and that is write more books. That’s what a good agent does.

Whoa, that last bit. Did I hear the string section march back into the orchestra pit? “Free their time,” the good lady said. So writers can “do what’s most important and that is write more books.”

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Jason Allen Ashlock
  • There’s agent Jason Allen Ashlock, of course, about whom I’ve written a great deal, actually, because he and his partner Adam Chromy have reconfigured the former Movable Type agency as a true management firm of bicoastal strength.

And in their partnership, they’ve developed one of the first agency-curated and -operated author collectives, The Rogue Reader, featuring a very few carefully selected writers of creative noir.

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Adam Chromy

Ashlock, by the way, is being added to the Author (R)evolution Day conference produced by O’Reilly’s Tools of Change (TOC) on February 12, to do a special session with authors on the topic of today’s post here, the evolving nature of the agent and relationships with writers.

And, of course, in the biggest development, we’re now seeing more than one successful ebook self-publisher get a major publishing contract from a Big Six publisher that allows those authors to retain their e-rights. The publishers get print rights only. (And I’m calling S&S a “Big Six” publisher until the Penguin Random House merger is approved and gives us the Big Five.)

  • The breakthrough was Wool author Hugh Howey, who with his agent Kristin Nelson sweated down Simon and Schuster until (to hear Nelson tell it at DBW), the publisher volunteered the offer. (I’ve covered that here, in case you missed it.)
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Kristin Nelson

Nelson spent months sending spreadsheets on Wool sales to publishers, showing them, for example, that on one promotion, Howey had sold 20,000 ebooks in a single 24-hour setting. Now? He’s just spent a week in Los Angeles in meetings with two production companies about a film adaptation of Wool.And then just this week, Colleen Hoover’s Hopeless—a shirtless-men-kissing-beautiful-women erotic romance—was picked up, again by S&S and also in a print-only deal that leaves her control of her e-rights. Hoover’s agent is Dystel. Who was on a panel with Howey’s Nelson at DBW.

So shut my mouth, that word “agent” just got a lot more musical on the way toward “manager,” didn’t it?

A clarification here: My original write called the Howey-Nelson-Hoover-Dystel-S&S deals “unheard of before now.” Writer Unboxed stalwart Jan O’Hara reminds us in a comment below that in October, self-publishing romance author Bella Andre got a print-only deal from Canada-based Harlequin reported by PR Newswire to be in the seven figures. Although that event didn’t crack the Big Six, it’s certainly highly significant. Andre is repped by agent Steven Axelrod.

When self-published authors weigh up the pros and cons of how best to reach readers, while they may not be sure if they need a publisher any more, most continue to want an agent.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit, The Bookseller Blogs

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So I recommend that this weekend, we take to heart these good noises we’re hearing from such prominent agents. Let’s orchestrate them into a grander vision, shall we?—one that might someday better fit the reality of the author-empowered, the author-entrepreneurial, the auteur newly seen as the bringer-of-the-essential-product in need of professional and career-long support.

What if agents could one day become impresari to their writers?

It’s not just the Campari talking, grazie.

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Penelope Cruz is featured in the 2013 Campari calendar. This has been a value-added caption provided for your edification and because I could use the sponsorship, you know?

Think of Nelson stonewalling the publishers: She wouldn’t hear an offer for Howey that started at less than $2 million—and yet she cleverly set up in-person meetings for him with the pinstripes.

And when the offer came in, she demanded to know whether the Simon and Schuster people on the other end had the authority to make such a proposal because once in the past she’d been misled.

Hear what the chattering villagers from Brooklyn are singing in the train-to-Manhattan scene now? Impresaria! Impresaria! Impresaaaaaaaria!

What would you like to see an author’s impresario or impresaria handle?

I’ll start us off, in hopes you’ll join me in the comments and add to the list.

I would contend that agents need to be just big enough to be fit for purpose in a changing publishing landscape, but that their offices should remain human scale.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit, The Bookseller Blogs

  • Hey, those contract negotiations.
  • Print-only, I’ll have what Howey’s having.
  • International rights, starting with Latvia at 3 a.m. (nothing like a good telephone scene in grand opera).
  • But first, how about  cultivation? The agent-cum-impresario finds a young writer who will be an auteur some day but at this point isn’t writing in that marvelous vernacular because he chooses to. No, it’s because he’s spent his life orphaned from real literature and wandering the shopping-mall-and-sitcom wilderness of America. He’s dumb as a post. His impresaria finds him grammar coaching. Courses in reading  #legitlit and #seriouswriting. (The triumph in the “My God, He Can Spell Dostoevsky!” octet, alone, is worth the jaw-dropping ticket price.)
  • agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook
    Shirtless men kissing beautiful women. We’re all writing erotic romance now, aren’t we? And Campari has done a promotion with Jessica Alba. How dolce.

    Sponsorship. There’s a concept. What if up-and-coming writers could be found sponsorship by their impresari? (Can you spell Campari? I feel an Italian translation coming on, don’t you?)

  • When he begins to self-publish, he’s provided with pre-vetted cover designers so his books don’t look like amateur merda. (“Just the right shirtless man! Just the right beautiful woman!” sing the babushka-ed villagers.) So you get the idea of a partnership going on here? The investment in a writer’s future?
  • Now, here come the proven ebook formatti (I made it up, Bocelli, don’t bother searching).
  • Help with online pricing.
  • Help with social media.
  • Help with the author site.
  • Help with the author headshot. (“Basta! Don’t look! Don’t look!” the villagers warn us in the celebrated “And Medusa Shall Be Forgiven” chorale.)
  • Help growing that followers, the coveted community, the roving hordes of monied readers sweeping over the steppes of Goodreads.
agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook
Did I mention I’m willing to work it into every scene? On the rocks.

I’ll only get so far with operatic fantasy and a few shots. Puccini had the same problem.

But what I’m proposing here is this:

If our agents, whom I consider to be not a has-been group but a true key to the entrepreneurial author’s future, are really going to come around and embrace and work with self-publishing authors, then, dudes, do it. Start your services earlier. Bring the authors you want to promote in before making them move four e-mountains all by themselves and shut down their writing in order to platform! platform! PLAAAAAATform!

I’m going to give you another line from Alexander, then  I want you to help me round out this list of things with which authors could really use some impresarial help early. I said early. I said EAAAAAAAly! Ha-Ha-Ha.

Agents who believe their bargaining power with publishers will be enhanced simply by getting larger are misguided. The truth is that the clout of an agency is not about the number of agents gathered together under one roof: it is only as great as the value publishers place on their most valuable clients.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit, The Bookseller Blogs


And that, Unboxed ladies and gentlemen is your cue. Your downbeat: Agents could mount speaking tours for their clients to help gather speed for their authors’ topics and books long before a publisher came into the picture, right? Tell me more. What would you add to your impresario/impresaria’s list?

The orchestra is vamping for you now…



About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+


  1. says

    Thanks for this thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of the changes in the agent’s role. Changes are happening at lightning speed. Adaptability and flexibility are the buzz words for writings, publishers and agents alike. You do a great job on WU and other online sites of keeping the wrtiting community informed of the latest developments in publishing and, more importantly, of providing unbiased perspective and meaning. Thanks again.

    • says

      Thanks, CG, you’re always so generous with your comments.

      I agree that adaptability and flexibility are the key elements of getting through it these days. I’d add, though, that we need to hear George Bernard Shaw telling us. “Take care to get what you like or you’ll be forced to like what you get.”

      I think agents can become a powerful, impresarial force for talented authors, but they’re going to have to work in some new ways — to wit, the idea I’m positing here of finding and partnering with promising people earlier, rather than forcing the writers to bear the entire brunt of “proof of performance” before ever getting to the starting gate.

      Mind you, agents are under massive pressure these days and it’s probably the last thing they need to have me yakking about MORE they should do, and find writers earlier, and be our impresari, etc.

      But if the power accruing to writers right now continues to build, this could one day be the kind of thing authors could actually ask for — and get.

      I mean, Rachelle Gardner, a long-time, widely and highly regarded agent, just self-published herself.

      Wonders never cease here in the digital dance.

      Cheers, sir.

  2. says

    I’m still a-blinking over R. Gardner’s self-publishing a book. As soon as I digest that, I will chew on the rest of this post. A lot to consider and think about here.

    (by the way, WU — It’s probably my black-hole weird pea-headed self, but I had a hard time focusing on the text here because of the background — made for difficult reading, at least for weirdly me).

  3. says

    Hey, Kathryn, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    Glad you’re enjoying savoring that bit about Rachelle Gardner’s new self-published book. We live in interesting times, do we not? :)

    As for the background I recommend you try reading on another browser and see if that helps. Therese and Kathleen are our experts on the site here, but what I know is that the story itself appears on a mercifully clean, white, clear background, no pattern. The pattern should only appear on the outer edges, past the right and left alleys. On my systems (I’m a PC guy, not Mac), Internet Explorer renders WU much better than Chrome does, for example. (Chrome won’t show me the alleys at all.)

    So give another browser a try, and thanks again!

  4. Carmel says

    Everything about publishing is changing so quickly. I’m hoping that by the time I’m ready to self-publish, things will have settled down and someone will have written a bible on how to navigate through every aspect of it. But since there’s no bible on how to write a novel in the first place, and you have to glean the wisdom here and there, I’m not holding my breath. :o)

  5. Denise Willson says

    After two days of puking my guts out in cramped toilets God-knows how many feet above land and sea, I’m awfully green to be commenting. So, take this with a grain…

    I want to be treated like a human being. One that works a full time job, has kids, a husband, and a passion for writing. A human being who’s time is just as important as the agents.

    I want to be treated professionally. If an agent cannot bring an expertise, a clear understanding of marketing, and the willingness to guide, what, professionally, do they offer?

    I want a friend. The agent / writer relationship should be a bond, a link between two people with the same goal. No bond, no deal. Currently, I don’t see a system in place to build this.

    Notice that none of this relates to money. I’ve run a successful business for over 20 years. I can tell you that what people want is to feel respected, appreciated, and understood. Period. This is what I want in an agent.

    Now I’m back to bed, puke bucket in hand. :(

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

    • says

      Denise! Feel better! So sorry you’re unable to keep anything down. I’d recommend Campari, but I’m not sure it’s what you need right now. :)

      But seriously, these are great, great points you’re making.

      If anything defines the partnership I’m dreaming of in a true impresarial agent, it’s that personal connection, that direct relationship and friendship that can make two artists (both parties are creators at this level) come together with mutual respect, admiration, support, and powerful leverage.

      (Remember that it did Diaghilev nothing but good every time one of his amazing artists became even more amazing. In a peculiar way, the impresaria is as much buoyed by the success of her clients as the clients are raised up by her work.)

      I also like your point that you’re not talking monetary issues right now. Respect. “Rispetto!” to your Italian neighbors. Exactly.

      I can tell you this. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a lot of agents. Some are more skilled than others. Some have bigger clients than others. (I’ve met JK Rowling’s agent, John le Carre’s agent, Hugh Howey’s agent, John Steinbeck’s agent — yes, true) … to a person, I’ve found them to be incredibly intelligent, upright, forward-looking people of letters, real businesspeople-in-art who, while able to throw a punch when they have to, were actually caring, dedicated folks and good friends, in the cases of those I’ve known well, very good friends.

      All of which is to say that you need not worry, I think, too much in this regard. Try to ignore the flying trash about agents. Hurt feelings and amateur sensibilities create a lot of noise about them. They are, as a class, in perhaps the most vulnerable of all spots in publishing right now. And with the odd exception, of course, I think you’ll find them to be remarkably stable, forthright, innovative people.

      Thanks again for commenting and reading, and under such circumstances. Do take care,

  6. says

    Hi, Carmel.

    There actually are many, many, many guides on self-publishing. There are many people self-publishing about self-publishing (and little else).

    For example, see http://ow.ly/h9tiY – APE: How To Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch.

    Or check out agent Rachelle Gardner’s new series, the first of which, as mentioned in the post here, is How Do I Decide: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing.

    Also a fantastic reference is Jane Friedman’s site (JaneFriedman.com) at which her archive is a treasure trove of truly good, right, intelligent advice.

    And, hey, as I’m pointing out here, agents are increasingly becoming managers of careers who will, in fact, help you self-publish. True. Pigs are flying, but it’s happening. (As I’m hoping here, they may morph a little farther into something even more valuable — champions of their writers, impresari.)

    You are SURROUNDED by good info on self-publishing, you’re drowning in it, you’re a fish in the waters of DIY, baby.

    Just Google it. And stand well back. :)

    • Carmel says

      Thanks so much. I’ll check into all those good suggestions. What I was hoping for though was *one* book that says it all. :o) I don’t see how people find time to write and also stay read up on all this stuff!

  7. says

    This is interesting stuff, bro. I like the trend, but I still have a few questions. First, in spite of your clever, attention-getting title here, just how do the agent author pairings occur? I mean, there’s still a ratio problem, of like a gazillion to one. Also, what about us genre folk? Specifically sci-fi/fantasy–you know, those of us who willingly write for a… shall we say, ‘geeky’ niche. I mean, how do you cultivate geeks? Teach us Sindarin elvish grammar, or proper Vulcan speech etiquette? Most of us will never gain a sit-down with the pinstipes at S&S, after all.

    Seriously, this is intriquing to ponder and watch as it unfolds. And a really fun read, as always, Porter. Thanks!

    • Denise Willson says

      Okay, so I really should stay in bed and not open my mouth, but this is a topic that rings too true to pass on.
      I actually can’t complain about my dealings with agents and publishers thus far, but this experience has not left me unaware of the problems with the system. Severe problems.
      Any other industry with thousands of queries a day/month/year without the means to properly evaluate in a timely manner would be deemed a severe fault in the system. Poor service at its finest. At what point do agents stop and say “I received 300 queries today, and won’t have the time to read them for at least 8-12 weeks. When I do read them, I won’t have time to respond. Maybe something is wrong with this system. Maybe there is a reason I’m getting queries that aren’t the genre I’m currently representing. Maybe there is a better way for a writer to find me, for me to find the writers I want to work with. Maybe there is a way to streamline this system.”
      Those who don’t notice flaws in a system will eventually be without options. This is how companies, in any industry, go out of business. We are seeing this everyday within our literary jungle. Agents are part of this change, and need to take a serious look at the flaws in the system to survive.

      Wow, this is way more serious than I ever get. Sorry guys. Time for another Advil.

      Denise Willson
      Author of A Keeper’s Truth

      • says

        Looks to me like that Advil is really kicking in, Denise, these are great points!

        Have a look at the comment I just dumped on poor Vaughn Roycroft, lol, about ways agents ARE actually starting to do a kind of proactive scan for work they’re interested in. All of this is enabled by the digital dynamic’s creation of communities, reading sites, etc. There are ways now that agents can, without waiting for queries, search out people and work they’re interested in. In that same comment, I’m telling Vaughn about how Howey was contacted BY Nelson, who became his agent.

        In time, more of this will happen, less querying will happen.

        Nelson, in fact, is one of the agents who does a year-end numbers report from her agency, and I’ll give you some of her results for 2012 here, the post is at: http://ow.ly/h9Bgf

        books sold (slightly down from last year).

        foreign rights deals done (up from 65 deals last year).

        number of new clients (5 for Kristin and 9 for Sara). Updated to 11 for Sara –she signed two authors right as we were closing for the year!

        32,000+ or some big number…
        estimated number of queries read and responded to. Down from last year as we closed queries in the month of December.

        full manuscripts requested and read (up from 69 last year).

        number of sample pages requested and read (up from 618 last year).

        number of projects currently on submission

        tv and major motion picture deals

        2.5 million
        number of copies in print for my bestselling series this year

        1.2 million
        number of copies in print for my bestselling title this year

        number of copies sold for my bestselling eBook-only title this year

        number of conferences attended (8 for Kristin (including BEA and Bologna Book Fair), 1 for Angie, 8 for Anita, and 6 for Sara)

        number of books named to Publisher’s Weekly list of top books of the year (that would be Sara’s THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachman this year).

        See that 32,000+ figure on queries? That’s not unusual. Agencies are seeing that many. They use interns to read them, you know. They have to have pre-screeners because, as you’re pointing out, they can’t possible review that much material flying in all day and night.

        It’s hardly a good system, it’s flawed, you’re right. But the more agents can do to re-orient their positions from recipients of dumptrucks worth of queries to searchers-out of strong authors, the more interactive and engaged the resulting relationships are going to be.

        The case of Jason Ashlock and Adam Chromy is interesting. Their Rogue Reader collective of authors is hand-picked, proactive. They’ve found writers they want to work with, nourish, support, back with agency money to help get them in front of the readership.

        That’s a form of impresarial approach that can lead to a lot more since these are writers the company– it’s name is Movable Type Management for a reason–is taking in hand and committing to. And they’re not huge names like a Howey with hundreds of thousands of sold copies and Ridley Scott film options.

        Keep the faith and look for ways you can position yourself to be seen. I’m saying that this is much closer to a two-way street than ever and if you’re willing to be creative and find ways to get to some of these agents and give them a chance to see you past the query racket (notice that Nelson & associates went to 23 conferences last year…where they could be met), then you’re thinking much more clearly about the highly interactive world we’re walking into.

        At the Willamette writers conference in Portland I covered a couple of years ago, I sat down for the big dinner they have each time, struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me — she turned out to be an agent. Delightful, curious, thoughtful, bright, engaged; we’re still in touch from time to time.

        Once you’re better, give it some thought. The only thing that won’t work in the digital age is passivity. :)

    • says

      Hey, Vaughn,

      Good questions, and thanks for them!

      In terms of how authors and agents find each other, that already has begun changing.

      It used to be that it was queries, period. Maybe somebody ran into somebody at a conference, but for the most part, it was queries, queries, queries. Now, agents are following writers, frequently without the writers knowing.

      How? Well, this might happen through self-publishing. Agents, like publishers, are watching what comes out and how it does. Hugh Howey’s agent Kristin Nelson, in fact, talks of following Howey’s work and writing to him (notice the direction there — agent wrote to author) what she describes as a really glowing letter. She had concluded, she says, that there wasn’t anything much she could do for him because the Wool series was doing so well. As it turned out, of course, there was and is a lot she can do for him and has done for him.

      But it doesn’t have to mean self-publishing, either. The “digital slush pile” is bigger than that. These communities like Penguin’s Book Country and Allen Lau’s WattPad and other spots are places writers are using to show off their work, basically, gaining the benefit of mutual critique and comment and … guess who’s lurking? The agents are following these things.

      The gazillions question? In these communities, much as on Amazon for self-published people, you can tell who’s got something going just by following the crowd. Someone who’s getting a lot of reads and feedback and word of mouth in a community may well have something in progress that an agent wants to see.

      A form of natural selection, in other words, probably as faulty as anything Darwin imagined in the wild, is happening in the digi-slush pile, and those who are interested in finding strong work know how to use that to find interesting possibilities.

      Plus, the query is still alive and kicking everybody in the gut. That weird audition-in-writing is still available, there are more conferences than ever for authors to use to meet agents, whole communities (too many, really) are forming on all the media for people to obsess about writing, new collectives of authors who come together are turning heads, and there’s platforming. That’s what platforming is, in fact. Positioning yourself to be found. Agents are really good finders and they’re good people to be found by.

      As for the niche question, you’re in the better end of it than literary folks because you have a built in “vertical” of fantasy people whose interest will resonate to yours. Genres provide topics. Topics are great unifiers. People who want to read about Hobbits who go through grocery store doors sideways will find they can form a group. And authors who can stand to write such stuff can serve and fulfill those readers’ interests.

      Cultivation in the case of a genre writer may not mean teaching them Elvish, it probably has a lot more to do with helping them write well. The content-specific points of anyone’s work — literary or genre or nonfiction, etc. — are not what get cultivated from the outside. Tennesee Williams wasn’t cultivated by Audrey Wood, his agent, on “how to be Southern.” That’s what he brought to the table. Wood, instead, cultivated his understanding of his work’s structure, his work ethic (which was at times, less than, um, perfect), his mode of interacting with others in the world (he wasn’t always the most primetime-ready of writers), etc. She cultivated him as a talent for serious scholars and critics and producers to watch. She cultivated his public persona for the press. And so on. Cultivation covers a lot of things.

      But you know, Diaghilev WAS perfectly capable of cultivating some of his dancers’ work, although he wasn’t a dancer, by bringing in Balanchine and others who worked with his corps de ballet. So if you’re out of touch with proper grokking, there are Heinlein experts your agent/impresario can bring in to work with you. I wound’t be too sure that geekiness is less than cultivatable.

      The best genre people are going to transcend their genres with #legitlit and #seriouswriting. Bradbury. Clarke. Have you read Howey? You geeks aren’t so unreachable or beyond help as you might think. :)

      Thanks again, bro, hope that helps, ask more if I’m not getting at what you’re asking. I’m just looking for agents to take this chance to step up and evolve more than just to “we now have digital as well as print authors. ” I want them to look at this period of transition as one in which they can choose how they look coming out and see if the idea of helping to build careers proactively — not just book by book — may not be in the offing. So many of them understand and are working on this already, which is really heartening.

      Cheers, Vaughn. :)

  8. says

    Ah, well, Porter, you’re preaching to the choir here.

    Still looking for a manager, not an agent. Someone who will free up my time and manage my business. Oh, right, business…

    In previous lives, I’ve run my own business, just like I run my writing business. I did almost everything myself. I’m too lazy to do that now, or perhaps just more willing to admit I’m not the best person to do some things. Is this more in line with film or sports agents? Or did I just define ‘wife’?

    Great post, other than your misstep. The comparable to Jennifer Cruz is not a romance cover. The comparable is Clive Owen’s ad for Three Olives vodka. Did I mention I’ve switched brands?


    • says

      I’m toasting your Three Olives with my Campari, Viki. At least we’re drinking well. Maybe if we just keep doing that until somebody says we’re now safely post-digital.

      I’m afraid that poor Diaghilev actually felt a bit wifely to Nijinsky a few times, from what I’ve read. And honestly, I’ve seen a couple of author-agent relationships that were almost that tight in terms of people so beautifully matched in temperament and intention that they could finish each others’ sentences, guess what moves the other was about to suggest in the career, etc.

      Managers are out there, agents who already have shifted up into that gear if not into full impresarial form yet.

      You’re going to have to look for them, though. Look for them, then think of interesting, authentic approaches (which probably means not a query), ways to let them know what you’re doing and that you know something about what they’re doing.

      Remember what Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks says about creating new lines of books and projects for audiences such as college readers (one of her company’s big specialties): Find the pain point. She looked at the college textbook scene, for example, and sussed out a lot of pain around the financial end (you’ll relate to that, I’m sure). And created material in response.

      You look at the field of your kind of book, you do some research and find out who is representing the authors near your mark, you look at what else those agents are carrying, you decide which of them don’t seem to be carrying something like your work and might like to, you get in touch with them and make it clear right up front that you’re talking management and that, in some ways, that might not reflect the traditional author-agent relationship. See what you can find.

      As I was just saying to Denise, the only thing that won’t work is passivity. Sitting still wishing for management? Nope. You’ll have to flag them down and be ready to make it worth their stop when you do. They’l be very intrigued, believe me, if you go to enough trouble to really get to them in a high-quality, precisely focused, deeply researched way. Expose your work in communities where they can spot you (they’re watching, believe me).

      And keep going to conferences, as you do, making sure you set up appointments before you get their with the folks you want to meet — who may not be agents, remember. Check it out when you look at the roster of folks at Author (R)evolution, since you’re going.

      Kristen McLean? Heads up Bookigee, she’s a children’s literature expert. I’ll bet your work could produce a book for children and/or their families in time of grief, right? The kids of lost kids? Wow. Make a little appointment to talk with Kristen, see what she thinks.

      Allen Lau is there, he’s Mr. WattPad. What could you ask him about how to get the right exposure for your sensitive material in that huge community (which includes Margaret Atwood, you know). Make an appointment.

      See what I mean? It’s all around us, and because you’re so good at getting out there, you’re actually light years ahead of many folks who never understand they can’t just hold still. (Howey had books out before Wool, and they didn’t work nearly so well, you know. But he was out there, moving, shaking, trying things until he got traction, bigtime.)

      Get beyond the norm. Think outside not only your box but some other people’s boxes — they may just need a knock on the door from an idea they’ve never had, and that’s you. “Manager” is easy. They’re out there. Shoot up some flares so they know you’re out there, too.


      • says

        Oh, I’m looking all right. It’s why I read Writer Unboxed and Ether and a few other websites (not a lot of them – I’m picky). It’s why I go to a select group of conferences.

        I’m watching to see who’s working outside the box, and you’re right, there are a few. I suspect there will be more. I have a “type” in mind, but I won’t necessarily take the first one who queries me. It’s like dating, I guess. I’m looking but not desperate.


        • says

          That’s the ticket, Viki, you’re engaged, involved in your own career, and working over the prospects of who you might pull in to help.

          That’s exactly the approach. That manager is out there somewhere and you want him/her to be just as engaged and involved in the game as you are, otherwise you’ve got the wrong person.

          So by putting yourself into the arena over and over (and boy, does this get exhausting, I’m living proof), you’re building up your ability to scope out the territory and see who’s here to contribute what you need to what you’re doing.

          See you at Author (R)evolution Day at TOC, and thanks again!

  9. says

    Fascinating post… and, ultimately, a tiny bit disturbing to me.

    I have worked with several agents over the course of my career. All have been lovely, hard-working people, and I respect them deeply.

    That said, the idea of morphing agents into “impressarios” is essentially giving them the role of Henry Higgins and fairy godmother, wrapped up in the “swag” of lucrative print-only deals and Latvian lucre.

    Even before the seismic shift of digital publishing, writers felt that their agents should be all these things. Most wanted their agents to be managers, to help with their publicity and promotion, to edit their work, give them guidance and hand-holding and a shoulder to cry on, to guide them on the best deals, and to understand their writing voice and author brand and make all the decisions based on that.

    Frankly, few writers got all these things from their agents. Or even most of them.

    That’s not an insult to the agents. I think the role was never meant to be all those things, and I think it’s detrimental to both sides to make it so.

    Essentially, it’s turning your career over to someone else. It’s relinquishing responsibility for understanding the market, and your writing’s place in it. It’s trusting someone else’s instincts over your own.

    I sense that you’re not advocating that, but I have worked with too many writers who yearn for that fairy godmother, and they get crushed because they haven’t cultivated the inner strength and determination that allows them to maintain their own compass. When things go wrong — and even for the best writers, things go wrong — they grow wary and resentful. They blame their agents. They fire their agents. Then they enter a new relationship without fixing the underlying problem.

    What’s worse, it’s easy for an agent to grow resentful in this sort of relationship. An agent works to polish and cultivate a career, yes — but ultimately, the responsibility is the author’s. So if an author is saying “why don’t I have a six figure print only deal with S&S? Why haven’t you driven more traffic to my site? What am I paying you for?” I can only imagine that the agent would quickly regret signing.

    Add in the intriguing thought of “sponsorship” — and then you’ve got sunk costs into the mix, as well.

    Sorry, this is a tome! But I feel like there is so much information we can get, so much of this we can do — or at least need to try. I think that it’s not a matter of “how will I find my impressario?” I think it’s a matter of banding together, creating some best practices, and learning as much as we can, so that if you really want to work with an agent, it’s a clear, mutually beneficial, and interdependent relationship. Not a dysfunctional fairy tale.

    • says

      Oh, Cathy, absolutely!

      And I’m glad you’ve brought all this forward, I was hoping someone would.

      Let’s just remember that Nijinsky died in an insane asylum. His relationship with Diaghilev was a lot more than professional and things went very wrong and whatever were the weaknesses of this great danseur overcame him and…yeah, you could NOT be more right that it’s up to the author to have that strong, self-sustaining inner core to handle even the best agent-author relationship.

      I don’t think these things are ever easy, even when they appear to have everything going for them. Personality has to be a part of it. As you’re saying, there’s an interdependent feature that’s very real and might be very hard to navigate for both parties.

      A writer who wants that dysfunctional fairy tale is not a writer who can handle the kind of managerial energy I’m describing, as you clearly know well. By the same token, an agent who wants to be an impresario or impresaria out of some misguided application of nurturing (as in a parent) or loneliness (as in a friend) or any number of other things can be the wrong manager, too.

      I like your phrasing: “a clear, mutually beneficial, and interdependent relationship.” Yep. No more, no less. I call this professionalism.

      And I’m going to get out on a limb here to say that one of the great problems we’re going to see in the massive influx of people into the business who think they can write (because “it’s the Internet!”) is that we have a lot more amateurs these days roaming the plains of publishing.

      Professionalism doesn’t come only from doing one’s business. It comes from an attitude of self-sufficiency and careful work-world relationship that precludes wrongful emotional inputs (which is much of what you rightly worry about). I’ve met very professional writers who have yet to publish, for example. So when I say “amateur” or “professional,” I’m not saying someone who’s out there or not yet, I’m just saying there are personality factors that form professionals — who will do well with creative, powerful, highly engaged management — and there are others who won’t be able to handle it and will mistake it for something along the emotional lines that can sink the boat a hundred ways.

      You’re very right. There’s not a thing we can do but say that this won’t work for everybody. Hell no. And that’s OK. Very few things do work for everybody.

      I still think it’s worth our considering the fact that the digital dynamic is offering us things we haven’t had before in terms of ways to reach other professionals in the business, test each other’s interest and capabilities, and explore working relationships that could really take off.

      There aren’t too many times in modern history, at least, when an industry’s workers have seen so much change or so much potential for change as this. Digital is massively, profoundly unpending. And regardless of what the hopefuls tell you, it’s not done with publishing yet.

      When the doors fly off, you have a chance to see what’s outside without a single doorknob to mar the view.

      I’m saying Gutenberg’s doors are off. Even the publishers’ doors are off, the distributors have lost their roofs, and the retailers are in a battle of the titans.

      Rather than act as if nothing has changed, let’s think about what might be made possible here before we hunker down for the next few hundred years.

      We can think up about 600 bad outcomes of too close an author-agent relationship, like something out of the Borgias if we get busy.

      So we know that. So good. So let’s think of how things might work instead of not work. And we’ll be very careful.

      How’s that?

      Thanks again!

  10. says

    Sorry: Penelope, not Jennifer. My excuse is that I’m in the middle of edits and my focus is elsewhere. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.


  11. says

    Agents have to make this transition along with all the rest of the industry. Resistance is futile. When everything around you changes, you adapt or perish.

  12. says

    I’ve only started reading Writer Unboxed this past week and am enjoying it. That said, I was floored by the revelation that Rachelle Gardner, agent extraordinaire, and someone who has kind of sneered at self-published work, has now…self published.

    Wow…just wow…

    • says

      Hi, thanks for your input.

      Actually, I don’t recall Gardner ever sneering at self-publishing. While I can’t claim to have seen every single thing she’s written, I’ve followed her quite closely and haven’t seen her say anything unduly harsh or negative about self-publishing. Her book, in fact, is positioned as taking a carefully balanced approach that looks at the positives and negatives of the traditional- and self-publishing modes.

      Thanks for reading and dropping a note, good to have you.

    • says

      Hi RD,

      I know it might seem a bit shocking for an agent to self-publish! Over the last few years, as the industry has changed, my own thoughts about self-publishing have changed as well.

      But I’d like to point out that even as far back as 2008, I was already trying hard to present a fair and balanced view of self-publishing, with statements such as the following:

      “I believe self-publishing serves an important and legitimate purpose, and is the right way to go for some people. It’s a good and solid business, one that is definitely improving these days, and many people find success there. And since traditional publishing is so competitive, and it can be especially hard to place certain “niche” books with a traditional publisher, self-pub is a terrific option. I have nothing against it, and I applaud those who choose it as the right way for their own book. It just doesn’t happen to be the business I’m in.”

      That was from a post here .

      Thanks for the comment!

  13. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Fascinating post, Porter. I was just mulling over, yesterday, some of what you said in this post, after Dan Blank’s post on platform here. And, you come along and cement the idea. Agents, are an art form all their own, and a good agent is a master artist, so it makes perfect sense that like any good artist, an agent’s role will evolve with the times.

    Now, I have a question about Serge Diaghliev. I am revisiting and researching Oscar Wilde. Wilde died in Paris in 1900. One of Wilde’s great friends before and after his fall from English grace was Lillie Langtry. Somehow or other I’m thinking Serge must have crossed paths with these two. Do you know?

    • says

      Hey, Bernadette,

      I haven’t yet run across a Langtry connection, but here’s a lovely Wilde-Diaghilev anecdote:

      In Paris in May 1898, he [Diaghilev] went to see Oscar Wilde with the intention of buying some of Aubrey Beardsley’s erotic illustrations. “There is a young Russian here” Wilde wrote, “who is a great amateur of Aubrey’s art, who would love to have one. He is a great collector, and rich. So you might send him a copy and name a price . . . His name is Serge de Diaghilew.” The young Russian said to his friends that people stood on chairs as Wilde and he walked arm and arm down the Boulevard.

      That’s from a 2010 piece in the Guardian by Andrew O’Hagan about a Victoria & Albert exhibition. http://ow.ly/h9ERs

      And you’re right — an agent, a manager, an impresario is an artist. An artist OF other artists, an artist of artistry. Fascinating role, particularly in that many great impresari have egos as big or bigger than their artist “clients,” and yet they appear to serve in this position that’s promotional of others. Intriguing, these personalities, huh?

      Thanks for reading and your good comment and question!

  14. says

    I’ve often wished to be the beneficiary of such a model, but I’m not sure it could stand up in real life. Generally speaking, the only people willing to invest in an unproven author or those suffering a career decline, long-term, are their family and partners (if they’re lucky) and those unheralded saints who often come in the guise of English teachers. It’s easier to get help when one’s career is running hot, as Mr. Howey’s certainly is. (And congratulations to him! My comment is not meant to deride him in any fashion, but merely to point out that he earned his way to attention of an agent-manager, who then earned their way towards a deal.)

    BTW, maybe I’ve got my facts about timing wrong, but I think the first person to earn a print-only deal was actually Bella Andre, a client of Jessica Faust.

    • says

      Thanks, Jan,

      I’ve dropped a clarification into the post, thanks to your mention here of Bella Andre. I hadn’t been clear that I was talking about a Big Six development with Howey and Hoover, and you’re right, of course, that Andre in October struck a very lucrative deal (shirtless men kissing beautiful women!) with Harlequin, handsome work on her part.

      Thanks, too, for your observations on the unlikelihood of finding the kind of wider managerial support I’m talking about.

      You may be right. :)


  15. says

    This was fascinating!
    I read Rachelle’s blog regularly and wasn’t surprised at all that she self pubbed.

    “Agents could mount speaking tours for their clients to help gather speed for their authors’ topics and books long before a publisher came into the picture, right?”

    Maybe it’s just moi, but that phrase sounds kind of car salesman/circus act.
    “Here she is, your next best thang, Writer Chick!!! She’s gonna knock yer socks off as she hangs upside down and conjugates a verb!!”

    After all kinds of bells, fireworks and promises, we get a vampire novel called “63 Different Color Tones of Puce”.


    Unless the writer had a track record of delivering exactly what was promised, I’d be tempted to sit there with a silent “uh-huh” and refuse to sink my money into an untried noob.

    But, since I haven’t got an agent, what do I know? I’m new at this game, but I’ve been around long enough to know the ref’s
    don’t see everything and the other team hits from behind.

  16. Barbara Haines Howett says

    The only sure thing in this world is change. Right? And everything has to start somewhere. So Porter is reporting where it’s starting.
    So, to doubters and naysayers, I suggest you read Donald Maass’s book–Writing Fiction in the 21st Century if you haven’t already, especially the opening chapter where he discusses all the things we never thought would happen in publishing–the mingling of genres, the popularity of subjects one would never think to become that way etc., It’s happening right now just as sure as our transformative president Obama is the agent of change in our country we’ve needed for so long. (Sorry to go political here if your view on this differs from mine.) But I’m just saying things are happening in our lifetime now we never thought we’d see. For years, I’ve received rejection letters from agents and/or publishers who said glowing things about my writing and storytelling abilities—but—they just didn’t know who they could send it to or what shelf it would be placed on in the book store. So I was constantly falling between the cracks. I feel that 21st Century writing trends may result in my winning the Literary Lottery yet. I would very much like to hear what Donald Maass has to say about what Porter has been telling us here.

    Hi Donald. You may not remember me, but we do have a history.

    • says

      Hi, Barbara, good of you to read the post today and drop a line, thank you!

      I’ve written lately in reference to Don’s good Writing 21st Century Fiction, in which he’s positing a kind of commercial literary form that I think, he’s right, is very viable in the markets developing today.

      Maass (one of whose weeklong courses I’ve taken) and I have discovered we share a great admiration for the novels of the late Nevil Shute, whose work has been reissued in very handsome volumes (including Kindle editions) by Vantage.

      And yes, he’s so right, as you’re recalling. One of my favorite points he makes in his introduction is that the blockbuster-level best-seller list titles (long, long runs of 65, 98, 117 weeks) are works of literary fiction, not genre. His formulation of “literary/commercial fiction” is very valuable. I have a mild disagreement with his desire to find “impact” of the high-energy kind quite so pervasive as I believe he does, but this in no way counters my basic agreement with him about the form he’s describing.

      In fact, I’ve recently begun using two hashtags you might want to consider — #legitlit and #seriouswriting — to indicate work that I believe does not have entertainment as its prime goal. To my sensibilities, we’re drowning these days in work the top priority of which is entertainment. I find that work created to serve and promulgate a theme, an idea, a problem, a point to be much more compelling and, usualy, highly entertaining because the intellect’s work is pleasant. This isn’t, necessarily, a popular view, but it does make Maass’ concept ring true to me.

      Thank you again for your input,

      • Barbara Haines Howett says

        Thank you so much, Porter. You have great insight and a lot of knowledge. I feel lucky to be sharing in that. I knew Donald when he was really just getting his feet wet as an agent many years ago. More recently, I have attended 3 of his worthwhile workshops in different parts of the Pacific Northwest. I have not always agreed with him. In reading this latest book, I saw he had changed a lot of that thinking. So my point is: we grow, we evolve and isn’t it great that we have that opportunity in our writing lives. I look forward to whatever comes next. I look forward to following your suggested hashtags.

        Barbara Haines Howett

        • says

          Hi Barbara! And Porter, I’m going to follow those hashtags as well.

          Most of us who seek agents are interested in career management, so I’m loving all the brainstorming here today!

          I’d love the return of sponsorship, especially limited partnerships for book tours. On a panel I once heard agent Regina Brooks mention that she had arranged such a thing for a client, with a corporate sponsor tangentially linked to the book.

          But will all marketing innovation end up as agent responsibility? Not sure, as publishers are coming up with some great ideas as well.
          I also love the idea Atria had of putting like authors together on a bus for a short tour. I think that would be a blast!

          Right now I feel most thrilled to be aligned with two forward-thinking enterprises: Don’s agency, through Katie Shea, and the Landmark imprint for book club fiction at Sourcebooks, recently covered at Shelf Awareness. http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=1911#m18638

          There are a lot of exciting ideas in the air, showing that necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

          • says

            Hi, Kathryn,

            So good to have your input here, and I almost missed it, glad I ran back over the comments.

            I find the idea of sponsorship intriguing, too, not least because — in the States, at any rate — it’s now a very mature concept and, I believe, can be applied to situations in writerly work very well. (As in your mention of Regina Brooks’ experience.)

            I do agree that publishers are more than capable of coming in with such developments, too. And since you’re with Dominique Raccah’s (@draccah) Sourcebooks’ Landmark, you have a leg up, in that Dominique’s outfit is one of the most forward-looking we have, she’s a clear leader in the field. In other publishing venues, I fear that both innovation and sheer man/womanpower (as in staffing) are going to mean slower approaches of this kind — and that’s why I think we’re likelier to see strong managerial agents produce such developments sooner, faster, and better than many of our publishers will. I’m perfectly happy to be surprised on this, though — I’d love to see more publishers move aggressively in this direction. I just fear that they’re too busy trying to save themselves at this point to work as hard for their authors as we’d like. Again, that’s not the case at a @Sourcebooks entity, just the wider reality.

            Much more to come, clearly, in these and other parts of the business. Thanks again for your experienced input, Kathryn!


  17. says

    Hi, Jennifer, lol, I must say you do NOT want to get near an author speaking tour, do run the other way when one comes in your direction. :)

    Of course there’s nothing in the least circus-act-ish in what I was saying, nor would I suggest that authors arrive on stages to conjugate verbs as entertainment. (It might be fun to see a few try, though, now that I think of it.)

    The work I enjoy most is from authors who are writing about something. And it’s that something (whether fiction or nonfiction, by the way) on which I’d expect a new writer to speak.

    If there was no such theme the writer could develop into a good presentation (or if the writer wasn’t someone who could put across a public appearance), then, by all means, this would be something for that author and agent not to undertake.

    In fact, I think I’ve heard a few of the presentations in which the author had nothing to say. Painful.

    Glad you read Rachelle Gardner. I do, too, and I like her work in demystiifying publishing very much.

    All the best,

  18. says

    I cannot tell you how much I loved and appreciated this post. As an author who is getting ready to take the plunge into self publishing, your words are like a breath of fresh air. I have been busting my chops trying to get my ducks in a row and I’d LOVE to find a partner in my efforts.

    I consider this statement visionary:

    “If our agents, whom I consider to be not a has-been group but a true key to the entrepreneurial author’s future, are really going to come around and embrace and work with self-publishing authors, then, dudes, do it.”

    Thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking but much more eloquently and with more crediblity. I really appreciate it.

    • says

      Hi, Julia,

      And thanks for this generous comment, as well as your kind words on Facebook.

      I do think that our agents are making very fast progress now. As with most of the industry (we’re all human), there was a slow update as the digital dynamic started making itself felt, but now there’s a sense of new speed and purpose to the evaluation of where we all are and where we need to be. Still many difficulties to be worked out, but the direction is good.


  19. says

    My favorite impresario was Gottfried. Now it’s Otis B. Driftwood.

    Are agents now morphing into editors? That’s the kind of model I see developing: a writer finds a support team that includes editor, marketer, etc. A networked system rather than hierarchical. Agents can be part of the morph. (Anyone want a chess pun? Morph-Morphy?)

    • says

      Thanks, David,

      There’s an understanding of this team concept out there, yes — in some cases, I think, it might be put together by the agent-manager-impresario to support a client list of authors. The agents basically took over much of the work of acquisitions editors long ago, finding good work, developing it with a client, and editing it before it reached a publisher — occasioned by the downsizing of editorial forces inside the big publishing firms. Even in the traditional market, it’s largely up to author and agent to bring material up to a high standard of readiness outside the publishing house.

      Cheers, and thanks again,

  20. Linda Pennell says

    Love opera, love your article! That the industry is changing and morphing is, by now, something of an understatement. All of us invested in writing, regardless of which side of the author/agent/publisher triangle one is on, feel the earth shaking beneath our feet. Reading through your list, I jump for joy as an author. What a concept – time to write while someone else takes care of the business end.

    Here’s the present rub for writers regarding agents. I know more than one best-selling self-pubbed author who feels very much like the Little Red Hen. They have written, published, and conquered – all on their own without any help from the traditional publishing insiders. Now that they are on best sellers lists, the very agents who didn’t even answer their query letters are trying to sign them as clients. One can imagine how the authors feel about this. If they can make it on their own, what does an agent have to offer?

    That is a question your article makes a great start in answering, but it raises another question in my mind. Since we all need to make a living, will the new version of agenting see agents charging unpublished authors for their services? I don’t have the answer, but would love to know other’s thoughts.

    • says

      Hey, Linda,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful input.

      What I hear agents saying these days — the most forward-looking ones — is that they have to find how to make themselves of value to authors. They’re keenly aware, in other words, of how much authors are able to do on their own, and they’re hearing all too well the loud “why would I need an agent?” questions coming their way.

      Deciding what that kind of value is — the contribution of an agent/manager to an authorial career — I believe is about to become a far more flexible, case-by-case thing. The old system has had a sort of suite of services performed by agents for clients without great wiggle room. Some exceptions, of course, but for the most part it has been pretty predictable, one agency to another, what was done for clients by agents.

      Suddenly, as I’m suggesting here, I believe some of our most powerful agents are going to begin to think much more broadly than in the past about how they can become those impresari, as I’m casting the idea at this point — and this will NOT be the case in each agent’s instance, nor will it be what ever author needs or wants.

      In the “grand careers,” I think this may well be what we see: an impresarial force standing beside a masterful author.

      In many other cases, there will instead be any number of relationships, combinations of services, types of approach… it’s wide open. That, like Sartrean freedom, is both exciting and horrifying, of course, but I want agents to realize that the freedom to develop themselves all the way up to impresarial strength is there–and so is the freedom to work on a far smaller, less aggressive scale where it’s appropriate.

      I agree that the economics are a challenge. I’m informed, in part, though, by The Rogue Reader project at Movable Type (@TheRogueReader on Twitter) in which an agency is simply using its own money to create a site, do some PR and advertising, help its handful of authors find the support they need in self-publishing (they ARE self-publishers, and they create their books via Hugh McGuire’s @PressBooks for all platforms, ebook-only). So this is a case in which we’re watching an agency foot the bills up front in anticipation of an agency commission from the result. Fascinating experiment. Near-Menotti strength. :)

      What’s going away is the cookie-cutter expectations. All is up in the air. And authors need to realize that it’s in times of transition like this that they have THEIR best chance of creating the kind of relationship and potential they want for themselves. A bit like the day you start a new job? — that’s when to ask for everything you want. We always tell our newbies in the corporate world, grab for it when you’re new, that’s when you can get all sorts of things past the executive suite. Same for authors right now. If they can formulate an image of what they want in terms of representation, I believe they can get it.

      The only folks I worry about are the several responders we’ve had to this column saying “Oh, this can never happen, not realistic, this can only work for the Howeys and Andres and Hoovers of the world, not for me, only our families will support us,” etc. The fatalism underlying those comments is disappointing, but it’s a very real part of our community’s collective personality and we need to remember that folks who feel such negatives to be near them aren’ t maybe having as good a time envisioning where we’re going as some of the rest of us.

      I say think Diaghilev-big. Write something he would have wanted to get onto a stage. (Did you hear that the Royal Shakespeare Company is creating stage adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies?” I’m not kidding.) You show me Diaghilev-class work? I’ll show you a lot of agents ready to emerge as the impresari of our dreams.

      Full chorus and orchestra. :)


      • Linda Pennell says

        Thank you for taking the time to respond to each of us who commented. I really appreciate your dedication and thoughtfulness! Your article really helps those of us trying to figure out this brave new world of authoring/agenting/publishing. I love your vision of what is possible and I would say to the naysayers that perhaps taking a long hard look at survival is in order. Regardless of one’s part in the industry, change has arrived like a hurricane pushing a fifty foot storm surge washing away everything in it’s path. Adaptation and creative thinking seem to be the best life preservers available. I would love to read more of your thoughts on this topic and will subscribe to your blog as soon as I submit this post! BTW, that’s really cool information about the Royal Shakespeare Co. I own, but haven’t had a chance to read, Wolf Hall. I was planning to order the other one soon. All very interesting!

  21. says

    Porter – First, thanks to you and Jan for adding in the note about my October print-only deal with Harlequin MIRA for my Sullivan series.

    I wanted to send in a quick clarification – Steve Axelrod brokered the deal and he is my domestic literary agent.

    Bella Andre

    • says

      Hey, Bella, many thanks for your note, and sorry I was given some bad information on your representation — now updated. Thanks and congratulations on your success!

    • says

      Whoops. My error. Apparently I googled the wrong article. Thanks for the correction, Bella, and Porter, thanks for fixing my mistake so promptly.