My client Allison Winn Scotch recently wrote a terrific post about her experience moving to self-publishing from the traditional model. We’ve both received many questions from agents and authors alike about the agent’s role in that process, so I thought, as her representative, I’d tell you more about it from my point of view.
Allison and I have worked together over the course of 4 books and 3 houses, so coming to the decision to self-publish her 5th novel was very much a mutual decision made over the course of many conversations between us. It was Allison who ultimately made the choice to go that route, and I endorsed and supported her decision, which was made after speaking to many within the industry and also after much consideration over what we both wanted for her career and her books.
Of course, I wasn’t sure what my role in the process would be – this is the great unknown for agents right now. After all, I wasn’t shopping the book or negotiating on her behalf with a publishing house. I spoke to several agents who have self-pubbing arms within their agencies about what was involved in setting that up at Weed Literary, and truth be told that part of the business didn’t interest me. Neither did the idea of commissioning someone who was self-pubbing. I love the job of agenting. I love finding that gem of a book in my slush pile. I love connecting with editors and getting to know their tastes. I love shepherding books into editorial shape, matching authors with editors and shaping careers. But hiring copy editors and jacket designers and printers and the rest of it held no appeal.
So we agreed that Allison would spearhead the nuts and bolts of that process, while I acted as a sounded board when she needed me.
We agreed that I would commission the subsidiary rights. In her case, we’ve sold film, audio, large print and several foreign rights, all of which required negotiation and contract work. As I would with an author who was working with a traditional house, I read drafts of the book, gave my opinion on covers and cover copy and in her case, advice on hiring an outside editor, as she wanted to mirror the editorial process that she’d had within the traditional houses, so I do feel that I am both invested in the book and working hard on her behalf. This commission structure felt fair for both of us.
We agreed that this was a perfect fit for each of us – we were each playing to our strengths and focusing on what we were interested in, and I think this is a truly important part of an agent-author relationship, whether with Allison or any of my other clients. Of course, this was a brand new world for all involved, so we figured it out along the way, but I am very pleased with how it worked out and I believe so is she. Again, this speaks to the trust that an agent needs to have in her author, and the reciprocal trust that an author must have in her agent. The goal being to form a partnership and create a win-win situation for all involved.
The book published a few weeks ago, and we are still hard at work. She and I touch base often about publicity efforts, about sales, about communicating with her old publishers and working with them to promote her old books in correspondence to this new release. We’re continuing to figure it out as we go, but we’re moving forward as a team. “Self”-publishing doesn’t have to mean that it’s solitary. I still very much believe, and I think Allison concurs, that this is a team effort. And because more of us are behind her, she’s feeling supported and successful.