GoodEReader.com has recently covered the ambitious and forward-thinking agendas of literary agencies and traditional publishing imprints that are exploring more options in the realm of digital publishing. Some major publishing houses are experimenting with no-advance ebook-only imprints, and several noted literary agencies are offering more digital options to their clients in order to establish strong numbers of books sales.
However, as we’ve reported in the past, self-publishing and digital publishing still carry the burden of a weighty stigma, especially in the eyes of traditional publishing purists. The negative perception towards indie publishing does rightfully stem from the unscrupulous vanity press models of the past, but even as more bestselling authors look to indie publishing that attitude has yet to disappear altogether.
“People often confuse an agency helping its clients publish their titles to ebooks with the agency becoming a publisher themselves,” says Deidre Knight, president of the Knight Agency, who has recently been the target of some harsh criticism in the debate over the acceptable role of a literary agency in terms of digital publishing. “We’re not a publisher, because there’s a big distinction between publishers and agents who promote digital editions of their clients’ books.”
The key difference? Rights acquisition. As literary agents, even ones who assist their clients in distribution of ebooks, agents cannot acquire the rights to the book and still claim they are not the publisher. One New York Times bestselling author and long-time client of the Knight Agency, Cecil Murphey, has eleven out-of-print backlist titles from over twenty years ago that his agent is now working on bringing to ebook. As Murphey retained the rights to all of his own out-of-print titles, the agency now has an outlet for publication that does not depend on seeking out a print-contract on worthwhile, albeit older, titles.
The other main difference boils down to the money. “We make the same percentage if we help an author digitally publish a work or if we sell it to one of the Big Six,” continues Knight. “This is just another service agents can provide for their clients in order to sell books and ensure the longevity of the writers’ careers. Agents who choose to explore this option are still making their fifteen percent commission on their clients’ work, but in order to justify that cost we absorb a lot of the upfront costs that would ordinarily fall on the indie author, such as purchasing ISBN numbers, hiring cover designers, and paying our staff of marketing people to promote the title.”
So why does it feel like a witch hunt is taking place in the industry? A lot of it may be the result of the divide that still separates the traditionally published author (often referred to politely as a “real author”) from the indie author. When publishers and agents choose to blur the lines between the two sides of the industry, opponents begin grasping at straws to discredit the professionals who are working to put more books into the hands of the readers and to further the careers of the authors.