Beware: Agents as Publishers

Dean Wesley Smith has written several posts over the past week on a very disturbing trend rippling through NY publishing. Authors need to know the truth behind this trend so that they can protect themselves.

Basically, agents, like the rest of us, are trying to find ways to professionally survive this huge paradigm shift in publishing. I certainly can understand and respect that, but not when it comes at the expense of someone else, namely the artist, as usual.

These agents are talking about becoming “partners” with the author, but of course, they must first recoup their “expenses” and then they’ll split the “net receipts” 50/50 with the author.

Be very wary of words like these.

“Expenses,” as I’ve learned the hard way, are unending. Unless *very* clearly defined, “expenses” can be anything and everything. What about the author’s “expenses”?

We also have mortgages and bills and, often times, businesses we’re running. So, the author spends a year writing a book and these new agent-publishers put it up on Kindle (at the most, even with very special formatting attention and cover design) takes between 2 hours and 48 hours of work. Yet they get their “expenses” covered before splitting the “net” with the author.


This is especially ridiculous because these agent-publishers aren’t offering you anything you can’t do on your own. You’re not getting distribution in every bookstore across the nation. You’re not getting a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. You *might* get a reputable industry review, *if* said agent has the right connections, but that’s about it. Truly.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been working with people like this for the past decade. Before dealing with such shysters in the publishing industry, I was learning hard lessons from shysters in the film industry. Namely “distributors.” The same types of people/businesses who are “distributors” in the film industry are “publishers” or “agents” in the publishing industry. Now, the reason I’m putting these words in quotation marks is because they are being used as euphemisms for crook, so all agents, publishers, and distributors aren’t conning the artist. However, there are enough of them who are, so the artist needs to learn how to spot one before they sign the dotted line.

I once heard a “distributor” in the film industry say, “This would be a great job if we could just get rid of the filmmaker.” Really? Without the artist, there would be no need for a distributor, producer, movie studio, etc. It all comes back to the artist.

The author, as Margaret Atwood in her awesome presentation to TOC 2011 reminded everyone, is the primary source. Without the author there is no book. Suddenly, agents, publishers, printers, distributors, wholesalers, and bookstores have no purpose. It all comes back to the author. The author has the power; however, because there are so many authors trying to get through the relatively few gatekeepers, they have convinced us that they have the power. They don’t. We do. Especially now with these changes in the industry, as there are more ways for the independent author to publish and reach potential readers than ever before.

Agents may not survive. Bookstores may not survive. “Traditional” publishers may not survive.

But the AUTHOR will survive. I’m about to break into song here. “As long as I know how to write I know I’ll stay alive.”

Et cetera.

As I discuss in my book, there are many people out there who are trying to prey on your dreams. And, thanks to Mr. Smith, another has been revealed. Learn who they are and what to look for, then avoid them.

It’s time to take our power back.

Read these posts. Educate yourselves. Please, take care.


Next Monday, watch for another Writer Beware post on Independent Publishers. Know where the sharks are, then you can avoid them and enjoy your swim.

Let’s talk. What are your thoughts on this trend? Do you see some benefit in this model that I’m missing?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh, man, what a scary trend, thanks for the warning! This is one deal I’d like to steer well clear off.

    1. christinerose says:

      Me, too. Honestly. What people try to get away with, and unfortunately, they all too often do get away with it.

  2. SL Clark says:

    I’ve been having an ON-GOING discussion somewhere else about this – and sadly, the ingrained myth of needing an agent is beyond belief. Authors are having no issues with agents being their publisher! WTF is this about? Are authors lemmings?

    I’m still stunned, especially when someone says “whoever DWS” is… or is pointed to this website for the legal angles:

    Authors seem to be a hopeless breed… SAD SAD days ahead…

    1. christinerose says:

      They’re just uninformed. They don’t understand the realities of the industry, and all too often their heads are in the clouds, as it were. Hopefully these discussions will save some authors from making expensive mistakes. It’s important to keep talking about it to anyone who will listen. As for those who won’t listen…you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him see reason.

  3. I had no idea you used to be in the film industry. Explains a lot about your knowledge. I’ve seen this trend and agree. We pay for an agent to do what you can do yourself?

    1. christinerose says:

      Exactly. Never pay an agent. They make a percentage of the money they make for you. This new trend is a little frightening for the author. So many industry professionals are scrambling because things are just changing so fast. They’re just trying to survive, too — and I get that, but not if it’s at the expense of the artist. Thanks for your comment! xo

  4. Thanks for this post Christine. Great points and yes, whenever the sand is shifting beneath your feet, you have to take extra care of where you plant your next step. Having just self-pubbed my first book, I don’t see how an agent would be necessary for any step. There are already experienced people out there who can help with formatting, design, covers, cover copy or anything else an author would like help with. And you pay a flat fee! No percentage.
    Not sure what a self-pubbed author needs an agent for unless he/she is trying to court Hollywood for a movie deal or trying to break into the world of traditional publishing.

    1. christinerose says:

      Thank you, Natalie. There are loads of people who can help with formatting, design, and the rest. I’m one of them! 🙂

      Publishing is changing so fast, this next year will be very interesting to see what’s happening with the entire industry. Movie deals are very hard to come by, as you can imagine. Really unless a book does extremely well (i.e., sells hundreds of thousands of copies), a movie is is all but impossible. But, yes, an agent is needed for traditional publishing which could lead to extensive distribution which could lead to a movie deal.

      Agents are not necessary for for self publishing at all.

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