As more and more established authors go indie, either by e-pubbing their backlist or taking new material straight to ebook, many of us wonder: What will be the agent’s role in this new publishing frontier? That conversation came up repeatedly during the recent RWA conference in NYC. Among the authors I spoke with, everyone agrees that agents actually becoming publishers is a bad idea. But, what about agents assisting their authors with self publishing? Now that, I can see as a positive thing. Here’s the big question, though:
What is fair compensation to agents who assist authors with self publishing?
This is an extremely important question, folks, because what authors agree to now will be precedent-setting. Any of us who have taken the plunge into self publishing ebooks know the learning curve is huge. For anyone trying to tackle it and maintain any sort of a writing schedule, it’s nearly impossible. I’ve been burning my candle at four ends for so long now, I honestly don’t know how I’ve managed. What’s the solution, though. Do I continue doing all of this on my own? Do I hire an assistant (which I’m seriously considering)? Or do I self publish my next ebook with my agent’s assistance?
If I choose option number 2, that’s money out of pocket for an hourly rate. If choose option number 3, that’s going to mean giving up a percentage of my ebook sales. But what should that percentage be?
I’m hearing people suggest everything from 5% to 50% commission to the agent. Whoa, that’s a pretty big range. Others say agents should get the same 15% commission they get on our print sales. Yet this is a completely new service that is nothing at all like what agents have done in the past. My big fear is that authors will look at the scary learning curve for e-pubbing, become intimidated and agree to give up far too much of their ebook royalty just to have someone take the burden off their shoulders. Then that will be the royalty split the rest of us will be stuck with. So, let’s look at this question from both sides.
From the authors’ point of view
Fair compensation is going to depend on what the agent provides. If all the agent is going to do is take an out-of-print book or a new manuscript and make it a live ebook on Amazon, BN.com, Apple, etc, why would the author give up any percentage of their sales? You can hire all of that done. Two excellent resources are Pam Headrick with A Thirsty Mind (she’s who I use, and she’s a formatting goddess), or Nina Paules with eBook Prep. Pam only does the scanning, cleaning, and formatting, while Nina Paules is more turnkey.
So, for me, an agent will have to offer something more, like help with promotion and “discoverability” before I personally will give up a percentage. Some things that might entice me are an agency Website and eNewsletter with a large reader following. Someone within the agency who will promote my titles and sales on Twitter and Facebook. The clout to get special placement at the eStores. Those would be worth giving up a percentage of my sales.
From the agent’s point of view
Fair compensation is going to depend on the author’s ebook earning potential. Getting an ebook live requires an upfront investment of time and money. The learning curve is huge, but once you have the process down, it’s no big deal. Still, if an author has no built-in ebook following and zero intention of promoting their ebooks, the agent is going to have to work really hard (doing everything I just mentioned above), or (potentially) settle for a very small return on their investment. Ebooks are a bit of a crap shoot. Sometimes one will spark on its own, but most of the time, they require some Internet-savvy promotion to make them spark.
That brings us back to: What is fair compensation?
I’m not sure there is one commission that will be fair for every author. For those of us with a solid ebook following and a wealth of promo-savvy, there’s no way we’d give up more than a very small percentage and we’d expect quite a bit in exchange for that. Because 5-10% of our ebook earnings is going to be far more than 15% of our print book earnings ever were. But 5-10% of the ebook earnings for an author who’s been out-of-print for 15 years, has no Internet presence, and no intension of becoming a social-networking wiz, may barely be worth an agent’s time.
What are your thoughts, though, on this vast and controversial topic?