Part 3: The Order of Go

Previous posts discussed the "new" digital environment and addressed the inadequacy of some of publishing’s time-tested practices. This post continues the series, getting into what I believe a new agenting model for world domination mindset looks like.

150 years has given publishing a certain efficiency. There are snafus, but we know that a manuscript is going to come in, there’ll be a contract, some more stuff will happen, and there will be a book at the end. (“Book,” here, includes verbatim electronic versions—ebooks).

That model is comfortable. The new environment isn’t; it’s totally different technology from what we’ve been dealing with for centuries.

But I propose getting over that. When a manuscript is read to go on submission, the agent has to start thinking about the potential package of products: PPP.

What should be sold to the editor? What should be taken elsewhere for development? What should be developed in-house? None of these questions can be answered without thinking about what the book could be—in physical and digital form.

Most agents still negotiate based on selling The Book, not on selling the PPP. With a comprehensive plan (design outlines for apps, ideas for revenue splits—without, of course, tipping one’s hand completely) the publisher is a lot more likely to insert language that allows for specific project(s), even if they refuse to fork over whole clauses (The Audio Clause, The Multimedia Clause).

Voila. Now we can all just get along, right? We just have to ask about specific applications for audio rights, and they’ll GIVE THEM TO US!!

Well, probably not. It’s not going to be that easy, and the majority of innovations are probably not going to come through the Big Six because they really do have corporate mandates that say there’s no deal without, say, audio rights. (Bummerrrrr!)

But that’s no reason to keep banging our heads into the same Book first, other-stuff-later-maybe-if-we-get-to-it-and-it-stops-being-so-scary wall.

Think outside the book.

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Patty Blount said...

This is like a master's program, Meredith. Thanks for posting it. I'm taking notes.

Unknown said...

Great series. I'm learning a lot and enjoying each post. Thanks.

Simon Hay said...

I've looked back on the previous posts, and here's my take on this. I'm un-agented and unpublished. With e-books I think the distribution/placement muscle that a big publisher had has been negated. With e-books if you have a well-crafted/edited professional product, it's a level playing field. As a reader I rarely looked at who published a book: good cover, great blurbs, forget the quotey things, read the first page, a middle page, buy it! It's only as a writer that I'm curious about who published it, who recommended it, and who's the author's agent. I think the 25%, which is actually 17.5%, that publishers offer authors is ridiculous.(I'm open to be proven wrong) Once a publisher has committed to a hardcover, all they have to do is formatting and uploading for the e-book. Surely the marketing and distribution is already established. A book can flop whether it’s self-published or published by the big 6. I still like the model of having an agent, but I think the big publishers can be taken out of the formula. If a writer has something great, and their day job is working at McDonalds, it makes sense to sign up for a big advance, but it looks like a big advance is rare. If the advance and print run is small, it doesn't make sense to sign away digital rights for such a low %, especially when there are other options. For me it's not about losing patience, I’ve been patient for 10 years, and I think there are a lot of writers who are patient, it's more about common sense. The odds of making money from writing have never been great and I believe e-books have improved those odds. I can see agents being gatekeepers to independent editors, graphic designers, publicists, and the market. I like your attitude, we need to do and stop talking about it.

Meredith Barnes said...

@Simon Thanks for your thoughts.

Distribution is a tricky monster. No one's gotten it right (yet) for ebooks. Amazon isn't a distributor; they're a retailer. A middleman (excuse negative connotations) just like brick and mortar stores are.

So you're right when you say big houses don't have electronic "dist./placement muscle"! The question is who does have it for ebooks, and who puts authors in contact with those people (agents).

Meredith Barnes said...

PS: is anyone else getting AWESOME word verifications?? My last one was "mullah."

Simon Hay said...

Yes, I think agents will put authors into contact with the distributors. I think hardcovers will become a niche or premium product. If this happens big publishers will have to scale down that side of the business. Sadly, some jobs will have to go. Small established indie presses will benefit. Most sales will happen online. I think the distributor needs to be the bricks and mortar store. Especially for ebooks. Create the product, store it, market it, and sell it.

It obvious that a lot of agents do a lot of editing. Why not have an agency with in house editors, graphic designers, and publicists. It's clear that agents love people/their clients as much as they love writing, so why not get paid for doing a little more. The process will be the same: good writing, polite professional people get in. Social media and publicity training and support, a more personal relationship between clients, editors, and artists.

I think ebooks make anything possible. Exciting times ahead for us all.

Meredith Barnes said...

"Why not have an agency with in house editors, graphic designers, and publicists."

Would. That. We. Could.

David said...

What needs to happen in the future is ebook format offerings from publishers that make the Amazon's stock ebook offering look like a kiddie drawing.

Yeah, the 20% thing is ridiculous. I'm not signing with a pub so they can make free money on an ebook. I'm signing so they can make money off my print book.

I wonder what would happen if say, an author like Stephen King started publishing with ebooks before he had a contract, and then said, Look...publish my book, but I keep the digital rights.

I really think those pubs would cave. 20% for ebooks is ridiculous, especially when Amazon can do the work for us.

There will come a day when print books are a rarity. And on that day Amazon will be the biggest publisher in the business. That, or pubs will have adapted, and adequately compensated us for our work. Otherwise, they are the middlemen!

Nathanael Green said...

Thanks for the great series! It's nice to hear someone admit that change does not equal doom and the end of humanity.

Sure, the times they are a changing, but they always have been. It's just up to us to roll with it and learn to make the most of something new. The big question for most of us is just how individual authors and agents can use the latest technology to our advantage?

Sarah Goldberg said...

Meredith, what you mention about the PPP reminds me a lot about the conversations going on about transmedia franchising and branding, which I've seen talked about a lot in terms of Hollywood, multimodal book projects (like The Amanda Project), and book packaging companies like Alloy. And in all of those cases, there's a huge range of levels of author involvement. You have creators like the Wachowski brothers who, when they wrote the Matrix, conceived of it as a transmedia franchise and worked closely with, for example, the video game writers, to make products that were mutually constitutive across platforms. Or you have, perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum, the books series produced by Alloy, where the author signs on as collaborator in a project that they, perhaps, have not themselves created.

Do you conceive of one of the new roles of the agent as working with the author to plan for possible products across platforms? In what ways is this different from the ways that marketing works now? Am I taking this conversation wildly off topic? Can you tell I'm avoiding my schoolwork?