Thursday, June 9, 2011

Agents as epublishers... that a good idea for authors/illustrators? Personally, I’ve never had an agent but one never knows, especially in these volatile times in the book biz. A flurry of articles have cropped up lately on the topic, so here are a couple to explore:

Your Agent Should Not Be Your Publisher gets right to the point, doesn’t it? It’s by Peter Cox of Redhammer, a literary agency.
This issue is enormous. Because it will affect every book deal, every publication contract, from now until the end of time.

Yikes! He describes the case of the late author Catherine Cookson, whose agent signed a contract between herself and the estate to publish 100 titles in digital format, without notifying the publishers. Is this “self-dealing?” Is it a conflict of interest because the agent is now a “principal” in the transaction? Does the agent have the resources to do what a publisher does? It makes for very interesting reading.

The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) Canon of Ethics lists many principles such as not charging “reading fees,”  maintaining a separate bank account for client funds, and not representing both buyer and seller in the same transaction. Surely the AAR and similar groups worldwide will have to address this issue.

The article BEA Digital Panel on the blog by agent Mary Kole compares fees being charged by agents who are becoming  epublishers. According to the article, some agencies who are publishing new titles are charging expenses PLUS a 50% of net commission. Kole’s employer the Andrea Brown Literary Agency is by contrast charging 15% after recouping costs. Quite a difference!

If a 50% commission sounds high, it is my understanding from colleagues that publishers are offering contracts that grant themselves 75% of net, leaving authors with 25% of net. If the digital books are sold with 30% of the retail price going to the seller (e.g. Amazon et al), here is how the numbers work for a 9.99 ebook:
 9.99 Retail price
-3.00 ebookseller’s cut of 30% (there may be additional charges)
 6.99 Net
-5.25 Publisher’s cut: 75% of net
1.74  Author/illustrator’s cut: 25% of net (which ends up being 17% of retail here.)

Whether you work with an agent, publisher, and/or an ebookseller, by all means do the math and decide whether a deal seems fair or not. I know one thing... nobody is going to buy a “blank ebook”... without the content that
authors and illustrators create, there’s nothing for anyone to sell. How much is writing and illustrating worth?

Loreen Leedy


  1. Its all disgusting and one more nail in the coffin of producing quality books for children. Publishing seems so
    infected by corporate greed and marketing machinations that the entire raison d'etre is disappearing at a rapid pace below the waves.
    I've been a book illustrator and author for many years.
    Now instead of ideas for new projects I am filled with despair and anger.

  2. I hate to say this...BUT Authors & don't NEED an agent for ebooks. Everyone is trying to take a piece of the pie...the creator's slice is getting smaller & smaller. YOU (meaning Author-Illustrators) can contact these developers directly! Why have a middle man? I am not that computer savvy= but what I do have is content. Find developers that will take your content and make it an ebook. (That is exactly what an ebook agent will do). My goal is to get my OP books into ebook in all formats. So far my book Wednesday is Spaghetti day is an Iphone App . an Ipad App, ebook in the ibookstore, a recordable book. (nook to come). None of these went through an agent. I dealt with 3 different developers. My splits for these "ebooks" range from 80% Myshare to 35% myshare of retail. Nothing is standard. You control everything. Good luck.

  3. Rightio Maryann! In this wacky new pub world we're in, it's hard to tell who's doing what anymore... except we're still writing and illustrating books people want to read. It's the delivery system that is in flux. And payment, of course.

    CC I'm sorry to hear you're feeling so bad but hopefully new avenues will open up that will work for you.

  4. Agents need to be on your side wholeheartedly or what's the point? If they're both your advocate and someone you need to negotiate with there's a conflict of interest.

  5. Well said, Amy. I agree that agents should not be someone you have to negotiate with beyond the original deal you make with them for their percentage, what expenses each one of you should pay and how you can end the relationship should that be necessary.


  6. It has been pointed out by the Authors Guild that when a publisher sells a subsidiary right, they are acting as an agent and shouldn’t get such a big percentage as they often do (50% in many cases.)

  7. I am not comfortable with the idea of introducing someone as Agents in E publishing! Every writer now has the option of self-publishing their manuscripts!

  8. What if your illustrator and publisher are one and the same? I'm collaborating with someone who will create 3D graphics for my stories, and he will also be the "publisher," responsible for uploading the books to amazon and any marketing/distributing. He proposes a 70/30 split (30 to me) because of the time required to create the graphics. Is this fair?