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Criticism, Digital Media, Fiction, Publishing, The Writer's Life

Your Agent as Your E-Publisher: E Does Not Mean Ethical

In past blogs I’ve intimated that with the advent of e-publishing, literary agents may find their niche in the publishing industry in jeopardy. Traditional publishers will monitor e-book sales and approach successful writers directly for deals, leaving agents on the margins. Agents, I said, would have to redefine their role in the publishing process.

Well apparently some already have. (One of the advantages of the modern, electronic world is that such predictions may come to pass in months or days, instead of years.)

According to a post by Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware, several agencies have begun to offer a new “service” to their clients—e-publishing. The premise is the agency will handle aspects of e-publishing for writers whose books are out of print or for those whose books they “believe in” but just couldn’t make a publishing deal. These agencies are charging the usual 15% fee for this service.

Strauss makes some very strong points about the conflict of interest inherent in such a writer/agent relationship, the most obvious being that if an agent is supposed to be the writer’s advocate in a publishing deal, how can they maintain that role if they are also the publisher?

Perhaps in the future writers will need an agent to negotiate with their agent.

The struggle for survival in the publishing world is fascinating to watch, and should serve as a reminder to writers of where the underlying interests of their agents lay.

I can hardly wait to see how this all plays out. The insecurity writers feel about the publishing business forces us to spend way too much time researching trends, worrying about the industry’s future, and adjusting our priorities to cope. That isn’t good for the quality of writing.

Fast forward (maybe not too far) to when the traditional publishing industry collapses. What will rise from the rubble?


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


3 thoughts on “Your Agent as Your E-Publisher: E Does Not Mean Ethical

  1. This seems like a major conflict of interest. Besides the ethical implications, I wonder if there are any legal implications.

    Posted by cpurcel1 | July 2, 2011, 1:38 PM
  2. Great points. Some “direct buy” is already happening at outfits like http://www.coffetownpress.com. They mostly publish e-books, but offer print on demand. They take direct submissions, stating: “You do not need to go through an agent, but agent submissions are welcome.”

    Posted by Claire Gebben | July 24, 2011, 4:01 PM
    • Hi Claire,
      I’d be interested to know if they actually review submissions and only take ones they deem worthy of publishing, or if they accept everything that comes to them, like Smashwords.

      Posted by jpon | July 25, 2011, 10:43 PM

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