Every year a new surprise breakout author rises up from the ashes of literary despair.
In the past we've seen JK Rowling and James Frey fill the bill. But this year’s breakout author is different in some pretty remarkable aspects. Not only is she self-published, yet she works with an established literary agent. Her name is Amanda Hocking and she's a 26 year paranormal YA author who not only has one book listed on the USA Today Top 150 bestseller's List, she's got half a dozen.
Her kick assness on Kindle alone led the Chief Amazon honcho to officially declare "The fall of the paper curtain!" But it leads me to ponder something else. We all know that big publishers are no longer needed in order for an author to succeed in this business. In fact, we now know that authors like Aaron Patterson, LJ Sellers, Scott Nicholson, JA Konrath, and many others have proven that not only do you not need NYC to make money, you don't need a publisher, big or small, in order to make a very good living....like, potential millionaire kind of living. All you need is Amazon and the world's ever growing population of Kindle Kats.
So then, if the world of publishing is indeed witnessing a coup that will have Mr. Simon and Mr. Schuster bunking alongside Hosni Mubarak, what is to be done with the world's literary agents? Are they a necessary ingredient in the overall American literary pie breakout success story? Or has their role become obsolete in the wake of digital publishing, much like the brick and mortar store?
I've had lots of agents in the past. Slick ones, young ones, mature ones, honest ones, and a couple of liars who'd make even the sleaziest Used Car Salesman rock hard. But I had those agents back in the day when you wrote a novel, and the agent took months or even years to shop it around to the Big Six. On occasion I’ve been lucky to nail a sale, but mostly I've been unlucky.
Now, my publishers, StoneHouse Ink and StoneGate Ink, are indie houses reliant predominantly on Kindle and E-Book sales, even though our titles are also published in trade paperback. Since signing with this new publisher, my sales have skyrocketed, and I've hit something like 8 different Amazon bestseller lists. Last week alone, I had three different titles in the Amazon Top 100 Hard-Boiled Bestsellers: THE REMAINS, THE INNOCENT, and my special edition combo with No. 1 Bestselling Amazon Kindle author (and my publisher) Aaron Patterson, “SWEET DREAMS/THE REMAINS.” You might think with this kind of success fueling my career, I might skip the agent altogether and pocket my well-earned 15% on top of a hefty 50% which I earn from every Kindle and E-Book sold.
But, like Amanda Hocking, I choose not to.
Like Amanda, I choose instead to be represented by a literary agent. And a very good one at that.
Why hang onto an agent when the argument for not having one is a strong one (think about what you might do with an additional 15% in your pocket)?
Unlike Amanda, I don't self publish. Not yet anyway. My deals, like the one’s I made with Delacorte Press and Bantam/
But I’m sure Amanda would agree that today's agent provides more than just contract negotiation and business expediting. Agents are still necessary because:
-they provide manuscript critiques.
-they can place your manuscript not only with your domestic publisher, but they can seek out foreign rights.
-they seek out audio rights.
-they seek out film and TV rights.
-they can get you ghosting gigs if you're into that kind of thing.
-they can play the roll of the 'bad cop' when I require something from my publisher (like a payment), and I don't feel comfortable jeopardizing my friendship with him by having to hound him for it.
Of course there are other reasons why agents remain necessary in this day and age of indie breakout authors and self-published millionaires. Another reason is that you need someone with industry knowledge who is on your side, more than your own mother is. You also need someone to give you a kick in the glutes now and again when you're screwing up.
I'm lucky in that both my agent, Chip MacGregor and my friend and publisher, Aaron Patterson, can provide both of those things for me. Hopefully I reciprocate the relationships with some damn good books. After all, their efforts are allowing me the time and freedom to write. I have an obligation to do it and do it well.
Congratulations Amanda. You will now require a secretary to field all the calls you're going to get from many slick agents who will want to steal you away from your present agent. I suspect you’ll get a call or two from William Morris (been there, done that, hang up on the bastards!) But you seem like an entirely cool woman, not only because of your talent and success, but you also play guitar in a punk band. Is there anything cooler than girl guitar player????
And as for you dear would-be author or established author: If you decide to go with an agent, choose wisely and choose well. And once you choose make certain you sign a contract which will free you from their grips after only 30 days if they end up crapping out on you. Remember, a bad agent is worse than not having one at all. But if you choose one you like…a reputable one signed to all the right agent organizations like AAR…make certain they earn their 15%. After all, it’s quite possible you are going to make that agent very, very, very rich.