Should your literary agent offer ebooks? Smashwords says yes
In 2012, Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords.com, argued that literary agents are best poised to help authors exercise all their rights by offering authors ebooks (without going through publishers). He cited seven trends in the publishing marketplace that were making this dramatic change possible:
Corker’s first three trends seem obvious:
(1) Bookstores continue to decline (Barnes & Nobles’ sales were down 3.5 percent in fiscal 2016);
(2) More content is available now than ever before; and
(3) Reading is moving to screens of all sizes–not just dedicated readers but also smartphones and tablets.
(4) His fourth point still seems visionary, that ebooks will surpass print. Does Coker mean in how we access information? Perhaps. He surely is right in how ebooks get consumed: a discover-sample-buy-and-read proposition.
Or, does he mean in sales? That seems to be a long road ahead, in spite of the next two trends.
(5) Publishers are losing primacy; they no longer control press or distribution or best-seller access or even highest royalty rates.
Here is where I pause. Traditional publishers still send out a siren call of prestige to many first-time authors. To be sure, authors want a return on their investment of time and creativity. More than that, however, they want to be perceived as far above the typical. And an imprint connected to one of the big five publishers seems to accomplish this.
(6) The rise f indie ebooks offers high royalty rates (50-80 percent) and can earn more royalty or commission on an ebook sale than on a print copy of the same book.
We can appeal to laughing all the way to the bank. Yet, for many authors, that laughing is the result of a big publisher connection more than a wad of cash. (Think here about telling your friends that you just got a commission check from your Smashwords or your HarperCollins book.)
Where I think agents can assist new authors is in building platforms (or tribes). This can be done quickly and at low cost.
Agents can manage service provider relationships for (1) professional editing, (2) cover design, (3) ebook formatting, (4) ebook distribution, (5) marketing and publicity, and (6) back office functions–as the author agrees to up front.
I agree with Coker: It is not a conflict of interest for agents to facilitate publishing services because the agent’s job is to maximize the commercial opportunity for author clients and because the agent’s financial interests are aligned with the author’s.
(See Association of Authors’ Representatives, Canon of Ethics, for other aspects of the author-agent relationship.)
Most authors would rather spend their time on writing and revision rather than publisher responsibilities.