Tackling the profound yet elusive changes in the marketplace that affect the relationship between authors and agents, a panel of veteran literary agents discussed the ways in which they now approach their jobs in the Thursday BookExpo panel “Beyond Authors: Self-Publishing & the 'New' Agents.”
Moderated by Christopher Kenneally of the Copyright Clearance Center, panelists Robert Gottlieb, Jason Ashlock, Rachelle Gardner, and Steven Axelrod were asked to describe their perspectives on the current situation that alternates between formats: digital, self-publishing, and traditional publishing.
Gardner, founder of Books & Such Literary Management said, “Today I always ask an author, ‘What do you want out of your publishing career?’ I find out what kind of personality type they are, whether they can handle being a small business owner as a self-publisher, or not. I often find that authors still value agents.” Gardner said that, as an agent, she must connect authors not just with publishers, but readers as well.
Gottlieb, who heads Trident Media Group, presented a positive attitude about the evolving formats of book publishing. “The changes present new opportunities for traditional publishers,” he said. “In the beginning, most houses were stunned by the changes in the marketplace, but publishers have now pivoted and adjusted. E-books are a viable portion of every author’s career, and for the publishers as well.”
Trident has a staff of five that works exclusively with e-tailers, Gottlieb said. These staffers visit Amazon and Apple to discuss their clients, and assist authors in re-negotiating their contracts, “including all revenue streams. We don’t play a simply transactional role in our clients’ careers; it’s much more than that,” he emphasized.
Axelrod has an eponymous literary agency, and represents bestselling author Amanda Hocking, who shot to fame as a self-published novelist before turning to traditional publishing. “In Amanda’s case,” said Axelrod, “she was relieved and happy to turn all the work over to St. Martin’s."
Speaking to how Hocking's situation is representative of a larger trend, Axelrod said that "there’s been a real shift with writers, who used to want an agent out of fear of not getting published. They take a more active role now, and ask agents, ‘What can you do for me?’" Axelrod believes many authors now want an agent "who can navigate the complexities and get them the best deal.”
Ashlock, who is a content strategist and product designer, doesn’t like the word ‘agent’ anymore. “I think of myself as more of a 'radical mediator' for writers that might be referred to as hybrid authors, weighing the value of both traditional and self-publishing.”
Speaking of the current antagonism between Amazon and Hachette, Axelrod said, “Amazon wants to suck up the publishers’ profits. This is a potentially disastrous situation for all concerned. The whole concept is under siege. It forces all of us to really earn our keep.”
But Gottlieb rejected that negativity. “We’re going to survive this,” he said. “The most important thing I’ve learned from all the changes is that you have to reinvent yourself every day, and that applies to authors, publishers, and agents as well.”