Everyone Knows This is True usually means it's not

My fellow writers and I have noticed a trend. It takes longer and longer for agents to get back to people. These days, agents routinely take six months to get through the process of reading partials and fulls before offering a contract.

But when I thought about the fact that advances are down, it made sense. Authors used to be like silvery fish, now we're krill. Agents must suck in vast amounts of us to make the most modest salary. To make things worse, publishing money seems to be moving toward non-fiction, big-book authors with clear platforms -- people who don't need agents.

Because of the increasing delays in dealing with agents, many of my friends have stopped submitting to them and are submitting to the few editors who allow it. More than half of my recently pubbed friends sold by going straight to an editor.

So here's my question: If the math demands a 70-client list, but an agent can't effectively deal with 70 clients, will agents become a thing of the past?

You've made some very interesting assumptions.

1. Advances are the sum total of an author's income
2. Agent's "routinely" take six months to read something
3. "Big authors" with "big platforms" don't need agents

When your thesis is based on three false assumptions, it's really hard to engage in dialogue. I guess I'll go count my meager earnings and avoid reading partials.


Anonymous said...

Here's a sidebar question: If you had an author approach you with, "Well, I got this offer from DorkPubs, would you represent me, take a look at the contract (since I'm a nitwit) and take your 15% of all proceeds," would you do it? Or would it tick you off that the author didn't query you first? Would you do it for someone you (oh the shame) rejected?

Elektra said...

Miss Snark actually answered this question once...I'm too inept to link, but check the Snarkives

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...and just how many books has that person sold--as an agent--that he or she has a clue about your job?

Oh, gotcha, left that info out!


Anonymous said...

(1) could be a logical, though erroneous, extrapolation if the sample population ("my fellow writers and I") have never earned out an advance, but consider increasing the sample size.

(2) likewise, could be a logical extrapolation if the sample population's agent(s) does need six months or more to slog through one of their submissions.

(3) appears to be an untested hypothesis and is clearly not accounted for in the sample group. More evidence needed.

Also the math appears to be flawed, and unfortunately no points at all as you failed to show your working...


Jennette said...

Related to this is an interesting post by Nadia Cournier on Romancing the Blog yesterday. She details how much time and money it costs to shop a book, which makes one wonder how an agent can take on any new author. It also gives one a much better understanding of how much an agent must love a book and how much confidence she must have that it will sell, in order to sign said new author.

Rick said...

This is a pretty natural mistake (but still a mistake). Most of us here are unpubbed writers trying to break in. To us, the agent's role as gatekeeper is supremely important - so much that we tend to think of the agent's 15 percent as her reward for getting us past the dead letter slushpile and into an editor's hands. We're not thinking about the Latvian rights yet.

Jennette - I suspect that 15 percent of an agent's clients earn 75 percent of her money. She take new writers because they might turn out to be one of that 15 percent.

For that matter, so might one of her current just-getting-by clients. Bestselling authors don't always get that way on their first published book (in fact, I suspect that most don't). But when a writer does deliver a breakout book, their half dozen previous books aren't out of print and half-forgotten anymore - suddenly they are hot properties.

Bernita said...

It also gives the economic rationale behind those agents who charge "reading fees" - though that was not her intent.