And So It Begins

Some of you may remember how, approximately two years ago, several of us here started raising concerns about agents and literary agencies branching into publishing. We raised the question of conflict of interest (after all, how can an agent represent an author’s best interest in finding the optimal publishing contract when another arm of the agency is also a publisher?). Then there was the debacle — actually, it was pretty damned good theater — of Sarah’s detailing how she was ending the relationship with her agent at the time over these same concerns (there were other concerns as well, but the agency adding publishing to their duties was the tipping point.) Since then, more and more agencies have added what has sometimes been called agent-assisted publishing arms. The justification for such activities has been not to go into direct competition with traditional publishers but to give their clients an alternate way to bring out their backlist instead of doing it themselves.

Now, if I were a trusting soul, I’d buy that and never worry about conflict of interest. But I’m not a trusting soul and I’ve been waiting for the next phase of this agent/publisher mishmash to occur. Color me not surprised when one of the first pieces of publishing news I see this morning is the announcement that Skyhorse Publishing and International Transactions literary agency have inked an agreement to form a new imprint. Yep, you read that right —  a publisher and a literary agency are forming a publishing partnership.

You may remember Skyhorse Publishing. I blogged about the company back in April when it was announced that Skyhorse and Start would be taking over Night Shade Books. Back then, my concern was how the NSB authors would be treated in the takeover, especially considering the stories making the rounds about a take it or leave it offer from Skyhorse/Start that didn’t seem to come close to being good for said authors. For once SFWA stepped in and finally authors were given better terms and the buzz around Skyhorse died down.

International Transactions has been around much longer than Skyhorse. From their website: “Since 1975, Peter and Sandra Riva have specialized in international idea brokerage catering to multi-national, multi-lingual, licensing and rights’ representation of authors and publishers as well as producing award-winning television and other media. ” So, not your standard run-of-the-mill literary agency.

Or is it?

My concern still comes down to the potential for conflict of interest. According to Publishers Weekly, the new imprint, Yucca, will “feature both new and established authors who have ‘intent, literary strength, and fresh, new visions.’” Yucca will also be overseen by the head of International Transactions, Peter Riva. Yucca becomes the 12th imprint for Skyhorse and will have 20 books (digital and print) at its debut.

Now, I’ll admit up front that there are few — as in almost no — details about how the new imprint will operate or how it will get its new titles. So far, all I’ve seen about this new venture is the link to Publishers Weekly above and a brief note inShelf Awareness Pro.  From today’s newsletter: Tony Lyons, Skyhorse president and publisher, said, “As authors, agents, and publishers find new paradigms for publication, we want to be flexible and find new partners with new ideas.”

Flexibility is good. Especially right now in publishing. But I am not so sure that a literary agency — even one that may go beyond what most literary agencies do — and a publisher forming an imprint is a good thing. I’ll reserve judgment until we know more about how they will select their books and what their contracts look like. But, cynic that I am, I still find myself wondering how an agent or agency can best serve a writer when their boss is now the editor for a new literary imprint. So, for all who are considering submitting to Yucca when it opens to submissions — if it does. Again, we know nothing right now about their submission process, contracts, etc. — do your homework first. That’s especially true if you are also considering going to International Transactions to be your agent/representative. I’m not saying they are trying to pull anything. After all, I give the same advice no matter who the publisher or agent might be.

What I will also be looking for is any indication that this is the new “trend” in publishing. So, there will probably be more to come on this topic later.

In other news, sales of print books reported through Bookscan’s retail and club channel fell 2.5% last year. Now, before folks get too excited about this and say that isn’t too bad, note that the sales figures included, for the first time, Walmart sales. So the decline is going to be higher than 2.5%. In fact, looking at the decline in sales for the previous years, that decline is probably a great deal higher. That’s especially true when you consider that, according to the article, “BookScan captures point-of-sale data from outlets that Nielsen estimates sell about 80% of print units.” In other words, it probably captures, at most 50% of sales. Now, from an author’s point of view, it doesn’t matter if it is 50% or 80%, publishers use the Bookscan numbers to figure royalties and that means they are knowingly not paying royalties on every book sold.

Read that last paragraph, especially the last two sentences again. Bookscan /Nielsen “estimates” they are reporting 80% of print sales. So they admit their numbers are not accurate. Yet publishers continue to use these numbers to pay us for our work and they treat these numbers as gospel. Worse, too many of us are letting them get away with it. Why? Because these same authors are still so deep into the mindset that you don’t rock the publishing boat or you will never be offered a contract again or they are so enamored with being published by a “real” publisher that they don’t see the forest for the trees. Either way, authors are getting the very pointy end of a short stick.

So, again, do your research. Decide if the money you will get — if you are lucky enough to get an agent and then a publishing contract — is worth the time and effort you put into writing your book and all the promotional stuff you have to do afterwards. Then ask yourself if you might not make as much, if not more, going with a small press or going indie. I can’t answer the question for you because we each have our own needs and desires when it comes to publishing. For me, there is only one major publisher right now I’d go with — Baen. Other than that, I’ll go small press or indie until we see how things shake out in the industry.

(Cross-posted to Mad Genius Club.)

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