Digital Book World: New models for agents
January 25, 2011 | 2:23 pm
By Paul Biba
Emily Williams, BSIG, moderator; Jim Levine, Levine/Greenberg Literary Agency; Scott Waxman, Waxman Literary Agency; Steve Ross, Abrams Artists Agency
Williams: publishers not buying as many books and on the other side have self-publishing upsurge. Agents getting squeezed. Traditionally the agent gets paid only if the author gets paid. With alternatives is no advance so how does an agent get paid when the agent does the functions that the publisher used to do, i.e., editing, pr, etc.
Levine: combined agency and author services for the last 20 years. Not a publisher but think of themselves as multi-media producers. Not just the agent role of making deals, but orchestrating the talent and finding the money to make the project work. Found, for example, an author trying to sell a book but it really worked best as an app. Took it to Vook and they published it. Maybe a book will come out of it later. For each project try to figure out which media, what timing; for example, sold a business book which will come out first as an ebook, then 6 months later as a trade book and then later as an app. As agents use straight 15% domestic, 20% foreign. On new projects try to figure out who does the work, who takes the risk and adjust accordingly. Very much based on trust and will vary from project to project. If they fund it, for example, they get more. Gone back and chery-picked backlist multi-media rights to see what rights are available to see if they can do it or go to the publisher and make him do it.
Waxman: Traditional agency. Wanted to explore the opportunities in publishing electronically. Set up a system to do a full publishing process for client’s electronic books. Fair amount of trial and error. Need to have authors that are flexible and experiment with you because this is a completely new area. Not every author wants to do things the same way. Some authors want to be involved and maybe even pay for part of the process so they get one deal, other authors don’t want to do anything and so get a different financial deal. The authors who are most involved in the marketing of their own books should be the first choice to try to do this because they understand how to reach an audience. Deals with other agents as well and work with them to help them publish the book. Authors can get more revenue than from traditional methods. Used to be a very firm business model for being an agent. Now need to be very flexible and when find new opportunities beyond the traditional book deal need to devise compensation on an individual basis. No one has figured out how to sell books online yet. Social media has a long ways to go. It isn’t yet worth spending a lot of money to market ebooks online yet. The big challenge is to figure out how much to invest.
Ross: an agent for about 6 months. Work for a talent agency who handles media people. Director of book division and provides a consulting services. Fewer titles being published, many editors, marketers and publicists out of work. With publisher consolidations agents can’t sell products to companies. Self publishing on the rise. Decided to set up a consulting service for self-published authors and within 10 days had more clients than could handle. On services side clients pay him by the month to guide them through the process: introduces them to editors, designer, marketers, etc. On the agency side provides agency services to existing Abrams clients. Sometimes, with the same client, goes from being a consultant to a traditional agent and vice versa. In this time of rapid change need to be fluid in the use of options. Role has a lot of “career management” to manage client’s exposure and brand. Deals are done client by client. Uses a single page, very loose written agreement.