Here’s a post on the Bookseller by the pseudonymous Agent Orange, a UK literary agent who I’ve cited in these pages before. He or she notes the overall decline in power of the agent—it used to be important for editors to stay on agents’ good sides so as to be sure the agent would show them the good stuff. But over the last few years, the market has changed, and suddenly agents are having a hard time selling even their best stuff.
As the balance of power has shifted, so standards of behaviour have shifted. It was once important for editors to stay on the good side of agents (or else they wouldn’t send you their best stuff); now calls go unreturned, submissions languish unread. It isn’t just a question of the move from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market, there is also more than a whiff of the boot being on the other foot now. Or should that be neck?
Orange goes on to offer some advice to editors on respecting agents and authors and not wasting their time. It’s interesting to note the shift in agent/author relations Orange didn’t mention, though. It seems that whereas agents used to work for the author, now they’re more and more commonly in the publisher’s pocket. Small wonder that many writers are beginning to conclude agents are no longer necessary. (To say nothing of probably not needing one if you self-publish—until and unless a big publisher wants to pick up your work and you’re inclined to consider it.)
Meanwhile, two large literary agencies just announced a merger—Spanish-language literary agent Carmen Balcells and Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie are merging their agencies. The combined agency will represent over 1,000 writers including 13 Nobel Prize winners. Puts me in mind of how all the major publishers ended up merging and combining until we now only have five left.
“The impact of the merger will be to empower the top authors, who will need powerful representation to maintain their status with the increasingly powerful global companies that influence publishing and bookselling decisions,” Spanish publishing consultant Javier Celaya told Publishing Perspectives.
I’d be inclined to wonder, though, what the authors who aren’t “top” will get.