I’d been wondering what the recent explosion in self-publishing was going to mean for traditional publishers and, in particular, for literary agents. It’s been all too obvious lately with what it’s doing to bookshops. Several big chains have unfortunately gone under due to the rise in ebooks – Borders in the US and Angus and Robertson in Australia are two examples.
To a large extent, literary agents have always been the hangers-on in the publishing world. They’re not contributing original material, like the authors are. They’re not producing the finished goods, like the publishers are. They’re somewhere in the middle taking a cut of the author’s earnings.
So it looks like some agents are becoming ‘self-publishing enablers’, offering ‘assisted self-publishing’. They will undertake to do tasks such as reformatting the author’s manuscript into ebook friendly formats, organising cover design, uploading files to Amazon, Smashwords etc and drawing up marketing plans. These are all things the author could do on his or her own, with a very little bit of effort. First time is always the hardest preparing a manuscript for the digital market, as I know from experience, but once you’ve got the hang of what to do, it’s quick and straightforward. Most indie authors are up for doing as much as they can for themselves generally, so it remains to be seen how well this new agency role will catch on.
I was about to launch into a longer discussion of this, but then came across David Gaughran’s excellent discussion of the topic here. He has far more clout and involvement in the world of digital publishing and can discuss the area much more knowledgeably than I can. It’s interesting to see I’m not the only one who’s questioning the new route agents will take.