What Is the Future For Literary Agents?

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What Is the Future For Literary Agents? by Tim Sanders

January 31, 2013

In my career as an author, I've benefitted from having a great literary agency, Dupree Miller and Associates.  They helped me take my idea for a book and my platform, and package it for major publishers.  The result was a mid six figure advance, accomplished in less than a year from concept to contract.  Along the way, they secured a writing partner for me early on, helping with the book proposal on speculation.  When the book was in production, Jan and Shannon managed publishing politics to make sure I was getting adequate attention. 

When the book was published, my agents made sure I was getting adequate resources from book tour support (this was 2002, when there were still tours) to publicity efforts.  They secured endorsements of my book by their clients (from Covey to Dr. Phil) that really helped make the book credible and newsworthy.  Jan Miller got me booked to speak at the annual Morning Show Bootcamp conference, where I was introduced to several hundred on-air personalities that could promote my book.  Her office followed up by acting as my radio PR manager, lining up a few hundred radio interviews in a three month period, which led to my book getting on the New York Times bestseller list 11 months after publication! 

Later, they went through the process again and again, as I had new ideas that later became successfully published books.  That's what great literary agents can do for you: Proposal Management, Deal Making and Value Added Services. 

In the new world of publishing, though, many of an agent's services aren't going to be the same as they were in the past.  For example, book proposals are incredibly inefficient with an author's time.  They take almost as long to write as the actual book, and much of their contents are superfulous to the reader.  Market analysis, marketing plans (which are always scrapped months later), extended biography, sample chapters, etc., all waste valuable time - but publishers demand them in order to calculate their advance offer and determine if the book is a fit for the economic model.  I believe in the future, aided by companies like Net Minds, the book proposal will go away and be replaced by a project creation tool that is not only efficient, but will provide potential partners or team members richer insight regarding the book's potential.

Then there's the deal making service.  Publishers are dramatically reducing their advance offers (10k is the new 50K, etc.), making the 15% that an agent earns pretty small VS the time they take to travel, negotiate, and serve these deals.  For authors seeking team or self-publishing, the 'deal' is merely a terms and conditions agreement which requires neither an agent or an attorney.  So, I believe a much smaller portion of authors will need to run the gauntlet of contract negotiations and acquisition by a traditional publisher. 

So what's going to the be role of the literary agent in the future?  I believe that they will reinvent themselves as literary producers (think project managers).  They add so much value in this regard, and many authors will need their services more than ever to select and manage their publishing team from editorial to packaging to promotion.  Literary producers will still receive a piece of the gross, likely something in the 10% range for these services (based on other media industries).  But since there's no more publisher layer to get through, they'll be able to work on many more book projects, and waste less time on managin proposals that never sell.

LIt-Producers will tap into their network of service providers to complete teams, manage tricky services like PR firms, and be just as indespinsible as ever to an author's success - especially those that are highly successful and too busy to manage the myriad details required to create a successful publishing process.  They will guide all the team members through the publication process, including managing their expectations.  They will even help authors price their books correctly, and choose the best release dates, based on competition.  They'll be a voice of reason for title and design issues as well.  These are all services that aren't disappearing like shelf space at Barnes and Noble.

I also think that they will discover people that don't even know they have a book in them, and package them for team or self-publishing, managing the process from soup to nuts.  The future of publishing is likely to be more of a Producer-To-Consumer model than the outdated Publisher-MiddleMan-Retailer-Reader model, which means that the secret to success will no longer be the deal, but instead, the project.  We will be creating a position on our system (Producer) to facilitate this opportunity for literary agents cum producers, and are excited to see how they will help us reinvent publishing. 

READ: The Art of Publishing Project Management

Tim Sanders

About Tim Sanders

Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.

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