Thursday, August 18, 2011

Agent-Publishers: The Reader Perspective

Agents-as-publishers has been a heated topic for the past few weeks. There have been any number of discussions on personal blogs and public forums that, in general, focus on the pros and cons from the business perspective of the writer.

What I've seen fewer of are discussions around how the average reader will be affected. By average, I simply mean the reader who isn't interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations of how a book gets into her hands.

Where do readers find their books online? Have Amazon and BN made their storefronts so enticing and easy-to-purchase-and-navigate that they are the first choice for readers to head when they need a new book? Or do the storefronts for niche small and micro publishers draw more readers in? Will readers rejoice in the proliferation of publishing sites that will soon litter the internet or will they turn to a small number of favorites they already know and love?

For those readers browsing Amazon who say they will not read an indie-published book, what criterion(a) are they using? Is it size of the publishing company? Number of titles? Authors represented? And will agent-published books meet that criterion in the average reader's mind?

The thing is, while there's anecdotal evidence on the internet about readers who discern between traditionally published books and indie books, the larger reader audience is pretty much unaware of how to distinguish the two when they're buying online from a store like Amazon. Will that help or hurt agent-publishers' positions?

Invariably, publishing-savvy discussions turn to quality. Twenty years ago, a fixed number of publishers could only buy a fixed number of books. Good books got turned away if there wasn't room on the list. Ten years ago, more of those good books were able to find homes in niche e-stores. Today, supply still outstrips demand. There are no firm statistics, but agents have anecdotally disclosed that somewhere between 30% and 60% of the books they try to sell don't, and that the traditional market is tightening so much they are turning away submissions they would have snatched up 10 years ago. By agents' own confessions, lots of good books they feel deserve an audience are going unpublished.

Will the average reader care if a book was a front-runner or a second-place finisher? Will an agent-publisher list bear the stigma of being a stable full of also-rans or carry the same mark of quality a traditional publishing house does?

Many of you are querying agents right now. If an agent told you they love the book but don't think they can sell it to a traditional house and offered to take you on as one of their agent-published authors, would you consider their offer?


Beckah-Rah said...

Yeah, I probably would. They're sure to be better at publicizing it than I would if I did the self-pup route.

Kay said...

It would depend on the agent. If Rachelle Gardner or someone from Dystel and Goderich, I would definitely jump at the chance to work with these people. I'm not sure who else is looking in this direction, so it would be a case by case decision. I'd thoroughly research the agent and the agency and if all felt good, I'd look at the offer as an opportunity.