Tuesday, November 21, 2017

literary agencies that also offer, "book development and custom publishing"

May I ask your opinion of literary agencies that also offer, "book development and custom publishing?" Is this the same thing as a vanity press? Some of the titles on their website are best sellers and one of the agents has a mswl tailor made for my book. I feel like that means it's too good to be true?
Some years back the answer would have been an instant and heartfelt RUN!
With the advent of ebooks, the lines blurred a LOT.

Some very reputable agents started ebook publishing companies to get their client's backlist into ebook form directly, rather than having the client split the money with the print publisher. That seems like a good idea, but it's a very prickly situation when the agent is making money from a book that is beyond the earned commission.

AAR is pretty clear on this: the agents that operate these companies can't be members of AAR.

Which is not to say they're doing something sketchy. Most of them aren't.

But "custom publishing" is code for vanity press. There's a place for this kind of publishing, there's nothing wrong with it. Vanity presses provide the front half service a publisher does: they get a book into print. What they don't do is get it into the retail market. That's not a flaw, that's their business model. 

For example David Rockefeller's memoir was first published by a private publisher called Easton Press

The problem is if an agent directs authors to the vanity press, rather than selling the work to a publisher.

Much like "editorial services" run by agents on the side the opportunities for abuse are both large and small.

I googled the agency using those terms and they're pretty upfront about what they do. I take that as a good sign. They've sold books I've heard of by writers I recognize. Also a good sign.

I'd skulk around Absolute Write to see what other writers say, but as long as everyone is transparent, this is a new world, and things are changing.

Not for me of course. I'd go back to querying on paper and dial phones if I could (although I really do love this spiffy new phone that lets me take pictures of all sorts of fun things awesome rulers of the sofa.)


Theresa said...

There's something reassuring about seeing DoY's face first thing in the morning.

Very informative post about changing times.

Craig F said...

Sounds like an almost perfect match for all of those"important" books that aren't commercial. The kind of books that can make a big splash with a non-profit with a message. I have been given some inspirational books that were probably been done this way.

May also be a great publisher of last chance for those who don't want to exactly self publish.

BunnyBear said...

Theresa, I think that's Loaner Cat, not the Duchess of Yowl. But still an awesome specimen of the feline variety.

Donnaeve said...

"...I'd go back to querying on paper and dial phones if I could."

You would? But. Hang on. I recollect a time when your query pile was quivering under the sheer weight of all that had come in, and I made the "innocent" suggestion about going back to snail mail. Ya know, to slow the amount coming in.

If I remember correctly, I believe I was taken to task for it, or rather, you laid out the case for why this was a crazy idea, one of them being someone would have to trudge down to the Post Office to mail back replies in those handy dandy SASE's.

But to the OP's question...times, they are a changing. I really have nothing to add.

Belated congrats to the winner of the FF contest, Richelle!

Nathan Holland said...

Coming in late here, but Congrats Richelle.

julieweathers said...

Also coming in late. I caught up on the rest of the contest entries this morning before babysitting duty. Congratulations to Richelle. That was a wonderful entry and so thought provoking and sad. They all were as usual. I didn't understand the grave in the living room, but apparently I wasn't alone.

Someone who is working on a query mentions she has a book published with a small press. I looked it up and from all appearances, it looks like a company that puts out self-published books. Contact us for costs, etc. She says her book through them wasn't self published and wants to leave it as a publishing credit in her query, but I'm wondering how agents will look at it.

Does it even matter?

Sherry Howard said...

Times are changing, and it's hard to keep up. I know several writers self-publishing and making a decent living. It takes a while, they are full-time writers, and they handle it like a regular job. One of them switched to self-publishing for the money. It's fun to be in the bleachers, but not sure I'd want to carry that ball!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

How about self-chiseling in stone and smoke signals?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I noticed this same thing with several smaller houses (back when I was up to my eyeballs in research). They present themselves as traditional, their submission guidelines for querying are clear, and they only publish a few select titles a year. But there was a "other services we offer" page. A writer could purchase a package which included everything from editing entire manuscripts to cover design and seeing your book in print.

A close friend was just here for a long weekend. She's the author of three books and went the self-published route. Of course, we had lengthy discussions about all this. She revealed that her amazon.com sales bring in about $500 to $600 a month. Peanuts to some, but I'll add that she is thrilled. Thrilled! It takes the edge off a bill or two and allows her to do a few simple yet fun things in her life. The journey is what you make it, and maybe a big-time career isn't for everyone. And that's okay. Write on!

RosannaM said...

Times they are a changing. Indeed, and sometimes I feel like I am wildly running as someone keeps ratcheting up the speed on my treadmill. As far as OP's question goes, I'd just do as much research as I could and then go with my gut.

Richelle Elberg said...

Morning all, thanks again for all the congrats. It sure feels nice.

I have self-published 2 novels and, in hindsight, that was my own impatience. I had some agents read some pages but no takers and got fed up. I had an agent for a year back in '13 but she was a newbie, and in Italy and in hindsight she wasn't the right person to help me make it to the next level. Vanity can be such a counter productive thing! Her glowing praises were a balm, but they didn't push me to the next level. Both novels could be good with some more work, at least I like to think so. Neither is BAD, just weren't good enough to break through. I read yesterday that The Help was rejected 60 times before an agent took a chance on it. That was eye opening!!

My current work in progress does indeed build on the premise of my FF entry. In fact, that first paragraph is more or less from my query in progress which I keep at the top of the file and play with when I'm waiting for inspiration on the actual novel.

I have vowed to take this novel to it's absolute best before querying (which honestly, I thought I did before, but you can always see the flaws better after a few years pass) and then I will not stomp my feet and rush the file onto Amazon in a huff. If The Help needed 60 queries, I might need 100. But I won't give up!!

Colin Smith said...

Just dropping in... I'm making a mad marathon run for the NaNoWriMo finish line today. Just over 3k words to write. I don't have much to add to this topic anyway. You can't go wrong with being transparent and communicating. If it's shady, it's usually disguised with clever language, or put in the small print somewhere. If the agency's upfront about what they're doing, they clearly feel on good legal and moral ground to do what they do. It then becomes a question of whether that fits with the kind of agent/agency with which you want to do business.

I've said before, I think, that I have misgivings about agents who are also published writers. There are opportunities for conflict of interest, and also questions about how committed she can be to her clients' writing careers when she has her own writing career. BUT, there is nothing legally or morally wrong with agents being published writers too. Entry-level agents usually have some other means of income while they are building their list, so there's no reason why that second income stream couldn't come from writing books. I think this situation is similar. Not wrong, but a matter of what you're comfortable with. And if the right agent comes along, I might be prepared to overlook my misgivings for the sake of being represented by the best agent for my career.

Rambling. Back to the NaNo project... :)

BJ Muntain said...

SFWA's Writer Beware advises against using vanity presses, as they tend to be less than honest. There may be honest ones, but there is a huge potential for dishonesty in this type of press. Hybrid publishers may be better, but some are simply vanity presses trying to seem less dishonest.

Print-on-demand, self-publishing, etc., are generally better for the author. Print-on-demand, or simply going to a printing press, is less costly than a vanity publisher, and you're more likely to get what you pay for without being pressured into spending more. True, they don't provide editing or marketing, but many vanity presses lie about these things, anyway.

As for agents offering publishing services... be careful. Do your research - some ways to check are included in the above SFWA link. They include buying books that publisher has put out, checking the Absolute Write forum on Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check, or even contacting Writer Beware at beware [at] sfwa [dot] org to see if they have had any complaints.

BJ Muntain said...

And Writer Beware also has an article on agents, with a section specifically on agents who offer publishing services. Some good thoughts here on what to look out for.

Karen McCoy said...

Times they are a-changing, indeed. I always wonder what brings on a change like this--are agencies offering book development and publishing because they're getting less traction on the trad side? Or perhaps there's another reason I'm unaware of?

From a purchasing standpoint, as a former library selector, I know it's difficult for librarians to justify purchasing anything outside the Big 5 book publishers unless it's a local author or a patron request.

Karen McCoy said...

And I'm with you, Richelle. And rooting for you. Indeed, these contests help motivate us woodland creatures to conquer what often seem like insurmountable odds.