There’s a spirited conversation on Wiley publisher Joe Wikert’s blog about whether computer book authors benefit from using an agent. David Rogelberg and Claudette Moore have chimed in, and so have I. Here’s my post, though it’s probably worth visiting the link and reading what the other agents have to say:
I posted something about this in a response to a question about agency commissions this morning and I’ll repeat it here, though admittedly it duplicates much of what Claudette and David say —
“A better question might be “where does an agent earn his 15%?” In the tech book world this is a fair question as we’re in a relatively small industry and there are plenty of author listservs, lots of contract info that’s readily available, and easy access to acquisition editors.
“I earn my money in prospecting for titles the author might not have found on his or her own, managing schedules and publisher expectations to ensure that my author has very little down time between projects, working out conflicts in the editorial and production process, helping to find a co-author or contributor when we’re in a jam, and packaging new ideas for publishers. On this basis on some projects I’m probably overpaid and on others I am most certainly underpaid.”
Joe, your post is great for igniting passions but I’d like to add to this discussion the fact that I, as an agent, and probably the others who have posted here, have often come up with authors to help un-agented authors bailing on their own un-agented Wiley projects. I’ve worked with every group at Wiley from the trade group, computer group and business group, so you might imagine I would also take some offense. That said, the agents have stated their case quite well.
The bigger question (as far I’m concerned) is do my authors need Wiley? Can we get a better deal, or find more ownership, or more timely advance payments elsewhere? And ultimately, in some emerging markets, do they need an agent or publisher at all? And what can I do to help them deal with this changing landscape?
I have about 5 books in development with various Wiley groups as I speak so I won’t pretend that I’ve made this decision. But you’ve been with several companies Joe, and you know that as publishers become bigger and more hide-bound they often become arrogant, less creative, and tighter-fisted. In that case it’s good to work with someone keeping an eye out for greener pastures. That’s what an agent does, and some authors might manage it quite well on their own, ala Mr. Mike Miller, and others definitely benefit from the advice, and counsel of an agent.
On the trade side of things there’s no doubt that an agent is almost an essential accessory to help cut through the signal to noise ratio, but even that’s changing as editors become more wired.