Literary Agents: Who are They?

Although separate entities from both publishing houses and authors, literary agents are extremely important to the publishing process as a whole. Although not often talked about in major news regarding publishing and the operation of large publishing houses, a Q&A published by Independent Publisher revealed that “the larger publishing houses will only accept submissions through agents, so authors should try to get an agent if they know they want a big-to-midsize publisher.” For those who wish to strike a deal with one of the Big 5 publishing houses, an agent might be an author’s only chance at getting in.

Much like the rest of the publishing industry, however, the responsibilities and roles of literary agents are slowly starting to shift with the advent of new technology and the push to go digital. Now more than ever, agents are beginning to pick up more public image and public relations responsibilities. Much of this is due to the fact that online reviews and feedback from the audience are more available than ever on the internet. As a result of more potential for author/audience interaction, many agents must make more calls on what reviews or comments are worth responding to, and which are not. In this sense, many of their responsibilities begin to overlap with the responsibilities of publicity and marketing teams within the publishing houses themselves.

Furthermore, literary agents must polish and edit the material before submitting it to the publishing house. Due to the fact that agents are paid on commission, only getting paid if the author is published, agents are very concerned with the content that is presented to the publishing house. Larger houses that have extensive teams that all work together are generally “looking for the whole package when acquiring a book: well-written, well-executed plot, commercial hook, possible platform to build-on or create based on the project/author,” etc. So, in a sense, literary agents act more as a buffer or a channel for communication and negotiation between the publishing house and the author.

With the advent of start-ups like Blurb (mentioned in a previous post), however, literary agents might soon become a relic of the past. When asked a similar question, Sandra Bond, stated that she doesn’t “think the big publishing houses are going anywhere soon, so agents will [continue to] play a role in submitting what they think is the best work to them.” As platforms like Blurb begin to grow and become more popular, however, how the role of literary agents changes or adapts will be an interesting aspect of the industry to track.


Blurb: The Importance of Collaboration in the Age of Self-Publishing

A quick google search for “book publishing” will yield a number of links to self-publishing websites, articles with tips and tricks, and  lists of do’s and don’ts. Amidst these search results was a link for a self-publishing start-up named Blurb.

Blurb stood out from many of the other links and publishing websites due to a number of different reasons. First, Blurb provides a publishing outlet for professional print books, magazines, or e-books, whereas many other organizations specialize in only one of the three. Furthermore, Blurb has its own “bookstore” based on tags so consumers can easily search for content that appeals to their own personal interest. Interestingly enough, Blurb’s set-up appeared to mirror the organization of many of the Big 5 publishing houses in the sense that every stage of the publishing process is available in one place, or ‘in-house’: beginning with formatting and pricing, to the creation, and then finally the sale and distribution of the content.

One of Blurb’s most unique features, however, is the emphasis placed on collaboration. One of the major benefits of working with a major publishing house over self-publishing are the teams of editors, designers, and marketers who help to create and distribute an author’s work.

Under the “create” tab on their website, there is a new marketplace for authors to hire collaborators in one convenient location. Blurb refers to their new marketplace as an area to find “Dream Team Collaborators” for authors to find and hire professionals like editors, cover artists, illustrators, designers, photographers, and more.

This so-called Dream Team Marketplace has been applauded for creating collaborator profiles that link prior work and collaborator portfolios, and for allowing authors to give feedback to ensure that only the best of the best are available for hire. Supposedly, “Blurb has plans to improve the Dream Team marketplace over time based on the needs of authors. The marketplace will eventually add new types of collaborators like ghost writers, publishing business managers, marketers, publicists, and more. The idea, Gittins said, is to slowly transform Dream Team into a platform that offers all the services of a traditional book publisher, and then some.” Startups like Blurb should be an interesting development to the publishing industry, and may even have the potential to change the business model as a whole.