Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Q & A with Andrea Brown Agent Mary Kole: Indies & Agents Can Co-Exist

It seems to me that a lot of trad & indie authors have drawn a line in the sand. Them on one side, us on the other. I think there's room for all of us in this big world of publishing, but I know a lot of people don't feel that way.

Last year, Mary Kole, an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency thought self-publishing was a bad idea. At the time, I agreed with much of what she said. Since then I've changed my mind and when I read Mary's recent post Self-Publishing in Digital Times, where she admitted she might have been wrong, my jaw dropped.

The publishing world is evolving. Indie princess Amanda Hocking is close to a traditional deal while bestseller Barry Eisler turned down a $500,000 traditional deal to self-publish. While everyone has an opinion on where the industry will land, no one really knows. I think we're all full of questions and Mary was gracious enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer some for me. I wanted to know how agents and indies can work together. Just because I chose not to pursue representation for the moment, doesn't mean I've ruled it out forever.

I hope you'll take a few minutes to read Mary's thoughtful answers.

Q. I read your post in 2010 concerning self-publishing, and at the time I agreed with most of what you said. However, my mind was changed in December while reading about L.J. Sellers and her decision to pull her work from her publisher in favor of going indie. What, or who, caused a shift in your thoughts about self-publishing?

A: The advent and popularity of ereaders and digital books really changed my mind. The problem with print self-publishing is distribution. I would see a lot of writers hoofing around with their printed books or spreading their POD links all over the place but, for the most part, failing to get distribution in brick and mortar stores or attention among e-tailers. With ebooks so readily available and so easy to make and upload, and with new lists and stores popping up to increase a writer's chance of discoverability in the marketplace, it's now possible to forget about distribution woes and get attention for your independently published book. Lists and other curator resources, like reviewers, also work toward spotlighting truly worthy independently published projects. There will still be self-published books of poor or amateurish quality, but that cliche of disgruntled writers self-publishing just because the gatekeepers have all rejected them is now fading. Now people are self-publishing with new tools and, in some cases, to take complete control of the process (and potential profits).

Q. It’s my firm belief that indies and agents can co-exist, and even enhance each others careers. How do you see the agent’s role evolving in regards to indies?

A: ABLA is now developing a digital business model where we're going to address just that. The truth is, a writer can now publish independently without an agent or traditional publisher. It's dishonest to lie and say that agents are necessary if you want to go the digital route. So how do we justify our existence and commission? What's the value we add? I'll be able to articulate that much more precisely once we can finally announce our digital strategy, but I'm afraid I don't want to go there prematurely. Suffice to say, it's what we all need to be thinking about if we want to stay in and on top of the game. I'm really not trying to evade the question...I just am not ready to give you the really solid answer that this question deserves.

Q: I think your last answer is more than fair. Do you think agents will become more open to handling subsidiary rights (audio, foreign language, film/TV) for indie authors, while letting them maintain their print and ebook rights?

A: Yes. That's how Amanda Hocking got her agent in the first place. I feel like this is one thing that agents can do really well in a more indie-friendly publishing culture, which seems like it will be upon us by this time next year. It's interesting to note, though, that as the news broke that bestselling traditionally published author Barry Eisler turned down a $500,000 print deal from St. Martin's, Amanda Hocking was generating a seven figure auction for print books! There's obviously flexibility in going from print to indie and vice versa. But so far, it's also good to note that only big name authors, whether they got their big name from print or indie, are generating the kinds of advances and royalties that are making headlines. It's a very different picture for the average author, whether traditionally or independently published.

Q: Are you concerned the larger publishing companies will shun agents who have clients uninterested in selling U.S. print and ebook rights?

A: I think it would be problematic with US publishers, but not necessarily foreign publishers. A publisher wants your print rights. More and more, they want your digital rights, too. But some publishers work with (again, established, in most cases) authors who have strong digital plans. For example, I believe Cory Doctorow kept his own digital rights and also copyrights under a Creative Commons license so that his fans can remix and interpret his text. So his print publisher, Tor, was cool with that but...again...he's well-known and has the leverage to negotiate that. This type of arrangement may become more common in the near future.

Q: You mentioned in your recent blog post that marketing is tricky for indies. How is their marketing different from a mid-list traditionally published author who isn’t receiving publicity support from their publisher?

A: One thing that publishers do really well is they sell into bookstores and schools/libraries on your behalf. Their sales people connect with buyers for these businesses and institutions so while a midlist author (who usually doesn't get a big publicity push from their publisher) is online and trying to market themselves, the publisher is working behind the scenes to sell them through to retailers. An indie author will have to connect and network not only with readers but also with people who will give them opportunities to sell books, do appearances, visit schools (for children's books). It's an additional layer and audience that will need its own marketing message from indie authors.

Thank you so much, Mary, for stopping by and answering these questions. I think blog posts like this will become more and more common in the next year or two as everyone considers their place in modern publishing.

I know my friends and I at DarkSide Publishing will continue to strive to release quality ebooks for readers. Will we all remain there forever? Will any of us get agents? What paths will we follow? No one knows, but I think in a publishing world where indies, agents, and publishers work together we can't go wrong.


  1. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how agents respond to the change in publishing culture. The truth is, readers don't CARE who published a book, and most wouldn't be able to tell if someone was self-published or not. (The cover art is often a hint, but if you hire a pro, that disadvantage goes away.)

    I think many publishers are responding too slowly and too stubbornly to realise that as soon as authors get a taste of freedom in their careers, they are going to be reluctant to want to put that harness back on.

    India Drummond

  2. Great interview! Thanks Mary for answering so candidly. I'm really excited to see what kinds of things agencies, like Andrea Brown, will be able to offer us indies in the future!

    Karly Kirkpatrick

  3. I think Ms. Cole hit the nail on the head. Mainstream Publishers have the contacts within distributions and they are able to sell books to these outlets. I think that is also a niche that Agents could fill. Getting their clients books into bricks and mortar stores (what's left of them). Indie publishers can put together books professionally, market professionally but the door is still too tight to get nationwide shelf space in Barnes and Noble or Target. Maybe agents could do that.

  4. Fascinating interview. It seems the "Brave New World" of publishing is upon us.

  5. Thanks for this great interview, Megg.

  6. Great interview, you guys! It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year or so.

    Self-publishing used to be the kiss of death. It's amazing how quickly this has changed.


  7. I think agents are going to have a hard time trying to straddle the two worlds, because it's a conflict of interests. At least it will seem that way to traditional publishers. Random House blacklisted Wylie when he wanted to help his authors publish their backlist.
    I had to write a blog and admit I was wrong about JA Konrath just recently. My last two book deals were actually bigger than Eisler's and I'm self-publishing my next novel on 12 April. I'll be guest-blogging at Konrath's blog on that date to explain why.

  8. Great post! I do think the publishing world is changing. It'll be interesting to see where things are in Indie Land this time next year.

    The Book of Lost Souls

  9. India - I couldn't imagine giving up the huge royalty we have now!!

    Karly - Thank you for stopping by. You are my literary spiritual guide.

    Kayanna - It's definitely harder to get into bookstores, but I know some people who've done it. They can order our books if they want to, they just don't want to. ;) lol

    Carmela - I agree with you 100% and thanks for stopping by!!!

    Jacqueline - Thank you so much for reading & commenting! :D

    Katie - So much changes so quickly these days...

    Bob - I can't wait to read the post. I love Konrath's blog!!

    Michelle - I'm glad we're on this ride together. It's going to be fun! :D

  10. Great interview, Megg. I was really intrigued learning the different marketing perspectives between midlisters and indies. Marketing as an indie is a lot of hard work, and you really do need to have connections to get out beyond the 'net.

  11. I recall Mary Kole's stance on self-publishing last year as well. While I'm still trying to be published the traditional way, I'm pay attention to what's happening with self-publishing too.

  12. Jenny - OMG, marketing is definitely one of the hardest parts of being an indie. Some days I spend more time marketing than writing.

    Theresa - It certainly can't hurt to be informed - no matter which route you take to publication. The more information you have, the better armed you are to take control of your own publishing experience, whether you're negotiating with a publisher or not.

  13. A very timely interview and kudos to Mary for her candor. I think agents will have a role, but it will not be the gatekeeper function that it is now. I suspect that when the dust settles, authors and agents alike will be pleased with what remains.