Literary Agency Reacts To Concerns About E-Services ‘Conflict Of Interest’

When literary agency Dystel & Goderich announced yesterday that it would be providing e-book services to its authors, it stressed that it has “no intention of becoming [an] e-publisher” (as a few other literary agencies have done) and that it would not “muddy the waters” by competing with traditional publishers. Today, the agency’s Miriam Goderich responded to more concerns about a conflict of interest.

“If we don’t offer [e-book services], our clients will either miss out on the opportunity, go it alone (which some may do, but many will not want to), or be forced to seek out another company that might not have their best interests at heart, as we know we do,” Goderich writes on the company’s website, adding, “We will also not be forcing any of our clients who want to self-publish to work with us on it, and if they do choose to, we will not be forcing them to choose our cover designers, copyeditors, etc.”

Many questions about Dystel & Goderich’s expanded offerings arose on the blog of one of its clients–self-published author J. A. Konrath, who posted about the agency’s new services yesterday. Konrath applauded Dystel & Goderich on the move, writing that he uses the agency to represent him because he sees the need for “a facilitator who [can] be a buffer between the author and the business end of self-publishing.” He also believes that paying a commission based on 15 percent of income, rather than a one-time flat fee, “will provide me with ongoing support, rather than a one-time service.”

But many commenters on Konrath’s blog didn’t see how the new services that Dystel & Goderich is providing can justify that 15 percent commission. “If that 15% doesn’t cover the actual costs of cover, editing, formatting, etc., then they’d best be planning on doing some serious ongoing marketing for then book, right?” wrote self-published fantasy author Kevin O. McLaughlin. “And let you pull the book to self publish it instead if they stop marketing it effectively, right?”

Goderich responded:

Which brings up the question posed by several of you, both here and on Joe Konrath’s blog: what are you people doing to earn that 15% commission? Pretty much what we do now to earn that 15% commission. Our commitment to this is more than just uploading and watching the dollars trickle in. In addition to all we do as agents, managing self-published properties will be part of our job: updating metadata, copy, next-book excerpts, etc. It’s not just vague managerial duties, but concrete tasks that we will be adding to our other duties.

For some authors it will be the beginning of building a publishing career which may eventually include a traditional publisher because of the success generated by the e-book. For others, it will mean making worthy books available that are out of print and which still have potential readerships. And, we will want to try to exploit subsidiary rights whenever possible, with the understanding that even with traditionally published books some of these rights do not get picked up.

But, she added, “If you don’t think an agent’s services are worth that fee, this post will not change your mind.”