Last week, Stacy Green asked me a question on Twitter and my fingers cramped while thinking about how to answer her in chunks of 140 characters. *smile* So we decided to make it an Ask Jami question here instead.
“What’s your opinion on e-publishers versus agents? … pros and cons. I know a couple of people who’ve recently signed with e-pubs, and they’re looking far more appealing than agents right now. I’m going to do both, but would love to hear your take. Thanks!”
Great question! But there’s not a clear “this way is better” answer because it depends on our situation. It’s like asking, “Which is better, spoons or knives?” Sometimes we need a spoon and sometimes we need a knife.
In my post “How to Avoid the Publishing Kool-Aid,” I listed some of the different goals we might have as published authors. Some of those goals will be better met with agents and some might be better met with e-publishers (or with self-publishing, etc.). Knowing our goals will help us decide which way to go.
The Pros of Going with an Agent
We should get an agent if we want to pursue the possibility of a big NY book deal. Remember that even if we have an agent, there’s no guarantee a book deal will follow. However, if we want the chance of publishing with one of the Big 6 publishers, an agent is the usual way to go.
Respect from other writers is more likely to follow after we sign with an agent than after we announce a book deal from a small publisher and/or e-publisher (despite the certainty of an actual sale versus a potential sale).
If our agent does sell our book, that book deal would be more likely to include print copies (versus an e-publisher) and/or show up in a bookstore (versus a small publisher).
So if a NY deal, respect, and printed books in bookstores are important to us, we should look for a good agent.
The Pros of Going with an E-Publisher
We should sign with an e-publisher if we want a book deal now rather than just the potential of one in the future. Some of us don’t expect to hit the big time right out of the starting block. We figure this book deal might lead to something bigger and better down the road.
Some e-publishers tap their authors for anthologies, expanding our readership. Others publish unusual genres, or non-typical length stories. If our books don’t fit the NY mold, an e-publisher can be a great match.
As more readers switch to ebooks, the playing field will level out between publishers. An e-publisher who uploads their books to all the different platforms will be on near-equal footing to a big name publisher. And those e-publishers often pay better royalty rates than the NY publishers.
So if a signed book deal, flexibility of genre/length, and higher royalty rates are important to us, we should look for a good e-publisher.
Is a Good Reputation the End-All-Be-All?
Oh, a good agent or a good e-publisher. That’s the trick, isn’t it?
We’ve heard that it’s better to have no agent than a bad agent, and the same goes for publishers (e-publisher or otherwise). Either way, our rights could be tied up and payments might not happen on time (or at all) if we end up with the wrong one.
Some e-publishers have good reputations. Their editing is professional, their covers are gorgeous, their online store is effective, and their royalty rates are fair.
Likewise, some agents have good reputations. They have plentiful contacts at publishers, they have a good eye for editing and storytelling, and they know what to look for with contracts and royalty statements.
However, both e-publishers and agents are often well-known for certain genres, and other genres don’t sell as well for them. In other words, just because they’re a great fit for one author doesn’t mean they’ll be a good match for us.
Not All Recommendations Are Created Equal
It can be difficult to research which agents or publishers are good or bad. Most people don’t want to complain about anyone in the industry because they don’t want to get a reputation for being “difficult.” On the other hand, some publishers have received a “not recommended” rating based off one complaint from an author upset about low sales.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a recommendation for an e-publisher from an author who has published with other companies should mean more to us than one from an author who’s publishing for the first time. The experienced author can compare each publishers’ contracts, editing, marketing, payment policies, etc. An inexperienced author can be happy in a situation just because they don’t know any better.
Likewise, some agents with good reputations are now getting into publishing themselves. Some authors don’t see an issue with this and others do. Some agents push their authors onto social media more than others. The line of “acceptable” behavior will be different for each person.
The Bottom Line
I think some people are tempted to go the route of e-publishing because it seems easier than finding an agent. There might be some truth to that, but if someone is less picky about what books they’ll represent/publish, is that a good thing? That depends on our goals. Finding a good e-publisher might be just as difficult as finding a good agent.
Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote a great blog series about small publishers (much of which also applies to e-publishers). Check out the first post in her series, “Should You Consider a Small Publisher,” for her take on more pros and cons. She brings up issues like distribution and personal attention. Her series includes six posts, which just goes to show that there are many, many considerations to keep in mind.
Maybe we want to learn more about self-editing, and an e-publisher with a great editing reputation wants to sign us. We’d get a book deal and knowledge to improve our craft for the next book. In that case, we might sign no matter what our other goals are.
What’s best for us might change with every story, every improvement in our skills, and every shift in the overall industry. We shouldn’t follow a path just because “everyone else” is heading that way. We need to figure out what makes the most sense for us and our goals.
(Standard “Ask Jami” disclaimer: I am not agented or published, so take all my “advice” in the spirit of me offering information to get people to think, and not in a “I think I know everything” way. *smile*)
Are you pursuing one path over another? How did you decide which way to go? Under what circumstances would you change your mind? Can you think of other pros and cons to add for each of the scenarios?Pin It