Literary Agents v.s. Publishers

It wasn’t that many blogs ago when I said, “Literary agents and traditional publishers are working together. Authors need to do the same.” Well, this is how fast the publishing industry is changing. Literary agents are now fed up with traditional publishers.

The following information was taken from the BEA Conference. The topic was, “Value of Books.” Keep in mind, they were not discussing the words written inside the books, but rather what digital and print books should actually cost.

Here are some quotes from the panel:

“This is a creative industry.” (Thank you for sharing. Although, that is obvious.)

“Most exciting time to be in business.” (I think what you meant to say was, ‘Publishers are scared to death.’)

“Need to use creativity and technology together.” (Where were you five years ago? e-books weren’t invented last week.)

“It’s going to be an incredible five years ahead.” (Which translates into, ‘We have no idea what will happen in the next five years.’)

“There is a bigger readership.” (Thanks to e-books.)

“As publishers, we need to deliver reasonable prices.” (So the publishers admit that they were over pricing readers and bookstores. They were being unreasonable before. Wow. That is a brilliant discovering.)

Okay, so the discussion of “Value of Books” has been cleared up…


(Please excuse my sarcasm above. I’m usually more upbeat. However, it could not be helped.)

What can you take from those publishers comments? It is simple. Publishers are not threatened by how books are made, no matter if the book is digital or printed. The real threat is the lack of interest from authors.

Now, literary agents are siding with the authors, not the publishers. Why? Because agents cannot make money without authors. I wish the publishers would have said that in their statements, but it never came up.

An agent asked the panel, “Why can’t authors receive 50% royalty on e-books, rather than 25%?” The reason for this is because publishers are saving millions and earning millions off e-books, yet the authors are treated like it is a printed book.

By the way, the panel of publishers did not respond to the agent’s question. (Imagine crickets.)

So the agent fired back at them. “At some point, we (literary agents) will go public about who is giving us what. And some of you (publishers) are going to look bad.”


A panelist finally responded to that. “We need to change the (business) model.” (The publisher would have been better off saying nothing.)

The mediator of the conference took control. Publishers were starting to embarrass themselves. Further more, the discussion was supposed to be, “Value of Books.”

So the mediator quickly shifted the blame. “It was a mistake to let Amazon put e-books out simultaneously and charge the price they did. This will cause paperbacks to go bye-bye. We need to protect paper-format books as long as we can. It would be terrible if booksellers ran out of this event and said, ‘That’s it. It’s over.'” 

What the mediator was trying to say was publishers released a new book in both printed and digital form. They “let” Amazon charge a low price for the e-book version. What they should have done was release the hardback, then a few months later, release the e-book and paperback.

However, the mediator’s blame on Amazon is not valid. He should know that paperbacks were up 25% last quarter, despite e-books continue surge at +184%. Also, 90% of the industry is still printed books.

This is similar to what they say at game conventions and expos each year. “Board games will eventually go away and only video games will be purchased.” Next time you are in Target, look at the video game section and the board game section. You won’t see much of a difference. Why you are at it, take a stroll down the book isle. Or should I say, book “isles.”

Back to the BEA Conference. It was suggested that bookstores and mass-market stores sell e-books. The collective response from these stores was that they could not compete in pricing.

I guess these stores will stop selling I-Tune gift cards as well. (Maybe not.)

But what about the value of books? Well, a suggestion was made that all publishers decide together what an e-book should cost, along with a paperback and hardback. The response was this, “We cannot decide together. It is something we will do book to book.”

Let me translate that response. Publishers have “A List” authors, “B List,” and so on. They feel an “A List” author deserves to sell their books at a higher price, both digital and printed, because that author is more talented and recognizable than the “B” and “C” list authors. There is no way publishers can decide a universal cost for books. I agree. This will result in the publisher competing against each other, which benefits everyone.

An agent blurted out, “I’m still worried about authors compensation.” (Not sure if the agent realized or not, but authors were not suppose to be anywhere near this topic of discussion. The publishing industry will deal with authors later.)

As the conference closed, it was suggested that publishers can still put together a beautiful book and sell it to readers, in order to keep the value high.

The response was this, “The vast majority of readers don’t care.”

Let me translate that rude response. It is suggested that readers do not care if the book is printed or digital, they just want a good book. If publishers spend money on making terrific hardbacks, they will go out of business, because readers do not care about hardbacks, or what they look like.

I disagree. Authors and publishers make a living on creating books with a certain look and feel. It’s called, Marketing. If a book or any product is marketed in the right way, it will sell.

And yes…people do care.

What can we learn from all this?

* Traditional publishers and booksellers are threatened by e-books, self-publishing, and e-publishers.

* Traditional publishers do not want to change their business models. Some have caved into the pressure, but remember, most of these publishing houses have been around a long time. They will not be pushed into change.

* Literary agents stood behind traditional publishers as long as they could. That time has come and gone.

* Literary agents are now siding with authors.

* Self-publishing is taking on many forms. Even some traditional houses are doing business with self-publishers. I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t change the fact that anyone can publish a book, no matter how horrible it may be. Mixing traditional publishing and self-publishing will destroy the industry. Authors will be forced to spend on publishing, marketing, PR, travel, etc…etc… When will it stop? I do not want to see resources drained from authors, just so publishers, in any form, can save their business.

In the BEA Conference, just the mention of authors twisted the faces of the panel. It is almost like authors have no say. Or, the authors have no idea what is best for the industry.

Like all authors, I have something that no other literary agent or publisher has. I have a book. In fact, I have many books.

Do not force my fellow authors to pay for publishing. Go ahead and ask for their talent and their marketing plan. But when that discussion is over, tell those authors what you will do for them.

If authors do not like your plan…you get nothing. I like to see a publisher try and sell nothing to bookstores.



Ron Knight

Author of “2-10”






Literary Manager: Melissa Link


Ron Knight

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