After having read this article: http://www.idealog.com/blog/the-evolving-role-of-agents, I have been very curious about how this whole economic crisis in publishing is affecting agents. We hear all sorts of info about how hard it is for authors now, as well as how houses are cutting back on their acquiring, laying off staff, etc. So, where do the agents fit into this? And more importantly, what are they going to end up doing about it?
Given that publishers are focusing even more on sure money-makers than previously, this narrowing of focus might actually benefit those few agents who have a best-seller clientele, work with celebrities, or any other folks with big platforms who are as guaranteed as one can generally be in publishing to make money. For the greater bulk of agents whose base is more in the mid-list, this shrinking of the market would seem to have a detrimental effect. Publishers don’t want to put up as big an advance, don’t want to risk as much. They can’t afford it. This has to be affecting the pocketbook. So, what are they to do to maintain viability? It could also be that they aren’t terribly affected by this change, but I suspect it is.
One thing I see happening is the fact that the editors at big houses are actually doing far less editing (even more so now than before). They are in the position now of being almost purelydevoted to acquisition. They want clean, basically ready to publish material. This seems to put the agent in the position of taking on a greater focus as an editor. Some agents are former editors or are those who actually enjoy the editing process. The question of course is time. They are already overloaded trying to deal with acquiring new clients and dealing with all the goings on of current clients. How can they deal with this shift?
One method of course is to not take on any new clients who don’t present clean, well-edited manuscripts. Not that authors shouldn’t be doing this anyway, but agents have been known to take on stories they really like but feel it needs some work to be marketable to the publishers. Will this added pressure now make them less inclined to do this? My guess is yes. Another possibility is that agents will turn to negotiating editing services into their client contracts. Need significant edits? The services of the agent in this regard may cost you another 5%. I’m sure there are other ways agents may look for additional compensation in order to ensure ‘publisher ready’ manuscripts. Agents might look into fees for services on the backend too, regarding publicity, marketing, additional rights, etc.
However it may pan out, I suspect the average agent is hurting in this changing climate, and just like everyone else in this industry, changes in the ways they do things are likely coming. What do you think they might be?