In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publishing consultant Joanna Penn explains why she decided to sign with a literary agent, despite having enjoyed considerable success as an indie author.
Last week I announced on my author blog that I have signed with literary agent Rachel Ekstrom from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency in New York. Thank you for all the congratulations I have received!
Many of you have been incredibly supportive of my independent publishing career so far and I know you will have some questions. Since I have always been transparent with my journey, I’m happy to share what I can.
I am a fan of publishing in all its myriad guises, and none of us know where the industry is going. It’s also quite ironic that I feel like I have to defend my decision, since in the past, self-publishing has needed the defense more!
Why do I even want an agent?
I am an author and an entrepreneur, so my goals center around:
- Creating great books and quality products that will delight, entertain, educate and inspire my readers
- Building a long term career as an author and widening my reader base
- Growing a sustainable income that enables me to travel and spend my time on (1) above!
In working towards these goals as an independent author over the last 3.5 years, I have used business partnerships with professional editors, book cover designers and formatters. I also depend on distributors like Amazon, Kobo and BookBaby to get my books into the hands of readers. I use tools like blogging and social networking to market and I pay for internet hosting to enable this. I sell from my site so I use Paypal as a merchant service.
I could not run my business without these business partners.
I look at signing with an agent, and possibly a traditional publisher, in the same way. They are business partners who I will work with to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. I am not a newbie in this business anymore. I have been learning about publishing for nearly four years, so this is certainly done with forethought. I have also done a lot of research on contracts and legalities, attending the Rights workshop at the London Book Fair as well as poring over books on contract clauses. I’m not going to sign anything that doesn’t fit with my goals.
Being an indie author is not only about self-publishing anymore. It’s more about taking control of your career as an author and becoming a creative director for each book. The Alliance of Independent Authors has a fantastic definition here if you want to read more.
So signing with an agent and pursuing traditional publishing reflects on my overall goals above as follows:
(1) Traditional publishing is excellent at creating quality products.
I’m an ebook only author right now and although I have dabbled in print, I don’t enjoy the process. I know a lot of indies do it successfully but I am a huge fan of doing things I enjoy
I currently employ several different editors during my writing process, and I absolutely believe this is critical for any author to invest in. Traditional publishing will hopefully take me to a new level with my writing and push me further. I will certainly be looking for a great editorial team as part of any deal.
(2) Traditional publishing will enable me to build a wider audience.
There are still many readers who will only buy print books in bookstores, or who hear about books through more traditional venues e.g. book clubs. I can reach an online audience myself but there are possibilities with traditional publishing that I also want to pursue.
(3) On the income question.
I am the kind of indie who wants a hybrid approach combining traditional publishing with self-publishing. After all, traditional and independent publishing are not mutually exclusive.
This approach can bring in spikes with advances, and then a monthly rolling income with self-publishing. I specifically went with the Irene Goodman Agency because they understand self-publishing can be an option for some of their authors at certain times, depending on the specifics of the author’s career and goals. I know some of their authors who are already following this hybrid approach successfully.
Here are some of the other reasons for pursuing this opportunity.
Authority, experience, social proof and let’s face it, ego.
You guys know I am proud of self-publishing and absolutely intend to continue doing it in some form. Indeed, I recently re-released my first book on career change. But originally, this blog was sub-titled ‘Adventures in Publishing’ and it was always my goal to have a traditional book deal one day.
In the UK, there are still bookstores on the high street and my parents read books in print that they buy from Waterstones. I do want to be on those shelves among the bestsellers. There is definitely still some authority and social proof with traditional publishing that I want to benefit from, so long as I can integrate it with my self-publishing goals.
I would also like to say I have ‘done it’ so I can justifiably join in the discussions on traditional publishing that I can only report on second-hand at the moment.
Film rights and other subsidiary rights.
As well as my lovely agent, Rachel Ekstrom, the Irene Goodman agency has a couple of great rights agents who focus on specific areas of subsidiary rights. I am interested to see what they can do with my books.
Lee Child talked at Thrillerfest about the upcoming movie Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise. Very exciting. I want Morgan Sierra to be the next Lara Croft, so I need people with the right contacts to make that happen. I know the film deal is a lightning strike type of luck, but some authors make it, and I have always had stretch goals and dreams!
Peer respect, blurbs and networking.
At Thrillerfest, I was excited to meet some of the big name authors who I call my writing heroes. Much as I love self-publishing, even in the current market, I think I am more likely to be able to get blurbs from big name authors if I get a traditional book deal. I have to build my author brand over time and peer networking is critical for this.
Entry into prizes.
This is an arena that is slowly opening up to indies, but most prizes are still currently based on traditional publishing. I think nominations and awards can help marketing and enable the expansion of readership.
Speaking opportunities at festivals.
I already have a professional speaking career but it doesn’t currently include talking specifically about my fiction The festivals in the UK especially are only about traditionally published authors, and this is an area I want to break into. (btw, I’m speaking at Zurich WriteCon in October if anyone fancies some Swiss chocolate with their scribbling!)
Why a New York agent when I live in London?
I am British but I moved back to London last year after 11 years in Australia and New Zealand. In the last four years, I have learned about online marketing from mainly US blogs so I am enmeshed in their business models. My Mum also lived in the US for many years so I have visited a lot. I love my homeland but in terms of publishing, I believe the Americans are still ahead of us in terms of the new paradigms in publishing. I wanted a forward thinking agent at an innovative agency.
It’s also a bigger book market in the US and my current sales are about 4:1 US:UK split. I wrote for the US market and even use an American spell-check. My traffic for this site and my podcast is over 50% US so most of my existing audience is there. In publishing terms, books that make it big in the US are more likely to be picked up in the UK and in other countries. So it is a business move that hopefully will put me in a better position for achieving my goals.
I have years of writing ahead of me.
The books I have out right now are not the end of what I can create. They are not precious snowflakes (much as I love them!). I have stacks of ideas and I am writing more books. At the moment, I am mostly in the library working on edits for Exodus, ARKANE book #3 and researching my next book, Hunterian, which is possibly a stand-alone or the beginning of a new series.
This is a serious career for me. I want to sell some books to the right trade publisher and self-publish others.
I am 37 with (hopefully) 50+ years of writing ahead. The decision to sign with an agent and pursue traditional publishing for some of those books opens possibilities but it certainly doesn’t stop me from doing all kinds of exciting things in the future.
This is just the beginning. I hope you will join me for the ride!
I’d love to hear what you think as I know it’s an emotional topic. Please do leave your comments [here, in the post's original location].