Agenting needs to evolve

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Agenting needs to evolve

Postby knight_tour » 17 Aug 2010, 00:52

It's just my opinion, but I think the current system is well along the way to being broken and needs to evolve. Here is my blog post about it -- http://tedacross.blogspot.com/2010/08/l ... volve.html
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby knight_tour » 17 Aug 2010, 07:22

Ink tells me that agents do get 15% of royalties also and not just advances. Why in two years of reading about this on the web have I never once read this? Agents always state that they get 15% of advances. Why hide the fact that they also get 15% of royalties? Perhaps I am not reading widely enough, but I sure feel like I do, since I go to hundreds of sites reading about agents.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Mira » 17 Aug 2010, 12:18

I knew that it was 15% of advances as well as royalities....basically, they get 15% of everything the author makes.

This is an interesting topic. Why don't you summarize your points here?
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Nathan Bransford » 17 Aug 2010, 19:38

I don't think it was ever intended to be a secret that it's 15% of both advances and royalties--I always say 15% of an author's income or something along those lines, but I guess I can see how that might read ambiguously.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Tycoon » 17 Aug 2010, 19:43

Nathan Bransford wrote:I don't think it was ever intended to be a secret that it's 15% of both advances and royalties--I always say 15% of an author's income or something along those lines, but I guess I can see how that might read ambiguously.



You should get creative like the gas companies for a gallon of gas... We agents get 14.995%!
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Nathan Bransford » 17 Aug 2010, 19:44

Tycoon wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:I don't think it was ever intended to be a secret that it's 15% of both advances and royalties--I always say 15% of an author's income or something along those lines, but I guess I can see how that might read ambiguously.



You should get creative like the gas companies for a gallon of gas... We agents get 14.995%!


Haha - I like it!

Only 14.975% if publisher pays in cash!
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Tycoon » 17 Aug 2010, 19:46

Nathan Bransford wrote:
Tycoon wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:I don't think it was ever intended to be a secret that it's 15% of both advances and royalties--I always say 15% of an author's income or something along those lines, but I guess I can see how that might read ambiguously.



You should get creative like the gas companies for a gallon of gas... We agents get 14.995%!


Haha - I like it!

Only 14.975% if publisher pays in cash!


I like it... However I want to know if you take competitors coupons?
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby knight_tour » 17 Aug 2010, 22:06

Okay, I did a follow up post today -- http://tedacross.blogspot.com/2010/08/a ... rt-ii.html

Basically I still think the development of talent in writing is almost non-existent. I compared it with chess, where people don't become masters on their own or by working with other amateurs (similar to crit groups); they turn into masters by working with professionals. There is no means within the current industry to do this, and we all know that writing courses are not the solution. It makes perfect sense that agents, who have a tough enough workload as it is, cannot afford the time to take on an individual who shows true talent but is shopping a book that needs a lot of work. Agents don't have time for this. Yet, this is exactly what is wrong with the system. Many thousands of potential greats get passed up and never do develop into the masters they could have been.

I don't have a brilliant solution to this. It would take something other than the worked-to-death literary agent to tackle this issue. It could perhaps be solved by a wealthy patron who loves books and could support a publishing company that would be willing to take on writers who show real potential but need more polishing than today's agents and publishers are willing to deal with. I wish I was wealthy, as I would love to do this. I know how wearisome the slush pile is, but nurturing talent is a noble thing and I wish it could be done better in book publishing.

Hmm, part of me thinks that it could even be done with a collaboration between such a house and agents. After all, any good agent should have a true love of books. Rather than an entire slush pile descending on this fictitious publishing house, the house could have agents pass along those writers that they felt showed talent but were too raw for the agents themselves to take on.

Edit to add that I absolutely do not believe that everyone who can produce a book should be published. I am speaking about honest talent. People can pick it out in chess players and know who can almost certainly rise up to become a master, and I think it can be recognized in writers also.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Margo » 18 Aug 2010, 07:37

knight_tour wrote:Basically I still think the development of talent in writing is almost non-existent.


You do fantasy, right? Have you considered doing Clarion, Odyssey, or Viable Paradise? Those programs are taught by the type of industry professionals you're talking about. Odyssey has a freaking incredible publication-after-class rate.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Mira » 18 Aug 2010, 09:07

Knight Tour - I totally agree with you about the existing need. It's noticeable how writing as an art form lacks mentoring, for the most part. Most other art forms - dance, art, acting, music - people take classes and those with talent frequently find a mentor as a guide. That's almost non-existent with writing. And I understand your frustration - I'd LOVE a mentor. But I think most of us have to scrape together what we can with the system as it is.

As the industry stands, I don't think most agents can take on that role. For one thing, their loyalties are split - they are working for the publisher as much as for the writer. For another, not all agents are good enough at writing to really provide the kind of mentoring someone with talent would need. They may have skill at selling, promotion, etc., but to be able to teach and nurture writing is a talent in and of itself, and not all agents possess that.

I think we're lucky because Nathan does have that talent, and he shares that with most of us on his blog. But I know that's not the same as individual attention, but it's pretty good. I also think there are excellent classes out there for writers, like Margo recommends. There are also books on writing, and some of them are just terrific. There are whole threads here recommending books. Personally, I can recommend Brenda Ueland's 'If you want to Write' for inspiration.

As the landscape changes with e-books, and agent's roles change, agents may begin to take on more of a mentoring/career building function. But that's more in the future, and it's an unknown. In the meantime, I think we just have to do the best we can!
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby polymath » 18 Aug 2010, 09:09

Beyond a writer's immediate sphere of insular existence, most of writing-related activities are commerce-driven activities. Agents, editors, and publishers have an interest in production and it would seem intuitive they'd want to assure an enduring quality and quantity supply of product like other manufacturers do. Agents as raw ore miners, editors as refiners, publishers as premarket value enhancers.They don't need to assure a supply of manuscripts from writers though, at least quantity-wise. All they need to do to meet quotas is filter through the many millions of manuscripts wanting publication and pick out the hundred thousand or so reasonably high quality ones marketplace demand will bear.

Gatekeeping from one side of the transom, selective filtering from the other side of the transom, the manuscript supply-demand curve dictates large quantity points yield coincidentally high quality outcomes coming in over the transom. The price-value curve is another matter. One price, effectively, an author's ten percent of revenues. The sales value of any given manuscript is both a known and unknown quantity before marketplace release, which happens to be based on objective criteria most selectors rely on from initially intuitive criteria for determining.

I've pursued a developmental editing practice now going on eight years. I've yet to earn a penny. My primary motivation has been for my own writing's sake. I'd like to have a monetary return from the sweat equity investments I've put into other writers development. Some have offered money, but when the metal meets the road I couldn't in good conscience accept, nor do writers really understand the developmental editing process sufficiently to make it coproductive. I didn't at first, but unpleasantnesses and practicality and rationality quickly disabused me of my wishful thinking. My writing talents and skills have profited though, aesthetically profitable anyway.

Developmental editing is an art in its own right. Challenges abound. Creative interference, creative differences, differences in technical abilities, sentiments and creative prejudices and personality clashes and a talent, yes, talent for decorous conduct come into play. I read a comprehensive correspondence between an author and an editor in a developmental editing role. Moody, contentious, one-sided misunderstanding, one-sided tap dancing on eggshells interpersonal power play dynamics. And the interpersonal dynamics shifted and inverted unpredictably. Loggerheads over one word's unconventional spelling. Embarrassment over its/it's. Loggerhead blaming game over factual inaccuracies missed by author and editor alike. To name a few.

I came late up against the single-most crucial complication for developmental editing, imposing my creative vision on a creator's, intentionally or otherwise. But from grasping the full ramifications of the creative imposition dilemma found a way forward. If a project I'm considering doesn't command a distinctive readily interpretable creative direction, it's not ready for developmental editing, period. If it does, it's ready. Getting it ready is solely a writer's responsibility. No one should or can tell a writer how to properly or correctly write a narrative. Advise, yes. Indoctrinate, yes. Tell, no. Originality suffers. Worse--no, worst of all, shared creation dilutes creativity and personal satisfaction. I shudder at the ugly unpleasantnesses I've encountered over demanding credit for trivial by comparison external contributions. It doesn't have to be that way. Paraphrasing E.M. Forster, giving is more emotionally rewarding and satisfying than taking.

Developmental editing doesn't write, rewrite, or revise a narrative or fill in or correct or impose creative vision on a manuscript deficient in whatever ways. Developmental editing enchances a narrative by singling out big picture deficits, small picture deficits, and everything in between missing, superfluous, macro, and micro which a writer's creative oversight has overlooked. A developmental editor is a consultant who Does No Harm, interprets a writer's creative vision as an expert reader expert in reader expectations and cultural coding conventions, and, ideally, brings a writer further along toward the writer's immediate and long term goals. A dynamic writer will eventually outgrow a dynamic developmental editor and go it alone. Ultimately, creative writing's a solitary pursuit.
Last edited by polymath on 18 Aug 2010, 11:42, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby knight_tour » 18 Aug 2010, 10:04

Margo wrote:
knight_tour wrote:Basically I still think the development of talent in writing is almost non-existent.


You do fantasy, right? Have you considered doing Clarion, Odyssey, or Viable Paradise? Those programs are taught by the type of industry professionals you're talking about. Odyssey has a freaking incredible publication-after-class rate.


Sadly, I can never do this, Margo, as my work keeps me overseas where I never see such opportunities.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby knight_tour » 18 Aug 2010, 10:12

Polymath, mainly what I am after is what we see in all other arts. People can struggle alone or nearly alone up to decent levels, but they do so slowly and only achieve a levels nowhere near what they could. Those who are pushed and challenged develop much faster and progress much further. It wouldn't take much, really. Pick out those who demonstrate real talent but are raw, then give them someone to push them. This would produce far more great writers than the current system that forces everyone to develop on their own.

If I did three books with an agent or editor giving me a guiding hand as I went, I would go so much further than writing those same three books without guidance. The trick is picking out those who show real talent. I doubt it is as hard as some would want to make out. I recall my writing courses in college, and there were certainly a few in each class that stood out head over heels better than the rest. It didn't mean they were ready to publish, but it did mean that they had true potential to do very good things, especially if they had proper guidance.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby polymath » 18 Aug 2010, 11:32

knight_tour, I've noted the same perceptions as you have, about what's desired, about who's naturally talented, about who has to work at it, about mentorship possibilities and mentoring promising talents. Developmental editing has come and gone along with unpredictable marketplace forces. It never amounted to much in the first place. Being part of the solution means taking a responsibility for taking up the practice, mastering it, institutionalizing it, organizing the field, setting standards and following them, making compromises and sacrifices, and a damned lot of thankless hard work and study with no guaranteed outcomes. The risks are high, the potentials worth the candle, the rewards questionable. The number one risk/reward complication, creativity more than anything else denies the tyrranies of standards and conventions.

It doesn't pay yet because so many underequipped practitioners in the field who don't have sufficient mastery of the complications contaminate the reputation of the field. And it's not taught to a competency level anywhere. I have done some coursework in the field, hours and hours, what's available, and have some practical real-world experience. My competency is passing fair in developmental editing and expert in copyediting. But coming up against the cantankerous nature of creative writers makes the practice less than fulfilling, makes it downright miserable. I don't care for making a suggested copyedit about simple things like punctuation and having some writer want to prove me wrong rather than consider first of all it's a suggestion, second of all an informed suggestion, third of all not my decision to make, and fourth of all arguing doesn't contribute to reaching goals. At an opposite exteme, suggesting a narrative's principal deficit is an unsettled narrative point of view runs into all kinds of flaming headwind resistance.

Would you pay my rates? Timely? So it's worth my efforts and hearthaches? And so it's worth taking me away from my own creative endeavors?

Light copyedit (what most self-proclaimed developmental consulting editors actually are, line editors): $0.35 to $1.00 per page
Developmental copyedit (all and sundry editorial advices): $0.35 to $1.00 per word

More importantly, can you fully engage on task and do what it takes in time and effort and keep power play dynamics out of the mentor-telemachus (protégé) relationship? And appreciate, of course, it is nonetheless a dynamic mutual exchange of ideas and roles?

I screen before I even consider accepting a manuscript proposal or offering a preliminary report proposal. I screen before I offer a contract, handshake or ironclad. I screen as I go. Much bitten, forever shy. One unpleasantness and I'm out. I've got better things to do than be a writer's whipping post for all their frustrations.

I don't see agents getting into the practice, nor publishers' editors, nor writers, per se. Those who do, do it piecemeal and sporadically, nor as masterfully as other arts' mentors because there's too many other priorities distracting them from focusing on mastering developmental editing.
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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Postby Margo » 18 Aug 2010, 12:37

As much as I absolutely understand (and have felt) your frustration, knight_tour, I'm afraid I've seen firsthand the kind of stuff polymath is talking about. I've also been that writer (years ago, honest), with access to all the right people to help me. Didn't know the value of it. Threw it away. They probably weren't as willing to help the next kid.

The problem with picking the ones who seem naturally talented is that (my experience only) they can also be the most resistent to feedback. Sometimes knowing you're good is a disadvantage in attempting to become great.

In the end, I'm afraid the reason there aren't many mentor relationships is the struggling writers themselves. Writing development can be a hard emotional process. I wouldn't want to have to deal with writers, and I am one. Perhaps the best we can realistically hope for is the odd workshop or one-page-critique opportunity with one of the best editors or agents or authors.

Since six-weeks at Odyssey or Clarion is right out (understandably), perhaps a week for Viable Paradise would be possible? Or a week for a BONI (though that's not genre-specific)? Fire in Fiction (again, not genre specific) is only 2-days if I recall, with two optional (genre) add-on days at either end. Taos Toolbox? There's another 2-week one I can't think of. Do you ever get the chance to come back to the States? Vacation time? Perhaps not. Work and life can be complicated. These kinds of workshops are expensive. There are webcasts, however, and web Master classes that you 'attend' when you're available. One has to really stay on their toes to keep track of when they're offered, but they are out there. Have you seen that Odyssey has some podcasts posted? And Clarion used to have Ex Machina, which is archived up through 2005 or 2006 or something.

You can do this studying on your own if you have to. You really can.
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