Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
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ftapon
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Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by ftapon » August 23rd, 2010, 3:55 pm

Do you think there's a chance in hell that an agent will be willing to sell all my book's rights EXCEPT digital rights?

I don't see why any sane author would want to sell digital rights given how easy it is for the author to make his eBook available to the public and get a 70% cut.

An author would be a fool not to take the do-it-yourself route for eBooks! Imagine if Dan Brown got to keep his digital rights: he would make 5 times more money by keeping his agent/publisher out of the deal.

Imagine if Stephen King said, "Sorry, no more digital rights for you guys. I'm keeping them."

What could the publishers/agents say? He'll just take his business elsewhere and find a publisher/agent who is happy to make money just focusing on the print version of his books.

Are you seeing this happen? If not, when do you think it will?

There are signs that it's happening now. Seth Godin just gave up on the traditional model. I believe Stephen Covey is taking the digital rights of his future books into his own hands too.

Obviously, agents/publishers will resist this. However, do you think that a few enlightened/realistic ones will be willing to give up having digital rights and be happy making money the way they've done it since Gutenberg?

If there are some authors who have an agent just for film rights and another agent for book rights, then there is precedence of not giving all the book's rights to one agent to manage. If so, agents should be able to live with just the physical rights (which is all they had before since eBooks effectively didn't exist).

Clearly, if they were open to the idea, they would offer less to the author. That's fine. I'd just like to see them give authors two offers: one with, and another without, digital rights. I want to see the premium they are willing to pay for digital rights. I suspect it will not be enough for an author to say yes.

It seems that authors would be fools to give sell them for cheap. It takes an author just over one hour to post his book on Smashwords, Google Editions, Amazon, and scribd. That short investment of time would give the author about 70% commissions for life instead of the 10% or whatever he gets after the agent takes his cut.

Of course, the publishers could buy the digital rights by offering a massive advance, but the economics are against them. It would only work if the author doesn't think the eBook will sell well and the publisher believes it will. Such cases would be rare as authors tend to think more highly of their books than publishers do.

I envision a world where authors hire agents to sell: print rights, foreign rights, movie rights, merchandising rights, BUT NOT DIGITAL RIGHTS.

Do you agree?

A chance in hell of any of this happening?

Thanks!

Francis Tapon
http://francistapon.com

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 23rd, 2010, 9:40 pm

Some things to consider, and let's start with the submission process:

- If you went to a regular publisher with a debut project and said, "We are offering you only print rights and are reserving digital rights," they would say, "Adios, there's the door." They wouldn't say, "Here's our offer for print only and here's our offer with digital," they would say, "We don't want to invest in this project when there's going to be a digital edition that we aren't participating in." When publishers offer on (most) books they are doing so with the expectation that they are going to be getting both print and digital rights, and in most cases some more rights than that. There are some certain exceptions to this, and yes, Stephen King probably has more leeway. Most everyone else is not Stephen King and publishers aren't willing to carve up rights for debuts. So...
- An agent is not going to be able to do much for you with just print rights. If you want to carve out digital rights, you're going to have to self-publish. And if you're going to self-publish, do you need an agent? You might if you're at Konrath's level or Godin's level, as agents can still work out better deals with digital distributors and there are other rights to place. But if you're just starting out and this is the strategy you want to pursue, I'm not sure you need an agent to do it.

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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by ftapon » August 24th, 2010, 5:30 am

Nathan,

Thank you for the excellent reply. I thought that's what you would say, but it's useful to confirm.

I went the self-published route for my first book and probably made much more money than if I had gone the standard way. My brother, for example, was published twice with Dutton, had his book reviewed by the NY Times, but made less money than I did, even though he sold more copies.

With eBooks, the need for agents and publishers diminishes. It's a pity that publishers are still not willing to budge and face reality. But Wylie the Jackal foreshadows the battle over digital rights.

Publishers will get enormous pressure from authors on the extremes (the unknowns and the super famous), who will be motivated to give publishers the finger and do their own thing. Only midlist authors might quietly accept crappy terms. If publishers fail to change, then they risk losing out on fresh, new promising writers as well as the mega-stars (both who will demand more of the digital pie).

In the fast approaching digital world, those who will win are publicists and authors; those who will lose are agents and publishers.

A decade ago, Bill Joy wrote Wired's most famous article, "The Future Doesn't Need Us." It's time for him to write "The Future Doesn't Need Publishers and Agents."

Thank you for this forum and all the help you give writers. :)

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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 24th, 2010, 1:56 pm

I don't think it's a matter of not needing publishers and agents. With publishers, it's a matter of whether you feel you need or would benefit from a publisher's package of services (editorial, up-front investment, production, distribution, publicity & marketing), and whether the tradeoff you're making is worth less revenue on the backend.

You decided that you would be better off self-publishing, and you may well have been right. But I wouldn't then assume that your experience goes for everyone - there are lots of situations where a publisher is necessary, either for a blockbuster book that requires extensive marketing and distribution, if an author desires the cachet of a publisher, if an author doesn't want to deal with the nuts and bolts of production and distribution, etc.

And same goes for agents - Konrath still has an agent, for instance. Subsidiary rights are more important than ever, and agents can help facilitate self-publication via e-books.

What's changing is that authors of the future will be much better able to choose which route they want to go and publishers and agents are no longer going to be the only game in town (far from it), but that doesn't necessarily mean that publishers and agents are going to disappear either.

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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by rose » August 25th, 2010, 11:49 am

But, when it comes to non-fiction, does this idea of digital vs. non-digital have to be an either/or issue, Nathan?

Our on-line readers have followed Linda Brown's memoir as it has been published on the web, chapter by chapter. Now we have come to the end and these same readers are eager to help promote the book and the story. Why not take advantage of this momentum by putting out a low-key (.pdf only) e-book edition with no ISBN assigned to it?

Of course, we will withdraw the ebook edition once the digital rights are sold to a publisher, but in the meantime, we will have a book to use for platform building purposes, and we can swing right on into doing that while we wait for the query process to come to fruition.

What are the pitfalls to that line of thinking?


rose
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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by rose » August 26th, 2010, 12:34 pm

And, another question, please while I have your invaluable attention?

We have been told by one of our forum followers (who claims to be an incognito rock star) that we need to get hooked up with an entertainment lawyer, pronto, because of the film media value of the project. Would that be at all a plus for us as we seek literary representation?

Thank you,
rose
Follow my work at Smashwords:

Riders on the Rez http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/35697
The Good-Bye Man

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 27th, 2010, 6:52 pm

rose wrote:But, when it comes to non-fiction, does this idea of digital vs. non-digital have to be an either/or issue, Nathan?

Our on-line readers have followed Linda Brown's memoir as it has been published on the web, chapter by chapter. Now we have come to the end and these same readers are eager to help promote the book and the story. Why not take advantage of this momentum by putting out a low-key (.pdf only) e-book edition with no ISBN assigned to it?

Of course, we will withdraw the ebook edition once the digital rights are sold to a publisher, but in the meantime, we will have a book to use for platform building purposes, and we can swing right on into doing that while we wait for the query process to come to fruition.

What are the pitfalls to that line of thinking?


rose
If you want to go with a traditional publisher with a project, yes, it's an issue for nonfiction too. If you maintain control over the e-book a publisher may still be interested, but for something that is being traditionally published for the first time they are very likely going to want both print and electronic rights exclusively.

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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 27th, 2010, 6:53 pm

rose wrote:And, another question, please while I have your invaluable attention?

We have been told by one of our forum followers (who claims to be an incognito rock star) that we need to get hooked up with an entertainment lawyer, pronto, because of the film media value of the project. Would that be at all a plus for us as we seek literary representation?

Thank you,
rose
No, wouldn't necessarily be a plus. Curtis Brown, for instance, has an in-house film department so you don't need to have film representation before you approach us.

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Re: Are agents willing to sell only non-digital rights?

Post by rose » September 15th, 2010, 7:51 pm

All righty, then. We will hold off on approaching a entertainment lawyer for a while longer, then. And, in regard to the earlier question, we will be more than happy so sign over those digital rights, if and when we get picked up for publication.

Thank you so much for taking time to answer, Nathan. You are a genuine treasure.

rose,
(whose worst case of writer burnout comes with producing query letters)
Follow my work at Smashwords:

Riders on the Rez http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/35697
The Good-Bye Man

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