Sunday, June 27, 2010

Round-up: On agent pay, advances, slush pile madness and learning to face change

Last week I started conversations on Twitter about two different topics related to the publishing industry. The first question I threw out was this: "How would the publishing industry change if agents switched from commission-based payment to billable hours?" I later threw in some alternatives as well: flat-fee payment, project-based payment, retainers, higher commissions or giving the agents a choice of how they wanted to be paid. The second question I threw out there was this: "How would the publishing industry change if ALL publishers went to a no-advance model?" (You can find most of both these chats by search these two hashtags on Twitter: #agentpay and #advchat.)

The idea wasn't to endorse either of these ideas. The idea was to try to get people to actively think outside their own comfort zone, to try to avoid the automatic negative "NIMBY" response ("not in my back yard!") that seems to prevail whenever the idea of change - any change at all! - comes up in the publishing and book industry.

Quite a few of the folks participating in the discussion - which included agents, editors, and writers - were able to rise to the challenge and actually think through what the far-reaching consequences of such a change might be, as well as ways to counteract the negatives. But a large group of those participating fell back on the tired point of view that "everyone in publishing is out to get the writer!" Which isn't actually true, by the way, but there's no teaching some old dogs new tricks.

One thing that did come out of these discussions were some fascinating - and controversial - blog posts. I've tried to find as many of them as I could (and if you wrote one and I missed it, please do email me and let me know so that I can add it to the list below). I encourage you to read through all of these. Do take the time to read the comments as well, and refrain from resorting to inflammatory or inappropriate commenting on their blogs, please!
The next mini-meta topic of the week was the not-often-discussed-but-quite-real demoralizing effects of reading slush on the psychological health of agents and editors. It's a real problem. I've experienced it myself. When I read too many manuscripts, I find myself often falling into a kind of "reader's block", and am completely unable to focus or concentrate on the project at hand. My colleague, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, wrote a great essay on this for me last year.

The two very smart online posts that started this discussion were these:
I think the upshot of all of this conversation is this: Changes are going to have to come to the way books are published. Already writers and publishers are experimenting with new and creative ways to find and publish content. Self-publishing is one tool. E-books are another tool. Collaborative online community-based projects like Authonomy and KickStarter are also great ideas worth exploring. (And while you're over at KickStarter, check out ReDeus, a very cool transmedia storytelling project that I would love to see happen!) And some publishers are actively embracing the idea of transmedia publishing, and looking at how to take storytelling into all available platforms and mediums.

Nobody is questioning that the system as it stands currently could use a creative overhaul. But simply complaining about it isn't the answer.

The culture of negativity that we've all allowed to pervade the book and publishing industry is our own worst enemy; sooner or later we will all need to learn to embrace change, even if some of those changes make us uncomfortable.

What ideas can you bring to the table to make the industry work better? Let's keep the conversation going! (And I'm not just talking about the whole agents/advances thing. I'm talking about the book industry as a whole.)

(PS: Have taken off comment moderation and have enabled anonymous posting for this particular blog post! Play nice!)

Monday, June 14, 2010

How I spent my (five day) summer vacation:

My five days in Washington State involved the following: cats, lumberjacks, cotton candy, snakes, swallows, bald eagles, aggressive ravens, double-buck saws, axes, log rolling, a friendly hog, ice cream, river wading, rock climbing, red wine, apple cider, meatloaf, halibut, wildflowers, strong coffee, giant black slugs, volunteer firemen, free-range mountain hounds, lunch with two writers, one lamentable attempt at using the Seattle public transportation system and - last but not least - one memorable lesson in teaching a 4-year old how to pee in the woods.

How was YOUR weekend?