An Open Letter to Literary Agents

Dear Literary Agents,


That tiny hyphenated word is striking fear and glee into the hearts of publishers and authors around the world. People in the industry are scrambling to try to figure out how to adjust to the emerging model. I don’t need to tell you this—you already know it.

When it comes to e-books, authors and publishers face different challenges and opportunities. I’ve talked about many of them on this blog. You may think as literary agents you aren’t impacted as directly by e-books, but I believe there is an opportunity you might want to consider.

For years, you’ve slogged through the trenches of the slush pile. You’ve spent countless hours looking through the dross for that one shining gem–the needle in the haystack. When you’ve found that manuscript worthy to be published, you shop it around, hoping to find it a home.

How does this process change with e-books? Let’s consider things from both a reader’s and a publisher’s perspective.

First, the readers. Self-publishing has never been easier. As a reader, I can browse thousands of self-published books online. I turn to the ratings to decide if I should buy them, but many of them only have one or two ratings. How do I know that isn’t the author and his mother? Can I trust them? I know it’s only 99 cents, but it’s the time I’m most worried about. I don’t want to spend two hours reading a book, only to discover the novel is a stinker.

What about publishers? E-books look like they bay be causing a major shift in the industry. How do Publishers adapt? How do they get ahead, or stay ahead? Many aspects of the old model are changing, but a few still apply—they need to find really good books—books that will sell.

So, literary agents, where do you come in to this picture? I think you’ve already guessed it. You have in your possession to solution to both problems.

You’ve been able to land contracts for many of your authors, but sitting on your shelves are manuscripts that are good—really good. Manuscripts on which nobody was willing to a chance. These books really should see the light of day.

Do you see what I’m driving at?

You need to create a trademarked seal. Maybe it’s administered by the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). This seal can be placed on the digital version of any e-book, and readers will know that this manuscript is not just a run-of-the-mill self-published book, but a book that is right on the verge of landing a coveted contract. It will serve as a stamp of approval, similar to the Real symbol we’ve all come to know and love while eating our dairy products.

Readers win because they know the book they are about to buy is very likely a cut above the rest of the books available online. Authors win because this symbol on their books will likely drive up sales. And publishers win, too. How?

Publishing a book is all about risk. Will people like this book? Like it enough to buy it, and recommend it to their friend? At the end of the day, it’s a guessing game.

With a system like this, publishers could look at the digital sales all of the agented unpublished books that have yet to land a contract. They can quantitatively see for themselves what books and authors are selling well. What sells well digitally may not transfer to more print sales, but there is a good chance it will. At the very least it provides one more metric in the eternal guessing game of which books to buy.

And maybe in the end, some of these books still don’t land a contract. But their digital versions will have very likely found their way into the hands of hundreds of readers. These gems you’ve found, these books that you know deep in your heart should be introduced to the world, will find their way onto Kindles and iPads everywhere. And in the end, isn’t that what got you into this business in the first place?


The Open Author

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One Response to An Open Letter to Literary Agents

  1. DeNae says:

    I love this idea. I’m going to make my own seal, and develop a web site so folks can properly vet my seal, and write a Wiki page talking about how awesome it is to have that seal on your book…and then I’m putting my seal on every syllable I write!

    (I’m mostly kidding. I really do think that’s a great idea. Yours, I mean. Mine needs a little fine-tuning.)

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