Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In answer to ...

I don't usually read the comments, but in answer to graywave, who wrote this:
'What I don't understand about the publishing game is this, if all the agents have full lists and yet there is apparently huge demand for them, why aren't more agents starting up? Isn't that how markets are supposed to work?'

I say this:
The reason there aren't new ones starting up is that it's very difficult to make the money work. Starting a new agency means working without income until you place a writer with a publisher. If that first writer gets, say, $10 000, the agent earns 15% of that: $1500. That $1500 may come in three instalments. That's $1500 spread over at least a year, if not longer. So that's one author. You need to place more to make a living - many, many more. But how are you going to support yourself while you're doing that? You need an extra income or you need to independently wealthy. If you've been working in publishing long enough to have a shot at being a successful agent, you certainly won't be wealthy. So then you need an extra income - like a husband or wife. Or another job. If it's the former, let's hope they're happy to support you for the years it will take to establish a good-sized income through the agency - and it will take years, because there's not as much money in Australian book deals as there is in US or UK deals. If it's the latter, you're not really going to have enough time to run the agency AND do another job.

Of course, you may get one whiz-bang client to begin with - the sort of client who may earn you a $10 000 commission - but the 'authors' who usually earn the most money are sportsmen, and they have sports agents. And that $10 000 won't help you eat for a whole year.

So, graywave, if you would like to suggest a way in which a fledgling agent can make a living just by agenting, I'd love to hear it.

On another note, thanks to those of you who submitted queries. Once I've recovered from the Sydney Writers Festival, I'll get to them. As I still don't know what day of the week it is, that may not be soon ...

1 comment:

graywave said...

Thanks for answering the question. Hopefully, you'll see this comment so you know you've been thanked.

You've certainly explained why becoming an agent is difficult and why few people would be keen to give it a go - especially in Australia. Yet new agents do appear from time to time - quite often people who worked for larger agencies starting up on their own, from what I've seen in PW announcements. They all have my sympathy and best wishes.

I think I was expecting an answer like, "because only so many books can be sold in the Australian market and we already have far too many agents pushing far too many books to too few publishers who are publishing fewer titles to a book-buying public that is fast abandoning us." Or somesuch.

Not that I was really expecting an answer at all, so thanks again.