There was a fascinating discussion on Twitter yesterday, started by Colleen Lindsay, who tweeted:
How would publishing change if agenting moved from commission-based payment to billable-hours? Discuss.
Amid all the hand-wringing, whinging, diatribes for and against, a couple of things got me thinking.
First of all, I’m very grateful to have come to agenting as an employee of a large agency, where I worked on salary for many years before taking on my own clients. Though there were times when I complained about it, as a young agent, I was in a unique position to take on new clients because selling their books wasn’t what I needed to do in order to eat, pay rent, and survive living in the big city.
When I left that company and started kt literary two and a half years ago, bringing almost all of my clients with me, I also was able to bring along commissions, so that as I set up my business, I was able to survive on work I’d been doing for years already, rather than throwing myself into the deep end without a life preserver, hoping to do enough deals in the first few months of my business to afford to keep it going.
I know not every agent has that opportunity, and I’m well aware that I am exceptionally lucky to have had supportive mentors and a continuing relationship with my old agency.
That being said, I think one of the points that Colleen was trying to put across was that agents now are doing much more than agents 20 years ago probably did for their clients, and yet the methods by which we get paid have stayed the same. Is billable hours the answer? Not for me, certainly. Nor do I want to go to a fee-based structure. I like getting paid when my client gets paid. It keeps me hungry — even if that is, happily, just a metaphor now.
Do I do a lot of work for my clients that I don’t get reimbursed for? Sure! But I don’t mind. If I have to make 30 calls to editors to pitch a book, send 30 emails with the manuscript, countless follow-ups, and hours more hammering down deal points and/or reviewing contracts, it’s STILL worth it, no matter what the advance, to flip to the acknowledgements page of that brand spanking new book and see my name there — as worth it, I’m sure, for the author to see their name on the cover.
Would it be worth MORE if every deal was a six-figure one? Maybe. Or maybe it’s enough that some of them are, and some of them just get to be about making dreams come true.
I’m not sure I have a point here. But I wanted to say my part about the conversation, and see what you guys thought. To the comments!
UPDATE: Author Jodi Meadows has another great take on the conversation on her LiveJournal.