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Why Literary Agents should start looking for a new line of work (fast)

Should Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner worry her profession's days are numbered?

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner recently posted what seemed like a simple question on her Blog:

“What is the most important thing you expect from a literary agent?”

I’ve had disagreements on Twitter with publishing icons like Michael Hyatt regarding what I’m about to say, but I still think I’m in the right on this:

In today’s world, I need a literary agent to sell ME on why I should use him or her – not the other way around.

Why? Well, it’s 2011. In book publishing, down is the new up. Authors no longer have to plead like disheveled beggars outside the e-mail inboxes of literary agents and publishers for someone to notice their work.

Here’s why:

  • Self-publishing and selling your own book at virtually no cost to yourself is easier than ever thanks to sites like CreateSpace and Lulu.
  • The emergence of e-books and e-readers like the Kindle and iPad has started pushing “traditional” book sales off a cliff.
  • “Nobodies” like John Locke (who sold 1 million e-books in 5 months) have shown us the blueprint for self-publishing success. (FYI, it includes pricing and – most important – building and growing a thriving Social Network of supporters, fans and brand evangelists.)
  • Unless you’re already a huge name like Stephen King, an author must handle all of his or her own marketing and PR efforts. In fact, literary agents and publishers now expect an author to come to the table having already established a selling platform and a thriving online network of Twitter followers, Facebook fans and the like.

Since authors already do all the work selling our books to readers, why split the royalties with a literary agent and/or traditional publisher?

The ONLY advantage I see in using an agent and/or traditional publishing house is large-scale distribution of a project into brick-and-mortar bookstores. But so what? Those places are dying a hasty death (remember Borders?) and won’t be around much longer. In addition, most standard publishing contracts only net the author $1.00 to $2.00 per book sold. Why not just self-publish and sell your project as an e-book for $2.99, keeping nearly all the profit for yourself?

(An aside: Pricing is key! Like John Locke says, if I sell my sports novel for .99 cents on Kindle and Author X’s sports novel retails for $9.99, that means Author X’s book has to be 10 times better than mine for the consumer to justify the expense. Right? Also, who won’t spend .99 cents on something even of mild interest to them in 2011? Make it $9.99, and we’re going to hesitate quite a bit more!)

I’ve worked with literary agents in the past and especially in Christian fiction. Most of my books are a tough sell because of my niche (sports fiction with a Christian theme). But I know that if I work my face off in the Social Media trenches like this guy taught me, I’ll see real results and move product.

That’s why literary agents and traditional publishers have become like landline telephones and fax machines: Once critically important to the process, they’re being pushed quickly and unceremoniously to the side.

I know we’re not all the way there yet. And maybe it won’t happen as fast as I think, but it will happen. That’s just fact.

The Power of Twitter – Thomas Nelson’s CEO and Me

Not so long ago, the idea of me – a self published author – being able to have a personal conversation with the CEO of Thomas Nelson – arguably the biggest and best publishing house in Christian books today – would have been laughable.

But thanks to Twitter, Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt not only follows me, but has even DM’d me! Granted, it’s not like we are close personal friends, but Mike (after one DM I feel like we’re on a first name basis) and I are Tweeps now!

And the way I connected with Him was NOT by sending him self-promoting “Will you publish my Christian novels?” type drivel. Rather, I’ve taken the time to follow his Tweets, and offer @replies and other methods of feedback and/or congratulations related to Thomas Nelson and it’s brand.

By taking an interest in his Tweets and adding useful replies to the ongoing conversation, I’ve become a part (albeit a tiny one) of Mike’s consciousness online.

Literary agents, are you listening? Authors looking for a break, are YOU listening?

Michael Hyatt is. And I think that’s one of the main reasons his company had 8 of the 10 best sellers on a recent book list. Mike is out there listening and interacting with people like me, people who buy his books and are passionate about his industry. And as a result I now feel a personal connection to Thomas Nelson as a consumer. I’m all warm and fuzzy because it’s CEO literally took five seconds to DM me. Wonder what publisher’s books are going to be at the front of my mind next time I go into a Christian bookstore?

See how this works?

The power, influence and ability to connect with anyone – even a big shot CEO at a major publishing house! – is what makes Social Media the most important development since the Internet itself was invented.

And if you have a brand (including yourself!) out there to advocate for, once you start putting in the sweat equity (to quote Gary Vaynerchuk) in the trenches, chances to make career and potentially life changing connections are just out there waiting to happen.

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