Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making Money

It’s not uncommon, when witnessing a tirade by a frustrated author, that you hear the complaint that the only thing agents want are books that will make them money. This is usually some thinly veiled criticism (I use that word loosely) of the books agents are representing.

Well, once and for all I’d like to put this point to rest because it’s true. The only books I want to represent are books that make money. See, I’m in the business of selling books for my clients to make us all money. I agent because it’s my career. Sure, it has the added bonus of being something I love, but I also need to feed myself and keep a roof over my head. So criticize all you want, but the truth is that good agents will only represent books they think will make them money. That’s called a job.



Rick Daley said...

Makes cents to me ;-)

Vicki Rocho said...

This is a "no duh" kinda thing for me. Are you supposed to take on my project just because I'm charming and oh-so deserving? hahaha.

Jane Lebak said...

I actually find that a comforting thought. A rejection doesn't mean "This has no artistic merit" and "You have no talent" but rather "We don't feel we can make a ton of money off this."

Tracy said...

Making Money = People Wanted To Read the Book

If the public wouldn't want to read the book what is the sense in killing another tree to make it? Blaming agents for wanting to make money is just a cover (no pun intended)

Kate said...

This made me laugh so hard. I love you Jessica. "That's called a job" FTW!

I continue to be amazed by the number of writers who (supposedly) want to get published, yet fail to view their writing as a business endeavour.

If you want to make money off of something, then you have to see it as a business. If you're not interested in making money, just write for your own sake (and the near and dear) and don't put yourself through the hassle of seeking publication. Piece of cake!

Mark Terry said...

As Stephen King once wrote in an essay, "Some of you are calling me crass and money-fixated. And some of you are calling me bad things."

Jen said...


And on the flip side, any writer who thinks he/she is in it just for the artistic satisfaction, shouldn't be subbing to agents imho.

Anonymous said...

I make a little money soliciting and submitting to men (and women) I don't even know. Yes..I try to sell myself over the internet,(the street corner) for writers, awe hell, call me a writing whore, I love it. I just wish I could make more money at it.
Maybe I should go on a diet and wear more revealing clothes or as Lawrence Block said, "make every word count", and as they all say, show don't tell. Were we really taking about writing.

Colette Martin said...

Ahh, you made me laugh. Of course you want to represent books that will make money. (And if you didn't no author should want you as their agent.)

Anonymous said...

Are you serious? Someone complained that you were only willing to take on a project if it would make money? Complained?

Thank you, Jessica, for only being willing to take one the project that will make money.

I love to write, but I really only want to write things that will make money. I can write for other reasons after I pay off my house, my car, my credit cards, etc.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Gee - I thought all agents were in it to make money.

If a writer looking to be published isn't in it for the money, they should self-publish.

Anonymous said...

Yes. As everyone has said, it is a bit of a no-brainer.

I ask myself 'why do people want to get published if they don't care if their book sells to people (ie, makes money)?

The only reason I can think of (aside from fluffing their ego and social status) is they think their book is useful/appealing to a small niche market and want to get it to them - even though it won't appeal to enough people to 'make money'.

The good news is for these people, that with today's technology it's easier than ever for them to access this niche themselves. Put together a simple website or blog (and because the niche would be so targeted there's a good chance they'll be findable in search engines) - and provide a digital version for free.

Problem solved.

So be thankful you live today rather than 20 years ago, get creative, and leave the poor agents alone.

Courtney Milan said...

Strangely, I only want someone to agent my book if she wants to make money on it. I don't make money if she doesn't.

Kate Douglas said...

Works for me. It's not much of a career if it doesn't make money. If you didn't, I wouldn't and I might have to go out and get a REAL know, the kind with a normal, forty-hour work week where I DIDN'T work seven days a week, 12-15 hours a day!

Krista Heiser said...

Well said.

Leslie said...

@ Mark Terry, LOL. And it's very easy to self-publish in the e-book format these days, so any author who's not concerned about the money can go that route.

Inda Lauryn said...

I'm actually interested in books that will make ME money, agent or no agent.

Rita said...

Right on Jessica!

MH said...

Word UP.

Eva Gale said...


Wendy Qualls said...

Leslie, I definitely agree. A few decades ago, there *was* no real way to write "just for the fun [or art] of it" - you could keep a journal, but there was no way to systematically share your work with others unless you went through the system.

Now there are plenty of options: ebooks, vanity presses and POD technology, ezines, blogs, heck even Twitter allows you to broadcast your creativity to the masses.

Authors who look down on making money should restrict themselves to the venues where nobody else has to make money from their work, either.


Love this! A good reminder to everyone who ever claimed to be writing "just for the love of it."

I love it too, but I'm pretty sure my agent would not be impressed if I called her up today and said, "you know that advance check we're getting? Send it back, please. I think it soils the purity of what I'm trying to do here."

Hmmm...maybe I'll try that.


The Daring Novelist said...

If you don't want to make money, what do you need an agent FOR?

(Isn't that what self-publishing is for?)

Mira said...

Whoa, hold up.

I'm not writing for money, but I still want to be published. I want my work to reach a wide audience.

There are other reasons why a writer might like to be published.

That doesn't mean, though, that I won't still express deep frustration about the 10/90 split. That has more to do with a system that feels unfair to me.

However, all that said:

Bravo, Jessica! Hear, hear!

The publishing industry should want to make money - that's what keeps it viable. In fact, if anything, I find it baffling that it doesn't seem to want to. The topic from yesterday, for example. Why on earth wouldn't publishers send their books widely out to reviewers. Don't they want to make any money????

But in terms of those who critisize the money making thing, I think they are worried that their work will be blocked from publication, because it's not commercial.

I think when publishing switched from sponsorship to business, some people felt that non-commercial books would be blocked.

But switching to commercial was the best thing that ever happened to writers. Over time, it's opened the gates to all writers, and made getting published a much more democratic process.

And technology has played a role so that the gate-keeping function of publishing is now defunct. Publishers can not stop a book from publishing like they could in the past. Anyone who wants to publish, can.

So, for those who write more literary work, I say let commercial publishing become as strong and finacially viable as possible - it will build readership and strengthen the writing process. That's all to the good.

And if your work isn't commercial, per se, you can look for industry folks who want to sponsor - there are still a few of them - or publish yourself and use the web to reach a wide audience.


My goodness. I had alot to say here. :) Thanks for the post, Jessica.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that my agent only takes projects to make money! Likewise, it pleases me that my work will help make money for other people.

Flattery and love are nice. But pay me for my work.

Unknown said...

I'm always kind of baffled when people don't grasp the concept that printing/editing/distributing books costs, you know, money. And that the people who are in this industry actually want a return and hopefully a profit on that investment.

This mindset genuinely makes no sense to me. I *assume* if an author is looking for an agent, it means they'd actually like their book to SELL, and they'd like to be PAID. Either in money or recognition.

Angela Artemis said...

Jessica - you go girl! Whoever says they love their job so much they'd do it for free has got to be tripping.

Wendy Delfosse said...

Makes sense to me!

I've always wrestled with the sales side of things. And now seeking publication I've wondered about having to "sell". It helps, for me, to stop looking at it as sales for a dollar's sake, but rather to look at it as sales=readers and if I'm not writing for an audience and I'm not trying to reach people, why am I doing this in the first place? Isn't writing about COMMUNICATION?

Wendy Delfosse said...

Oh and I deinitely agree - why would you want to hire and agent that *doesn't* want to make a lot of money off you? If an agent works off standard commission it stands to reason the better they profit the better you do! (or the more people you reach, if you still feel dirty talking about it in terms of money.)

Kristin Laughtin said...

I wonder how many of these authors that criticize agents for wanting to make money would turn down a large advance for their own work. Heck, if wanting to make money is so bad, shouldn't they be willing to let the publishers release their works for free?

Yes, agents should love the books they take on, and writers do want to share their words with the world, but at the end of the day we all want to be paid for our work.

Anonymous said...

Kristen, I thought of that too. I also think the same analogy applies when writers complain that few mega-stars are getting huge advances while others get skimpy ones. My thought is, okay, you go first. You tell your publisher not to send the check for a million dollars - you'd rather it go to several other writers.


Tom Bridgeland said...

I give labor to my church for free. My employer has to pay me.

I worked some years as a real estate agent. If the house didn't sell I didn't get paid a cent. In fact listing a house that didn't sell cost me big in advertising dollars as well as time and trouble. You can bet I only took on houses I thought would sell, and when I did I tried really hard to sell them.

Works the same in publishing. If you want someone to work hard for you let their paycheck depend only on results.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

ROFL! Work for money? How could you? For that matter, I only want you to represent my work if you can make money for us *both*. LOL!

M Clement Hall said...

To take an opposite tack, I believe it does (has) happen that an agent or editor will know a book is never going to be a real money maker, but push it for its artistic merit.
But I would never expect to be in that class, nor are there many who will be.

M. M. Justus said...

Interesting. I mean, I can think of lots of reasons to rant at agents and editors, but because they want to make money???

I want them to make money -- I want them to do it with my book so that I can get read!

Carol J. Garvin said...

I'm surprised this is even an issue. Publishing is a business. What agents do is part of that business. A business that doesn't make money quickly disappears from the landscape.

Wouldn't a writer who is that anxious to see an unprofitable book published be better to self-publish?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This is all wonderful and perfectly understandable.

The disheartening part is knowing that agents can't take any risks these days. They have to go for the sure-fire sale. This leaves little chance for writers like me to achieve paying publication.

I've tried and tried to write commercial fiction, and I just can't.

All my stories turn out like Aragorn battling Klingons with a lightsaber.

Too wierd.

But, anything different would bore me.


jjdebenedictis said...

Aaa-OOO-gah! Incoming snark:

There are three reasons why a person seeks publication:

1) They are a megalomaniac displeased with the level of adulation they receive from the public, and so they have written a novel to rectify this strange oversight.

2) Their self-esteem is lower than the underside of a doormat and they desperately want a stranger to say, "Yes, you are good at this," to rectify the situation.

3) They want to make money.

Writing for enjoyment, or for self-expression, or for the sake of creating a potent work of art does not require publication. Seeking publication means you either want attention or you want money.

The second impulse is the more healthy one.

Delilah S. Dawson said...

Reminds me of the artists who don't want to sell out to the establishment, just produce their meaningful work... and then price it ridiculously high. If you don't care about the money, then why are your stick figures tagged at $3000? And why is no one buying?

It's not shameful to want to make a living from your creative talent or your ability to sell creative talent.

Terri Tiffany said...

Amen! Business is business.

Sandra Rose Hughes said...

Thank you for your honesty on this topic. Books are so many different things to different people that it is sometimes to difficult to keep in mind that they were published to sell.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but when you've been agenting 10+ years and you're well set, I'd think you can AFFORD to give someone a break just cuz you love their book. How do you know what the market will do? No one can predict success!

Professor Tom said...

Grammar Nazi here:

I agent because it’s my career.
I am an agent...

Now do I get a free meeting or something? :D


Janet Morgenstern said...

HA! Heaven forbid you make a living! I find often that I start a story with an ideal, then try to tailor it into something that will sell for precisely the same reason.