Thursday, August 23, 2012

If Your Literary Agent E-Publishes Your Book Through Their E-Publishing Service Are You Still Considered Self-Published?

If your literary agent e-publishes your book through their e-publishing service are you still considered self-published is an interesting question. But before I get into this I'd like to get one thing out of the way. Literary agents have been quietly introducing e-publishing services to their clients. They don't call it self-publishing services, they call it e-publishing services. There has been a great deal written and discussed about this with regard to conflict of interest. I'm not getting into that here. Frankly, I'm on the fence about it.

What I'm talking about has more to do with what is actually considered self-publishing. When I started my own self-publishing venture with Ryan Field Press last spring and self-published "Chase of a Lifetime," "Jonah Sweet of Delancey Street," and "Chase of a Dream," I wrote about it openly and told my readers exactly what I was doing, how I was doing it, and what my motivations were for doing it. You can read these posts here. And if anyone has any questions I'm more than willing to answer them because I'm not hiding anything from you.

What I didn't do with my self-publishing venture was contact a literary agent and ask her if I could use her e-publishing services. My motivation with this was that I wanted complete control and I didn't see the need to pay a fee...or to have an agent take 15% off the back end of my self-published books. It would have been much easier for me to submit my books to a literary agent with e-publishing services. I wouldn't have had to deal with all the business issues, I wouldn't have had to worry about formatting, and I wouldn't have had to hire a copy editor or cover artist. In other words, from what I've gathered, literary agents who offer e-publishing services do all these things for their clients/authors.

But the tricky thing is that not all work the same way. One fairly young literary agent offers e-publishing services in two packages. One package includes everything, from editorial to distribution and the other package just offers distribution. I can't single anyone out because it seems they are all doing it differently (and very quietly for some reason)...but my point here again is are these authors actually self-publishing if they are going through an experienced literary agent who is offering e-publishing services that do basically everything an e-publisher would do?

There are few interesting situations that confuse me about all this a little. Last night I was checking out a few books by published authors who recently claim they self-published .99 e-books. I went to Kobo to see who they listed as the publisher, and then I went to Amazon to see who they listed as the publisher. On Kobo they listed a literary agent who offers e-publishing services and on Amazon the author listed her own name as the publisher. So who is actually the publisher...or self-publisher? You see where I'm going with this.

Interesting. And it's a detail I wouldn't have overlooked when putting up the product description. In this case, it's a huge mistake (and dumb) to overlook that kind of continuity. I want to know who the publisher is, and if I see two different publishers for the same book on different web sites I'm going to question this.

In my case, you can go from Amazon to iTunes to Smashwords and you'll see Ryan Field Press listed as the publisher with my self-published books. I did it the hard way and I have the proverbial scars to prove it. I'm still dealing with issues regarding Kobo and a few other web sites. But with the three novels I released this past spring I consider myself a self-published author. I wrote the book, hired a copy editor, hired a cover artist, and then I pushed the buttons to self-publish those books. My partner, Tony, did a lot of the technical work, but we worked as a team and he's just as much Ryan Field Press as I am.

There are, indeed, e-publishing sevices out there that self-published authors can hire to do a lot of the technical work for them. For those who are not tech oriented but are interested in self-publishing I recommend looking into those services. From what I've seen the author pays a flat fee and that's it. These e-publishing services are not literary agents. You don't have to be their client or query them to use their e-publishing services. All you have to do is hire them as a service. In this case, you're still a self-published author and from what I gather your name/press will be listed as the publisher.

But I'm not sure about about an author who uses her agent as an e-publishing service and then lists the e-publishing service as the publisher. I guess I'm on the fence about that as well. And that's because I self-published my books with Ryan Field Press alone and you can check that out wherever you see my books for sale. But when I see an author claim she's self-published her books and then I see the name of her literary agent's e-publishing service listed on Kobo as the publisher, I have to wonder if that's really considered self-publishing...and is the agent a literary service for e-publishing or is the agent an e-publisher?

And how fair is this to all those hard-working authors out there who have been self-publishing that hard way like I've been doing it? I have twenty years of experience in getting my fiction published with traditional publishers. This gave me a slight edge over an author with less experience. But even with my experience I found self-publishing ALONE to be difficult.

All interesting questions I can't answer in this blog post without more information. The problem is finding this information because so many are so silent about it. One literary agency who started a venture like this actually shut down her blog and moved to Alaska. I'm only joking about Alaska, but the blog went dead fast when readers started asking questions.

In any event, Ryan Field Press might venture into this happy little arena next year and join all the fun. Why not? I'm not a literary agent and there would be no conflict of interest. I'm not hiding anything, I've never been anything but honest about what I do, and I have no reason to be quiet about it. I would offer e-publishing services to a select group of authors who are interested in using my e-publishing services. But no tricks and gimmicks, I promise. If I do it, I'll post about it openly and answer any and all questions. I'm just not sure if I would be considered an e-publishing service or an e-publisher if the books were distrubuted under Ryan Field Press on Kobo.


Jon Michaelsen said...

Well, I for one would strongly consider you! (grin).

Thanks for posing the question; it'll be interesting to see where this is headed and the impact e-publishing services will have on the traditional and ebook only publishing companies...Jon

ryan field said...

I'm curious about that, too. The thing that bothers me is that we (people like us) have been pioneering e-publishing for years and now others are slipping through the back door trying not to be noticed. And when an author claims she's self-publishing and I find her books published under her agent's e-publishing service, I get slightly ticked.