Oct 22, 2010 - Publishing    No Comments

Literary Agents – Your Days are Numbered

This is a warning: Within 5 years 50% of the literary agencies in business today will no longer exist.

If you’re currently in the profession — and your client roster doesn’t read like the New York Times Best Sellers list — you may want to start brushing up your resume. There is a fundamental shift underfoot and you’ll soon be out of a job.

Why? you ask. Because you’re about to be replaced by machines. In the same way that robots decimated the manufacturing labor market a half-century ago, software is rapidly taking over the jobs typically performed by the service sector. Not convinced? When you last booked a flight, did you call your local travel agent — or did you log on to Expedia, Travelocity, or any one of the airline’s websites? When you last were in the market for a new flat-screen television, did you consult the knowledgeable experts at the local electronics store — or did you hop on to Amazon’s site and scroll through the hundreds (thousands) of consumer product reviews before making your decision?

Literary agents at their best are little more than filters. At their worst they are funnels. Their job is to foster relationships in the industry, garner a deep understanding of what different publishers are looking for, then represent their clients to the best of their ability by routing their work to the publisher(s) most-apt to accept the work for publication. They pimp for their clients. And in order to stay in business they’re very selective about who they pimp to.

Having an agent doesn’t guarantee a writer that their work will be published. It simply informs the writer that they’ve passed by the first gatekeeper on that road towards publication: they’ve made it through the filter.

Ultimately the publishing decision is up to (yes) the publisher. Publishers read works from agents they trust to be good filters. They don’t read works from agents they don’t trust. Which leads logically to a fundamental question: other than acting as a filter and a pimp, what value does an agent really provide?

Any Service Based Solely Upon A Deep Knowledge of the Marketplace Can Be Codified

Software is infinitely trainable, malleable, and knowledgeable. People are not.

Given enough data, software can tell you tell you where you should invest your money, apply for a home mortgage, which plumber to hire, and (gasp) where you should submit your latest manuscript.

If software can be trained to be a better filter than existing mechanisms (agents) and can also introduce publishers to like-minded writers who normally would be outside of their submission stream, doesn’t it stand to reason that publishers would look more to software to find their next project?

HarperCollins seems to think so, which is why they’ve launched services like InkPop and Authonomy.

I believe so — which is why I co-founded Loudlever and launched the HeyPublisher service.

What do you think?