Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Open Letter to my agent Donald Maass

So last month, the CEO of Kensington (my first publisher) had made comments about the self-publishing industry that I felt needed to be addressed. And this month, it would seem I'm 2 for 2 on the self-publishing debate given that my own agent has also stepped into the arena looking to take a swing in the self-publishing industry. (I would like to point out that Donald Maass did NOT represent me in my Kensington contracts, for those of you who were wondering.)

This is my open letter to my agent after he had posted to Writer Unboxed. He was rather well addressed over at Joe Konrath's blog where Joe aptly named it Fisking Donald Maass. I don't think I need to add anything to what was said. What I'll be addressing is the side few readers and unpublished authors get to see. The real relationship between a writer and their agent.

Dear Donald Maass,
So last week, I was attending a fabulous Indie "Unconference" in San Francisco, learning more about the self-publishing business I'm in, and meeting tons of great professional people, when I stumbled across your blog called The New Class System. Fortunately, I had stumbled on it prior to the event because I was repeatedly asked by other indie authors face to face what I thought of your post given,'re MY agent and um...I'm self-publishing. It was an awkward position to be put in. After all, I've spent more than a few years getting to know you, your business, your model, your craft and what makes you the success that you are. I loved working with you and implementing your ideas and strategies of how to not only step out of the box, but smash it.

Not surprisingly, people had a lot to say about your post. But few (if any) who commented are actually represented by you. They responded to your post with two fists without realizing that you encouraged me to take up self-publishing and explore a world that I was too damn scared to venture into. You supported my decision to self-publish knowing that a.) you wouldn't see any money from what I was doing and b.) that I was walking away from a three book contract with Harlequin. Does this sound like a guy who believes there's a new class system being created? Or were you knowingly letting me get on Freight Class? (I'm being cheeky here, Don).

The class system you describe did surprise me. Because I think you're over-generalizing self-publishing by listing it as simple Freight Class and you know it. I've been in Coach, Don. You helped me get there. You did everything to ensure I was a success in Coach even though the seats weren't as comfortable as I thought they were going to be. But I stayed in my seat. Because I knew that by staying in my seat, the conductor would come around and eventually look at me and say, "You look like you should be sitting in First Class." Unfortunately, that conductor never gave me a second glance, no matter how many times you tried to wave that asshole down for me. In fact, the conductor took it upon himself to leave a window wide open, allowing eight of my books to fly out the window at a digital rate of 8% that I know I should have never signed. It was a digital rate you yourself didn't agree with, but we were dealing with Harlequin and I was told they don't negotiate their digital rates. And if Donald Maass can't negotiate a better deal for me, who could?

But here is the one thing that made you stand out as an agent, even after I've been through 4 others. The one thing that I believe will continue to make you successful regardless of how the publishing industry changes. That although high winds were blowing in Coach Class through that open window and I couldn't hold onto my thoughts or my words or my clothes, you held my hand and kept my thoughts focused on what mattered most: the writing. I learned SO much sitting in Coach Class there with you. I learned to be a better writer because of you and I learned to challenge myself because of you. To me, THAT is what made you earn your 15%. What author can say that or more about their agent? My experience says very, very few. When I finally had the guts to get up from my seat because I knew First Class wasn't going to be in my future for at least another 10 years, you helped direct me to what you now call Freight Class.

I have to say, Freight Class is awesome. No one left the window open back here. The seats are bouncy and let me swivel any way I want so I can write and deliver the books in any way I want. And the conductor isn't sticking his nose in on my business telling me what I can and can't write. It's soooo nice. I guess what you're not seeing is that I learned to appreciate the wonders and the joys of Freight Class after being stuck in Coach Class for so long. I'm loving it back here and I kinda wish you'd actually rename all the classes. Because the people in Freight Class deserve more respect. And let me tell you why.

Once upon a time, traditional publishers and agents defined what went on the shelf. In the gatekeeping industry, a traditionally published author had to please only a few people to get on that shelf: their agent and a core group of editors within the publishing house. If it didn't please those core group of people, a rifle was taken out and the book was shot dead on the spot and buried on the side of the Railroad tracks our Class System train is zipping by. Unlike Coach and First Class who are confined to this way of thinking, the bar has been officially set higher by those in Freight Class. You heard me. Higher. Because we, in Freight Class, have to please more than just a few people. We have to please THOUSANDS and we have to do it all upfront and on our own.

The cold reality is that readers are the new gatekeepers. They aren't the agents, they aren't the editors, and they most certainly aren't the publishing houses. The readers pay for an author's ticket to stay on the train, regardless of what class system they're sitting in. They've always been the gatekeepers, but for some reason, a core group of people in New York decided that their control of the industry held more weight than that of readers and authors.

These single-minded group of agents, editors and publishers surprisingly share a similar core and history with the same group of people who told Charles Dickens he was a loser for supporting International Copyright Laws because he wanted to get paid. Imagine that. We don't know any of the big wig names belonging to those core of people from the publishing industry who told Charles Dickens he was a loser, but guess what? We sure as hell know the name Charles Dickens. And that's something the publishing industry is forgetting. Believe it or not, Charles Dickens started out in Freight Class, too. Because he didn't print his stories in the traditional way writers were expected to in his era (books). He originally printed his stories through periodicals, which was a quick and very inexpensive way to get his stories into the hands of thousands (wow, sounds like a Kobo, Kindle or Nook) as opposed to a select few who could barely afford books (hardbacks come to mind).

Regardless of the class system a writer is put into by an agent or a publisher, ultimately, you and I both know that it's the reader who decides who is going to stay on the train and who is going to get off. And while I believe you aren't knocking the self-publishing industry, given the incredible and wonderful support you have given me, I'm rather liking the idea that I'm sitting here in the same class system similar to what Charles Dickens once hung out in. Being innovative, progressive and dedicated to craft all at an affordable price the masses can afford.

In closing, self-publishing is a lot of hard work, yes, but let's not fool ourselves into saying that the work-load is any different when under a publisher's wing. In fact, the amount of work I did while with New York prepared me to take on self-publishing without any problem. Because my New York publisher never created my website, they never took on my Facebook, they never took on my Twitter, they never promoted my blog, and they never provided me any guidance on how to brand myself. Everything I did, I did on my own all while writing my books. All of this was done while under a publisher's wing, or more aptly, while hanging from the feather of a bird who can't even share my digital numbers.

Delilah Marvelle AKA Freight Class Ticket Holder