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The brave new world of agenting according to Andrew Lownie, Literary Agent

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Andre Lownie, Literary Agent

by Mary Yuhas

Authors use lawyers instead of literary agents; publishers act as agents; and writers become “brands” — these are only a few of the huge changes that are already impacting how literary agents work with their authors, says Andrew Lownie, the top selling agent in the world according to publishersmarketplace.com rankings. Andrew has had by far the most book deals (62) in the last 12 months. The second and third ranking agents had 56 and 55 deals in the past year.

 

Lownie founded the  Andrew Lownie Literary Agency Ltd,  in 1988. Today it is one of the UK’s leading boutique literary agencies with some two hundred non-fiction and fiction authors and is actively building its fiction list through new agent David Haviland. It prides itself on its personal attention to its clients and specializes both in launching new writers and taking established writers to a new level of recognition.

 

LitVote: How is the book market changing?

Andrew:  There are growing opportunities provided by digital publishing, social media and online. In the UK publishers are increasingly commissioning not for the bookshops, where pre-orders are low, but to the supermarkets, and they (the publishers) are looking to obtain as many rights—especially foreign rights—as possible in order to defer their risk.  In effect, the publishers are becoming agents. My list has changed substantially in the last few years from heavyweight history and biography to celebrity or inspirational memoir and a high percentage of sales are books, which are ghosted.

We, as agents, have to respond to that change to better protect the interests of our authors.

Over the next two or three years, there will be many more amalgamations, such as the Penguin & Penguin merger, of  major international publishers and agencies and attempts by the large groups to create more synergy within the organisation.

LitVote:  How do you think publishers will change?

Andrew: Publishing will become more polarized between established brands, tie-in TV books (books linked to television dramas series, reality shows, cookery  and lifestyle programmes,) celebrity books and the rest.

It will also become more fragmented as the ‘long tail’ argument makes even specialist digital publishing profitable. In a book called The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, author Chris Anderson has argued that businesses can make a significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items. On my list, the top ten authors account for 90% of my income but that remaining 10% from some 150 authors is still worth having especially as that top ten is never the same.

LitVote:   What other changes do you anticipate?

The digital revolution has created huge opportunities for everyone in publishing. All of us in publishing are going to have to be more pro-active and flexible in seeking out and exploiting the opportunities that digital publishing has brought, but it will also require us all to raise our game to fully take advantages of those opportunities.

There will no longer be clear demarcation lines between what publishers, agents, booksellers, and authors do. Booksellers have packaged books for their outlets in the past. In the future, I see them taking a more active role in the whole publishing supply chain.

Traditionally, publishers have sold rights, as well as published books, but we are now seeing them selling directly off their own websites. Authors are buying in editorial and marketing expertise by paying for editors and PR campaigns  and combining the roles of author, agent, publisher and bookseller. Many authors will increasingly adopt an a la carte view towards representation, splitting books between agents—sometimes several—and publishing some themselves.

LitVote: How will an agent’s role change?

Andrew: As publishers buy fewer books and are more cautious about what they buy, agents will need to look for other outlets for their authors’ work, combining their traditional role with a more entrepreneurial and wide-ranging approach. They will manage author’s careers and ‘brands’ the same way celebrity and sports agents do.  The buzz word is ‘360 agenting’ looking at how we can exploit the intellectual  property  in each book and the profile in every author. That means developing the ‘brand’ not just through selling rights to publishers but through speaking engagements, journalism, etc.

Agents will need to be more actively involved not just in packaging books, but with a whole host of partners outside conventional publishing such as magazines, television programmes, businesses, charities, and ‘establishing’ them in the marketplace.  By establishing, I mean raising awareness of the book and author through publicity and sales. Just as self-published authors, if successful, are picked up by publishers on the basis of good review coverage and sales, so too agencies can test the market through their own publishing initiatives.

We will see many more e-publishing initiatives ranging from my own agency’s Thistle program and Trident Media’s eBook division which only publishes existing clients and charges the usual 15% commission, to Diversion Books, which accepts unsolicited submissions and splits revenue 50/50.

Agents will also utilize their expertise in other ways by providing a wider range of services such as offering consultancy services to self-published authors, and offering creative writing courses. Agents will be using all their skills such as knowledge of the market and editorial talents plus their contacts to place books with publishers and ancillary organizations and also teach authors how to write.

LitVote:   How will author’s roles change?

Andrew: Authors will still require someone with knowledge of the market to help exploit the increasingly complex ways content can be sold, licensed and repackaged, but remuneration is likely to change. Many authors for lucrative books, which are easy to place are already choosing to simply pay fees to a lawyer rather than agency commissions. This is particularly true of one-off  books which are easy to sell  such as political memoirs. For example the Washington lawyer Bob Barnett has represented Bill & Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and Tony Blair.

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Author Mary Yuhas, has over 60,000 reads on Scribd of the first three chapters of her memoir, Quit and Be Quiet, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother.

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Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Michael Carmichael says:

    Breathtaking analysis of the heady pace of change within publishing.

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