Agencies get into e-book publishing

13 October, 2011

Publishing has never been more like the Wild West.  Anything and everything is possible. Lines are blurring–between publisher and distributor, vendor and publisher, agency and publisher, with many more variants.  It’s confusing at times, but it is also incredibly exciting.  The walls are coming down, not only in terms of publishing roles and functions, but between publishers, authors, vendors, distributors and most important–readers, our ultimate consumer.

For years, when I was an editor at Random House and HarperCollins, the protocol was that editors did not speak to booksellers.  And only booksellers had access to the consumer. Now, in just the last couple of months, I have had fascinating meetings with Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s digital media group and Perseus, whose Constellation encompasses distribution functions for many small publishers, and now agencies. Very soon, my agency will be working with all three of these “partners” we hope in selecting, publishing, marketing and distributing e-books, some with a print-on-demand component. As a former publisher, this is music to my ears. I’ve often said that my current incarnation as an agent was just a disguise for a publisher-in-drag. In sum, you can’t take the editor and the publisher out of the agent I’ve become.

It’s also terrifying. This is going to be so much work!  How will be do it? Will authors put their confidence in us? Will we still have time and energy to be terrific agents for our authors?  And how will authors and agents get paid?  All of this is a work in progress, but there are many incentives to try new formulas. Like the government, which is thought at times to be “broken,” so, too, publishing desperately needs to reinvent itself.

In the months ahead, I’m hoping this will all become clearer in terms of how we work with authors and publishers.  But I’ve always felt that partnership is the key to any successful business. So I am looking forward to adding new dimensions to who might be partners in the future and how we might work together to do what we all hope and dream: to bring great writing and important information, “curated” to readers everywhere: whoever they might be, in whatever form they might want, and at any time that they might want it.

I’ll let you know how it all develops and would welcome your input. Write to me at with your thoughts and questions.

–Joelle Delbourgo