Randy Ingermanson, author of the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog, recently postulated that the role of the agent will change in this shifting publishing landscape. But they will still exist, he says, even if self-publishing continues to be a driving force in the New Age of Publishing.
Randy adds that agents may double as freelance editors, epublishers, and book development. I think they might go one step further and become publicists.
When you think of it, it is an obvious choice. Agents are the “business” people, helping to negotiate rights, fees, and all those fun things that most writers can’t (or don’t want to) deal with. Although the economics might be more straightforward with ebooks — you don’t negotiate with Amazon, you accept their royalty terms or you go elsewhere (for now) — there is still a lot of business and marketing work to be done. Setting up readings. Setting up advertising. Putting together a marketing plan. Helping the author reach the readers.
Yes, strictly speaking, this isn’t normally in the realm of “agent”. But then neither is book development, editing, etc.
Even in the New Age of Publishing, there will need to be business people. Some writers will be able to take care of their business affairs efficiently, but some won’t. If self-publishing in the Old Age of Publishing is any indication, the vast majority would at least benefit from business/marketing help to the point where the service will easily pay for itself (assuming you team up with the right person).
So what will these people be called? Agents? Publicists? Producers? Book Marketers?
I don’t know. But whatever they are called, I suspect the ones with the widest range of business/marketing skills will prosper most.