I’ve been answering questions from readers, and today I’m responding to Mark, who (along with plenty of others) asked if I’m afraid of the future in which agents will be extinct. He suggested we are all terrified of losing our jobs, and when we write about traditional publishing, and even (gasp) defend it, it shows how desperately we’re clinging to an outdated model.
Hey Mark, way to put me on the defensive!
Ahem. Just kidding.
Along with everyone else, I’m carefully watching the new developments in publishing, and I try to think through how each change will affect readers, writers, and everyone who works in publishing and bookselling.
I’m not afraid of the future of publishing. For now, despite the loud voices online constantly screaming about the death of our industry, publishers are still buying and producing books, and so agents are continuing to represent authors. The difference is that in our role of career partner and advisor, we’re helping our authors to be aware of all their publishing options beyond the “traditional” ones of the past.
So the role of literary agents is already starting to change, and this will continue. The role of many publishing employees will change too. The roles of writers have been changing in the last few years and will continue in that direction. Heck, people’s roles in countless industries have been changing rapidly as our technology changes, our economics change, and the role of marketing changes.
The fact is, we live in an era in which no matter what you do, you’re going to have to embrace change or you’re going to stagnate and fall behind.
I think it’s an exciting time, if sometimes overwhelming. The future is wide open for people who are adaptable, creative, and forward-thinking. I can envision many different ways for agents’ roles to evolve, and I know most of my agent friends have been thinking about this too. Writers are still going to write; readers are still going to read; and agents are people who have developed a wide variety of skills that help bring the two together. How it will all shake out is anybody’s guess.
Most of us can think of twenty different ways our roles could morph into something related yet different. Those who aren’t interested in rolling with the changes are looking at the possibility of a different career down the road.
So don’t feel bad for all of us poor agents who supposedly may be out of a job in a few years. We’re not the equivalent of buggy-whip makers in the era of the automobile. Maybe we’re more like the road maintenance crew—we facilitated transportation via horse and buggy, and now we’re going to facilitate transportation by automobile, so we just have to figure out how to make the roads better.
I’m fairly sure that the same skills that led us to be agents in the first place will serve us as we each figure out our next step. Most likely, we’ll still be in the business of helping bring the written word to readers. Somehow, some way.
How do you envision the future for agents and publishers? And for writers?
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