Today, you folks are in for a real treat. As some of you know, I’ve started digging into the world of agents recently, trying to learn more about their role in the shifting publishing landscape, especially as it pertains to indie and hybrid authors like myself. What I found was that there were a lot of folks out there who were also confused on how the process worked, with many of the same questions popping up over and over again. Thankfully, Gordon Warnock of FUSE Literary Agency was kind enough to take the time to answer some of the questions I saw showing up the most. I think that’s really all the context needed, so I’ll let the rest of the interview speak for itself:
Drew: To start things off, Fuse Literary describes itself as a hybrid literary agency, and in fact when I was looking for an agent to interview the company came up several times for its willingness to take on hybrid authors. I wondered if you’d like to take a moment to just walk us through what differentiates Fuse from non-hybrid agencies, and what made the company take steps in that direction.
Gordon: Laurie and I both came from very old-school agencies, which have their place in this business, but they didn't really match our individual philosophies as to the role of an agent. We prefer to actively innovate, rather than just continuing on with the tried and true, and we're very into having a well-stocked toolbox from which to draw the best possible implements for a particular task at hand. This is why we've embraced and sought to further pioneer hybrid management. Greatly simplified, we use mainstream and alternative formats and modes of publication in concert for the common goal of a sustained, successful writing career. We're thinking outside of the covers, and it's done wonders for our clients.
Drew: Can you give us an overall view of what the business relationship is between agents and hybrid authors? By that I mean do you usually sign the author as an entity and all the work they produce from there (possibly along with their backlog), or contain it to signing specific projects. Or does it vary based on the individual needs of each agent and author that work together?
Gordon: One of the big changes we made when we started the agency was to sign the author, rather than the book. Where I was before, even if I'd sold a dozen books for an author, we'd have to sign a new contract for their next book. That just seemed way too shortsighted to me. Fast forward to after we started Fuse, and I was approached by a successful hybrid author (with the permission of her then agent, who is a mutual friend) looking to get in on what we had to offer. I ended up signing her and immediately working up a 13-book hybrid plan using certain types of traditional publishers along with our own publishing arm to move her brand in the desired direction. We're only a few books into that plan, and we're already starting to see the desired result. That's just one case, though, and the biggest strength of our hybrid model is that we take a customized approach with each client. Ask about any other client, and I'd give you a different model with a different strategy.
Drew: One thing that’s come up a lot when I talked with other indie authors is that there’s a fear we’re less attractive to agents than those who take a traditional route, since we’ll often have an entire series or two that would be unsigned, and therefore not revenue. Others think that a strong showing on the indie market makes a compelling case for getting signed, since it shows that they can move books. Obviously I’m sure signing authors is a case-by-case issue, but can you speak to how an author’s independent publishing history impacts their desirability as a client?
Gordon: First, that speaks volumes of two things: the sheer amount of bad information that's tossed around in publishing circles and the tendency of humans to seek out absolutes (especially ones that imply that their point of view is correct). If you can avoid those two, you're head and shoulders above most aspiring authors and even a number of career authors. The true answer is that it depends upon the agent, the genre, and the details of the author's track record. Broadly speaking, if the author achieves in the independent market the type of success that would be deemed impressive in the corresponding commercial market, it helps their case for traditional publication. That's very difficult to do on your own, but it occasionally happens. One of our clients was the first ever self-published author to win Australia's top award in his genre. That got our attention, and we're working with him now in a hybrid capacity. Another was a million seller on Kindle (at a reasonable price point) before signing with us. And in both of those cases, we've allowed the authors to keep their existing series mostly independent, and we're shopping their future series (traditional publishers are usually very particular about launching new series, and they love launching new authors). But if, for example, you're thrilled about selling a thousand copies of your latest book (which is much better than average for self-pub but terrible for traditional), it won't really help your case.
Drew: Speaking in a general sense, does it often create any issues when a hybrid author releases new titles or entries in a series under independent publishing rather than taking it through the traditional route?
Gordon: If the author is an independent, yes. For example, in most cases, if you begin a series as independent, it kills the potential for that series to be traditionally published. However, if the author is a true hybrid with a career that's being managed by a good agent, the agent will make sure that they're not making poor decisions. We've released interstitials and companion pieces that help the reader's series and brand but do not appeal enough individually to the bottom line of the series' traditional publisher, for one.
Drew: As someone who likely sees countless numbers of queries from interested authors on a weekly basis, is there any advice you wish you could tell all of those who are taking the step from independent to hybrid before they try to submit?
Gordon: If you have an existing independent career, gather your figures and information and be ready to share it all with the agent. Be open and honest. If you give me accurate information, I have the tools I need to correctly strategize and advocate for you. If you get an agent under false pretenses, there's a good chance that they're going to harm your career or your reputation simply by attempting to do their job. A lie now will always surface later and usually at the worst possible moment.
Big thanks again to Gordon and Fuse Literary Agency for taking the time to do today’s interview. If this is a path you’re interested in looking down, be sure to check them out. And for those of you who write shorter works, they recently launched Short Fuse, for authors of more succinct prose.