Yesterday's post was useful to me in that I learned something new about agenting. In close to two years of studying writing and reading about agents on their blogs and in articles I have never once seen them state that they got 15% of both advances and royalties. I've always read they got 15% of advances. I'm not saying they are being purposely deceptive, but it seems odd that agents are not more forthcoming about this. I imagine I am not the only budding author out here who views advances and royalties as two distinct things. Yes, I have always read that publishers recouped their advances from future royalties, but that is not the same things as understanding that agents will continue to draw 15% from royalties indefinitely. Just to be clear, I am perfectly fine with this arrangement; I just wish agents were more direct in stating that they get 15% of 'earnings' rather than using the word 'advances'.
I still believe the system for developing writing talent is severely broken. Let me use a chess analogy, since chess is something I am an expert in. I view those writers picked up by agents these days as being somewhat equivalent to titled chess masters. They have a product that is already pretty much publishable with some relatively light work by the agent and editor of the publishing house that picks the book up. However, this illustrates exactly what is wrong with publishing today.
If chess organizers only cared about chess masters, there would be no chess on an organized basis. It is well known that there are many talented people out there, but they cannot simply become masters on their own except under rare circumstances. They need to have their talent recognized first so that they can be developed and become masters. Russia and China, to name a couple of countries that do it best, are well-oiled chess monoliths, because they understand that they need to comb through tens of thousands of prospective players to find the talented ones and nurture them.
In the writing world, agents have no incentive to recognize when a new writer has talent. There is no incentive to develop talent and help that writer become a master. Therefore we are losing potentially tens of thousands of writers who could have been the next Pushkin or Poe or King or ... take your pick. It makes sense on one level because agents simply need to make a living, and choosing talented but raw individuals is much harder work than picking out those who are already masters. But, isn't it a crying shame to lose all of those potential greats out there? There must be a better way.
Amateur critting groups are fine, in a sense, but they don't provide any professional level support to the budding writer. Chess masters don't become masters by working with other amateurs. They become masters by working with master level players. Writing courses are also not a fix. I have been through a number of them, and they do some few things well, but they don't truly develop writers adequately. I think some smart publisher, perhaps one lucky enough to have the backing of a wealthy book loving patron, could get the jump on everyone else by going further and actually seeking out and developing raw talent. We need at least one publishing house out there willing to take on those works that show true promise but which need a bit more editing work than today's agents are willing to tackle.
In a post on Nathan Bransford's forums, I wrote about one possible solution/dream:
I don't have a brilliant solution to this. It would take something other than the worked-to-death literary agent to tackle this issue. It could perhaps be solved by a wealthy patron who loves books and could support a publishing company that would be willing to take on writers who show real potential but need more polishing than today's agents and publishers are willing to deal with. I wish I was wealthy, as I would love to do this. I know how wearisome the slush pile is, but nurturing talent is a noble thing and I wish it could be done better in book publishing.
Part of me thinks that it could even be done with a collaboration between such a house and agents. After all, any good agent should have a true love of books. Rather than an entire slush pile descending on this fictitious publishing house, the house could have agents pass along those writers that they felt showed talent but were too raw for the agents themselves to take on.