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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Right off the bat, I'm going to say I like Jane Dystel and other agents in her agency I've interacted with. I think she's an out-of-the-box thinker and doing whatever she can to poise herself to take advantage of the changes in the publishing industry going on now. She's one of the speakers I heard saying she'd represent writers for just certain rights and not insist on taking all of them. She likes and respects indie authors. That's all good. But this stuff I just read? Not so much ...

Jane Dystel: "We're not acting as a publisher; we're acting as an agent. Our commission is 15% on all those books as it is across the board. We are not publishers. We don't take 50% as some of my colleagues do. I think those agents, in my opinion, who have separate ebook publishing entities, I think it's a conflict of interest for them. What we do is we help them [the authors] put their books up. They pay for the cover, the copy edit. We actually put the books up for them and we have accounts with all the retailers and we collect the money and pay them. Publishers actually invest in the property as a publisher would. They [the author] get the copyright [when working with us]."

Here's the article I'm referring to:
http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/president-of-dystel-goderich-literary-management-jane-dystel-agents-unwilling-to-adapt-wont-last/

I went to the agency's website to try and find more but came up basically empty. They don't advertise this, but say in a blog article as of mid last year they had 40 authors and 133 titles signed up.

What I read from this article and comments on another blog (PassiveVoice, linked below) basically is that agency owner and agent Jane Dystel http://www.dystel.com/ is offering this service where she takes an author's book and gets it uploaded to Amazon or wherever. But get this ... she charges 15% of the book's revenues for it. Forever! And ... she doesn't even do or pay for the work of editing, formatting, making a cover, etc. She hires subcontractors and has the author pay the subcontractors for it.

I'll break it down:
1. Author approaches Jane's agency and asks for representation.
2. Agent welcomes author to Dystel's "digital publishing program" (owner claims they're not a digital publisher, that it's a conflict of interest, but then calls her service a digital publishing program.)
3. Agent hires www.52novels.com and other subcontractors to edit, get a cover, format the ebook, etc. and then uploads the ebook to Agency account (not sure if it's the Agency who uploads or not, but that's the simplest part of the equation)
4. AUTHOR pays 52novels.com and other subcontractors for the services, not the Agency
5. Agent collects the revenues (direct deposit of course)
6. Agent keeps 15% and sends balance to the author. Not sure how often.

I get this from this PassiveVoice comment stream: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/01/2013/jane-dystel-agents-unwilling-to-adapt-wont-last/#comments where one of her contractors explains how it works.

"The agency also handles all of the project management. With a few exceptions, the D&G authors for whom we've made books do not work with us directly. The authors tell their agents what they want, their agents work with us. The authors have sign off authority. And, if changes to the work need to be made, they come back to us via the agency. When the work's done, we get paid by the author. I presume the agency does the same with other vendors. For some authors, not having to find production vendors for themselves, negotiate pricing, scheduling releases/marketing/etc-time they could be doing something else, like writing-is well worth the 15 percent."
-- Rob at 52books.com

Now ... is it just me, or does this sound off the ripoff alarms for anyone else? 15% commission for life on an ebook that the author has paid to edit, cover, and format ??? 15% for just upload and project management of an ebook's creation and formatting ??? Have I read this wrong? Someone tell me I have, because it sounds bad. I have heard great things about this agency, and I have heard Jane speak. I like her a lot. I want to think she wouldn't do this to authors.

I understand the aim and I like it. Some authors want more hand-holding, they want to turn the publishing part of self-publishing over to someone else, and I get that. But to charge 15% for life seems egregious to me. I would agree that a marked-up fee would be fair (like a general contractor does with a subcontractor), but how does she justify 15% for life?

On a related note, it seems to me www.52novels.com is in a great position for the future of ebooks and self-publishing. They must do a good job if Dystel's agency is using them. I predict we'll see more of these fee-for-service, all under one roof businesses, which is great.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Sophrosyne said:
If they're just uploading to Amazon, B&N and Apple, then I agree. It's ridiculous. However, if they're also getting paperbacks into retailers, that would be much more intriguing. Are they getting the books into any distributors that authors can't access on their own?
My understanding, and I could be wrong, is that this is not a contract with a publisher at all. They'd do that separately (if they could get one) and charge 15% for that deal separately.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Dalya said:
15% of an *average* self-pubbed book's earnings isn't very much. I've been advising a few off-KB friends and my god it's time-consuming, just to hold the hand and offer a soothing word.

It's possible she's just offering a mercy-publish to people whose work she loves, but can't sell. It's possible this isn't a huge money-maker.

As for the full-service package people, they just get paid a flat fee, so I can see it as being no more or no less profitable than a firm that does website design, or an ad agency. I've worked at both, and they're not all glamorous like you see on TV.

Don't get me wrong! I'm still bitter and sore about promises broken by mean ol' agents. ;)
My understanding is that she'd taking work from well-known authors too. She's mentioned Joe Konrath and John Locke in the article but isn't specific about what she does for them, whether it's the digital publishing or something else. But Joe has a testimonial on the 52novels.com site singing their praises, so I guess he's used them before.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Dalya said:
15% of an *average* self-pubbed book's earnings isn't very much. I've been advising a few off-KB friends and my god it's time-consuming, just to hold the hand and offer a soothing word.
lol Maybe you should open a digital publishing program!

$1,000 of ebook revenues a month (not a ton)
x 12 months
x 15%
$1,800 a year
$9,000 over 5 years.

I'll hold someone's hand for that. Sign me up!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
MegHarris said:
Konrath seems to have been using 52novels.com for years. I found one site from nine months ago which incorrectly listed them as his cover artist, and they politely commented: "Thanks for mentioning us in your list. Unfortunately, we're not Joe Konrath's cover designer...Rather, we're Joe's ebook designer." But that doesn't mean that Konrath is using 52novels.com through the Dystel agency. It looks like he's been repped by the agency since 2007, but who konws if he uses this service.
I doubt he does. Why would he? She dropped those two names in the interview where it was talking about her new service, but that doesn't mean they use it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
RobertJCrane said:
Dunno for a fact that he uses it, but he did a post a while back (IIRC) where he talked about this as the e-stributor model and mentioned Dystel moving to this method. I believe he was in favor of it at the time because it let the agent handle basically everything except approval of art, cover, etc, and he thought his time was worth the 15% trade-off. I believe he, Barry Eisler and Dean Wesley Smith had a conversation about it in the post (which I am too lazy to go find).
If they feel it's worth it, they must use it, right? Or they say it's worth it for others but not for them, maybe. I'm so confused.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
AmsterdamAssassin said:
It would be worth it if the e-stributor takes the word/epub file and fronts all the costs and does all the work in bringing the novel to the customers. That means, e-stributor pays for editing, formatting, cover art, etcetera. If I have to pay for that myself, finding editors, formatters, cover artists, etcetera could be done for a flat fee, not a 15% in perpuity.
My thoughts exactly, although I might not agree that 15% is fair. Still seems a bit high for fronting less than $2,000.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Dalya said:
Yeah, but you can tell people you have a literary agent. You can mention it at parties.

"My literary agent has suggested I write more shapeshifter lactation porn. She feels the market's about to swing that way."
Dammit. I hadn't considered that. You're right. It's worth the 15%.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
RobertJCrane said:
She's actually not even just any literary agent, if you're looking for cachet. I'm pretty sure Dystel repped Barack Obama on Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Regardless of your political persuasion, I believe that carries some weight.
You're absolutely right. She's one of the best if not THE best well-known and well-respected agents in the biz, and has been for a very long time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #24 ·
CraigInTwinCities said:
I need to call B.S. (Barbra Streisand) on Dystel's John Locke claim.

Every book Locke has published has been run by John through Telemachus Press, LLC, exclusively. It appears in ALL his books.

And as you can see here (http://www.telemachuspress.com/Who.aspx), Jane Dystel is not a member of the Telemachus team. They don't even employ anyone named Jane.

Now... that said... John Locke does employ Jane Dystel as his AGENT. But all his publishing services are via Telemachus, not Jane.

So, she's doing a bait-and-switch... using the name value of one of her AGENTING clients to try and get people to believe he goes to her for digital publishing solutions as well.

But he doesn't. He uses Telemachus Press exclusively for those services.
Here's the piece of the article that refers to this:

JG [article author]: How did you work your way into the digital space?

JD [agent]: We've been representing people like Joe Konrath [outspoken self-publishing advocate] who moved into digital publishing quickly. John Locke [self-publishing success] was another one of our very early digitally published clients. And now we have a lot of the independent indie writers. We work with each of them in very different ways. Some of the books by all of our clients we don't collect any commissions on. With Joe Konrath and John Locke we represent some parts of their publishing collection and we don't represent other parts.

So, she doesn't say exactly that they are signed up for her digital service program, but it's easy to infer that from the way this answer is structured. But I don't know if she wrote the answers out or if this person was paraphrasing her verbal answers. Usually in these kind of interviews the author sends the questions and the interviewee answers them in writing, but there's no way to know what was the case here.
 

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Discussion Starter · #33 ·
phil1861 said:
Isn't that what other famous-shmamous authors already do?
Do you mean with traditionally published deals and agents? In that case, I'd say no, it's not what's already done by famous authors.

If an agent takes your manuscript and shops it around and finds a paper publishing deal or movie deal that pays you some sort of advance and royalties or fee, then they've earned their commission in my opinion. But if they've essentially done nothing but find subcontractors to format your book and then uploaded it, they've earned a fixed fee for providing that project management service, not the right to take revenues for life. That's way out of proportion to the work done, especially considering they make YOU pay for the subcontracted work TOO and there's zero advance, zero risk on their part!

Gennita Low said:
An email showed up this morning. The writer says a mutual acquaintance recommended my name to her for advice. In short, "I need help self-publishing and she said you can help. My aim is to be the next EL James. Can you help me get published?"

1) Maybe she thinks I'm an agent?

2) I'm not sure how to reply to a stranger in a polite, helpful way.

3) So, do you think it would be mean of me to just refer her to this agent for help? Because it would save me a lot of back-and-forth emails :p detailing stuff like covers, formats, etc. etc.

I'm not saying this person might not be the next EL James but I'm not sure I want to handhold a stranger all the way to publication.
Give her a link to KB. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 ·
Becca Mills said:
I think it would be worth it if she covered the cost of cover design, editing, formatting, uploading, and permanent trouble-shooting for all editions the author was interested in bringing out, as well as providing an individualized yearly marketing plan that the author would be largely responsible for executing. If she did that, she'd be doing some of what is valuable about a publisher: fronting the costs of the book's production and executing that production with true expertise. The author would not only save a lot of time, but he/she would know really good people were handling these aspects of the book's production, rather than having to hire contractors who might or might not do a good job (especially important for editing, since many authors are not able to tell on their own whether an editor has done a good job).

In order to do the above, Dystel would have to be very careful about which books she took on. There'd be genuine risk b/c the agency would be investing quite a bit in each book. Undoubtedly they'd lose money on some books. Fifteen percent in exchange for that risk and those services doesn't seem out of line to me.

At least, that's my initial reaction.
What you're describing is an independent press, and I agree with you (and have toyed around with the idea of starting one - when I've had too much to drink). But she directly says that type of thing is a conflict of interest and is definitely not what she's doing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #42 ·
Courtney Milan said:
Do you actually know that she's claiming an income stream "for life"? Because she very well might not be. I know my agent has "self-publishing services" (where she pays for a lot more than JD does), and she only claims two years as the distributor (but you still have the right, as the author, to pull the books entirely, if that's what you want.) Don't assume something is "for life" until you read the contract.

This might be a good deal for some if the term claimed is short enough. So if she's claiming 6 months, you, as an author, work with her for six months, you get the cover and ebook file, and then after 6 months, you put it up yourself. For authors that are busy enough, and/or aren't good enough.

My agent also allows authors to use her service to reach places they can't reach on their own--so, for instance, I do all the work on my books, pay for everything, and then give her the file and she puts it up on Overdrive and a handful of other places that I can't get to on my own. She gets 15% on those venues alone, I get 100% of what I put up myself on the other venues, and I can pull the files with 30 days notice.

For the conflict of interest thing: I think it is a conflict of interest for an agent to claim publishing rights. If an agent says to you, "No, you have to let me keep this file on Amazon/you have to keep this extremely [crappy] cover I came up with/blah blah blah" I think the agent is acting as a publisher--they're putting themselves in the driver's seat on your books, and that's a conflict of interest, one that I think is legally problematic at best. If they are doing things at your behest, and you're the one that's calling the shots--that's something that is well within an agent's bailiwick.

In my mind, the test is this: If you told the agent, "No, pull the book, I don't want to sell it anymore," does she have to do it? If the answer is "no," the agent is acting on her own behalf, and there is a conflict of interest. If the answer is "yes," the agent is acting on your behalf, and the agent is an agent.
No, I do not know how long the commission lasts; I assumed it was the same as her other relationships since she did not specify otherwise. All her article says is: "Our commission is 15% on all those [digitally published] books as it is across the board."

Saying they take 15% across the board I assume means: "like they do with their other books" and therefore leads me to believe it's the same as traditionally published authors. She doesn't mention that the commission is paid for only a limited time, and that would be a very positive thing to mention, so if that's the case, I'm surprised she didn't mention it. I'd be willing to bet it's not temporary, but it's just a bet, not facts!

The conflict of interest comment was Ms. Dystel's, not mine. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
sarracannon said:
I agree with Courtney in that this could be beneficial to some people, especially if the length of the agreement is reasonable. I have spent a lot of time looking at cover designers for various projects I have coming up and making the final decision on who is "right" for my project is time consuming. I'm lucky that my husband formats my novels, but if he didn't, I would be so lost, lol. I know there are walkthroughs, but I'm terrible with things like that. An agent as broker for services is the future, in my opinion.

The perfect agent for this job would be someone who keeps up with the talent and options available, has a wide network of artists and editors with different special skill sets, and has access to digital venues (like Overdrive) the average self-published author does not. A lot of us have learned how to do these things for ourselves, but haven't we also made some mistakes along the way? I know my first cover was awful! I've also made some formatting errors in the past that had to be corrected. It's been a learning process, sometimes painful. If an agent could take all that away and make it a smooth experience so that all you had to do was keep writing, it might be worth 15% for a limited time.

It would be unreasonable for an agent to front all the costs of production for many self-published authors. 15% of even a lifetime of terrible sales still might not cover edits and a great cover. I think the misunderstanding here is saying that all she's doing is uploading. What she's really doing is helping these authors find quality formatters, editors, and cover artists so they don't have to research and find their own.

Of course, you still have to make sure the agent is good at finding the right people for your project. And that they don't 'force' you to use their people if you don't like their work. I don't personally think this is something for me right now, but I could see where it would appeal to others.
I don't think she takes just any indie. Here are her words: "More recently these indie authors, who were already tried and true because they have these great sales, would come to us. As long as they were good writers and they could tell a good story and I felt they had a writing future, I really wanted to try to help them."

So she's not taking anyone unless she knows they can get "great sales" according to her observations. This is one of those no-risk propositions for her as I see it.

And I think many people here will say (not all, but many) that while it may have taken a few shots to find a good cover artist or editor or whatever, you eventually find a team of people you can count on to work with time and time again. That's what Ms. Dystel has done. And you can make friends with anyone here and they'll tell you who they use as their team members, cutting your learning curve very short.

If she does it for a limited time at 15%, it's probably fair for a lot of people to be released from the project management work. But that's not what her interview suggests. It's an important details she left out, if it does exist.

And if the contract does go for perpetuity, can you say that 15% PLUS ALL COSTS is worth it? I couldn't.
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 ·
Cherise Kelley said:
How is this any different from what Smashwords does? Plenty of us use Smashwords.

How many of us moan about how difficult it is to find good editors these days? Maybe for a newbie it is worth paying out 15% of future costs for referrals to vetted editors and cover artists and formatters.

/devil's advocate
Smashwords has a HUGE client base, buyers of books who go to their site to shop. Dystel has nothing like that. That agency is not a retailer like Smashwords is. That's one way it's different. There are others.
 

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Discussion Starter · #82 ·
Maggie Dana said:
About a year ago, my agent attended a meeting (with other agents) put on by Amazon and another by Mark Coker of Smashwords. The agents were told that if they uploaded their clients' work, it would receive 'special' treatment. The specifics were vague, but led the agents (at least mine) to believe that Amazon (and Smashwords) would do extra publicity and promotion for these books that they considered vetted/gatekeepered.

I see no mention of this in Jane Dystel's post and have heard nothing since.

Has anyone seen any evidence of Amazon (or Smashwords) doing extra promotion on books uploaded by literary agents?
I don't believe this. I believe it's possible the agent heard this being said, but I doubt very highly it's true that it's done.
 

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Discussion Starter · #85 ·
Elizabeth Ann West said:
It's NOT just uploading. And all of us who have ever helped another author along know that. IF the agent is uploading the title to her kdp account, there is no personal information from the author such as a bank account. That's a bonus for authors in MANY situations, from a lack of U.S. citizenship so no 30% automatically held, to an author who wants to really remain very anonymous with a pseudonym.
I'm quite sure Ms. Dystel's agency wouldn't operate as a front to help foreigners avoid paying taxes they are required to pay in the U.S. And Amazon doesn't release confidential information about pen names or bank accounts, so that's no reason to use a service like this or pay 15% for it.

But I agree with your point that using the word "scam" is dangerous. Probably anyone here who might have used that particular word meant that it "appears" to be like scams we've all seen before, as it has some of the hallmarks of those that have been perpetrated in the past by others on naive authors. But without the terms of the contract and all of the info, it's partially speculation. No one here has claimed to know all the details; they are commenting on what they know.
 

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Discussion Starter · #88 ·
Elizabeth Ann West said:
From my research, it's not a tax scam. There are a number of tax treaties between the United States and other countries that do NOT require the 30% withholding. Should have clarified that. But, Amazon will not get down to the individual's country of origin, and I understand as that's an accounting nightmare, so the author is the one out the money all year long until they get it back from the IRS in a refund. There's an IRS publication on the whole list and percentages and which countries are exempt what and on what kinds of businesses etc. It's not fun to read and interpret.

There are ways to legally work around this that isn't scamming taxes, but requires a good deal of legwork and paperwork Amazon just isn't going to do on an individual author basis. It's not required that all foreign nationals in business have 30% of their earnings withheld, it's just Amazon CYA.

I only know this because I've played this role for other authors in the past, ethically, but ultimately decided 10% wasn't worth the headache to me for what's involved accounting wise.
I just check the entire thread. No one claimed that what Dystel was doing was a scam. No one used that word except people saying it wasn't a scam. Read carefully or you might freak someone out, scolding posters for saying things they didn't. Everyone can just relax now and take a sip of tea and know we're all still having a civil conversation about this stuff, whatever it is. :)

You can check my post about this tax issue. You use the term "tax scam" (cite above) but I did not. I talked about a "front" while also saying that's not what Dystel's doing with regard to collecting money for authors. Bandying about these terms is dangerous as you've already mentioned, so that's why I'm clarifying for anyone who might not read the whole thread and see the original post you're responding to.

Regardless of whether it's Amazon paying the author or Dystel's agency doing, it, they're both required to withhold the tax money until the person files the form with the IRS to get it back (and they do get it back if the treaty exists and it doesn't have to take a long time if done properly.) So I would bet, since Ms. Dystel has such a great reputation in the industry, that she does it the proper way and doesn't "forget" or neglect to withhold taxes.
 
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