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Agents feeling the pain

25 January 2010

So are agents really feeling the pinch now? Long regarded as the fats cats of the industry, there are signs that the London agency constituency is really beginning to join in the pain. You cannot escape the conclusion that there will be redundancies, closures and mergers of agencies. Independent agents have few enough overheads in any case and will cut back on the new authors they take on. But some of the larger agencies have become quite big businesses and they will find it difficult to sustain their cost bases.

A number of big London agencies made substantial losses last year, some of them, curiously in the light of the recession, because they expanded and took on more staff. The biggest example of this is the new agency, United Artists, which split off from PFDRepresents authors of fiction and non-fiction, children's writers, screenwriters, playwrights, documentary makers, technicians, presenters and public speakers throughout the world. Has 85 years of international experience in all media. PDF now have a POD section. Some good advice for those seeking a representative. taking no less than 80 staff with them, including almost all the agents and a great many of their authors. This meant they had no backlist but only the new books from these authors and led to a loss of £2m on sales of £6m. PFD itself has the opposite problem, with all the backlist but relatively few authors producing new books, so is in the process of rebuilding itself.

The second biggest agency in staff terms, Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing, rather astonishingly in a year of such deep recession went from 61 staff to 70, and moved from a profit to a small loss.

As we have repeatedly pointed out, the authors on whom these agencies depend are suffering worse, with advances down and many previously published authors finding that they no longer have a publisher. In particular, literary first novelists are getting very small advances, with it being regarded as difficult enough to publish them, without adding to the risk with the likelihood of unearned advances.

To add to the pain, freelance journalism budgets have been cut and there is no longer the same flow of freelance income as there used to be, nor is it so well-paid. Literary editors have been decimated and the space allocated to books cut across both the UK and the US, as the print media struggle to resolve the challenge of the Internet. Many writers, especially those who deal in non-fiction, have in the past supplemented their income by journalism, unfortunately that option is no longer available to the same degree.

Curiously, the other means of income for writers is booming. Creative writing has been a growth industry for the whole of the last decade and a large proportion of poets in particular now support themselves by teaching writers in universities and evening classes. The MA in Creative Writing may be creating more writers than the market can sustain, but at least it’s also keeping the wolf from the door and enabling writers of all kinds to make a living which will support their own writing.

In the meantime the advice still is: don’t give up the day job.