Wylie and E-Books: What Am I Missing?

There’s hot publishing news this week, folks! I’ll talk about the details in the 8/3 Behind the Grammar podcast, but for now, here’s the rundown:

Big shot agent Andrew Wylie founded a publishing company, Odyssey, to make an exclusive two-year deal with Amazon for the e-book rights of ~20 of his big shot authors (or their estates). The deal includes books such as Lolita, The Invisible Man, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The kerfuffle-inducing approach is possible because the authors’ contracts predate e-books, so the authors own their e-book rights. The Authors Guild has an excellent analysis of what it means.

But I’m a bit confused. Perhaps my RSS feed is different from that of the people who run the Nabokov estate, for example, but for the last six months or so I’ve been bombarded with articles about how easy it is to self-publish books on Amazon.

Help me, blog commenters: Why don’t these authors, who own their e-book rights free and clear and have huge name and title recognition, just put their e-books on Amazon themselves and earn the 70%? Other than saving themselves the brief frustration of having to figure out something technical or the indelicacy of hiring someone to format the e-book for them, what do they get from having Wylie involved? It’s not as if they need the kind of advice and intercession an agent usually provides for authors who are building a career.

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