In the article Literary Agents: heroes no more?, Bonie Santos introduces John Saddler’s class about the role of literary agents, and how this role has changed over the course of publishing history. She lists six major responsibilities of a literary agent, including bridging between authors and publishers, advising authors, and handling issues related to marketing and rights.
Various roles were introduced into the publishing chain from the early 17th century to the late 19th century, as illustrated in the picture above. Today, the necessity of literary agencies are challenged by the emerging e-book market, which makes their role less profitable, and by the digital technology that allows authors to directly reach their readers through self-promoting on social media. There have been concerns about the loss of status of literary agent, which may potentially put authors in disadvantage during negotiation with publishers; Jason Allen Ashlock urges fellow literary agents to “retain their heroic role, which is to protect authors”. However, this concern seems much less relevant if the authors take an alternative approach — self-publishing. I believe that in digital era, where there is challenge, there is opportunity, as indicated in the Chinese phrase for “challenge” (危機/危机, wei1 ji1). As for literary agents, they may wish to seek a brighter future in honing on their consultancy and networking services rather than simply acting as a representative during the author/publisher negotiation.