According to the rules of the Association of Authors' Representatives, a literary agent cannot taint their spotless fingers with ink.
Clearly, it's a conflict of interest for an agent to take on a writer when there's the possibility that the agent is only taking on the author to make money from publishing a manuscript rather than earning their income from representing that author.
You can't very well be a gatekeeper if you leave the gate open all the time.
Things have gone blurry of late. More and more agents are also acting as publishers for their clients, slipping into e-book publishing to get books out to the public.
Returning backlist, out-of-print works to readers doesn't really qualify as publishing, and so it has gone largely unchallenged.
But lately, agents like Ed Victor are using e-book publishing to put out something brand new that just didn't resonate with the traditional publishing houses. In these cases, the literary agent really believes in the value of the manuscript, and see a way to share their love with the rest of the world.
Now literary agent Andy Zack has taken things to the next level, although he may have invited a storm of criticism.
He has branched out into publishing in a slightly different way, by inviting authors who have considered self-publishing to consider his services.
Endpapers Press aims to do a bit more than something like CreateSpace or Lulu.com. Which are free, so you'd not expect much for nothing.
Instead, Endpapers Press will sell the services of a traditional publisher to aspiring authors who haven't gotten anywhere via the standard route. Right, have you ever tried to figure out if an editor is worth the money or doesn't know a dangling participle from the subjunctive?
And not just anyone can publish through Endpapers....assuming that the financial model works and the owner isn't tempted to reach deeper into the slushpile for clients.
But is it ethical, under the guidelines of the AAR?
No one seems to know exactly, because the publishing industry is changing in ways that don't give clear indications about where things are headed.
Maybe the time will come when literary agents have the option of two different tracks, either going with the big publishing house or keeping things in-house. Or maybe they won't.
Quite blurry, that future outlook. Any hope of clarity some time soon?