This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Lighthouse Writers Workshop 2011 Lit Fest Publishing Panel at the Tattered Cover bookstore.
Terra Chalberg - Literary agent, starting her own literary agency in September
Alex Glass - Trident Media Group
Sara Megibow - Nelson Literary Agency
Chris Parris-Lamb - The Gernert Company
Renee Zuckerbrot - Literary agent
I took detailed notes that I will share with all of you. These are not direct quotes, but summarized notes of what was said. You can Google the agents to find out more information about them and their agency.
Question: What are some of the changes you have noticed in the industry?
Sara: Represents genre fiction. Something she has noticed recently is when she goes to offer representation, typically the author already has three or four other offers. She has an interest in young adult science fiction and fantasy, romance (all genres except category or inspiration), women's fiction (including chick lit) and high concept literary fiction.
Terra: Terra has noticed that e-books are thriving and the business in general is growing. Publishers are a little scared because they can't make up the money lost to e-books. There are lots of new ideas and business models coming out to try and figure out how to make up the money that was lost along the way.
Chris: One of his authors is trying to bundle the e-book and the hard cover. It is an experiment. If the customer buys the hard cover, then they have a month long window to download the e-book. This shows that experimentation in this area is being conducted. We have an industry evolved to ship weighted books to book stores, and in a matter of 18 months, 50 percent of new books are being sold digital. The publishing industry is not set up for a 50/50 world. But writers should not worry. The novel has been around for a very long time. These are just business issues. Writers should not change what they are doing.
Renee: Storytelling is not going away, but the way we tell the story is changing. In her opinion, e-books will resuscitate the industry. Publishers are trying to change the business model, but it will be slow.
Alex: This week Abrams announced a new Wimpy Kid novel. They printed six million copies, which is a lot of printed books. This shows that a lot of people are still buying new books.
Question: From an authors perspective, do you still fall in love/not fall in love with a story first? Or consider the market?
Renee: She considers things like, 'Can I sell this? Can I sell this well?' Book review coverage is not what is used to be. If she loves something and believes in it, she will try to sell it even if she thinks it will be a difficult sell.
Sara: Says her answer is somewhat controversial. Number one, she has to LOVE the project. If she is reading and gets about 20 pages in and knows it is something she is interested in, she will put down the manuscript and start "Google Stalking." She would like to see some sort of an author platform (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
Chris: Takes social media into consideration when considering non-fiction work; when he is reading for expertise or authority on a subject. Is there a reason to listen to what the author has to say? What are their credentials?
Alex: When he receives a literary novel, he wants to know if the author has an online presence. Have they been published in literary magazines? Do they have any reviews? Something to validate their credentials.
Terra: Writing is the most important thing. Writing is not just about selling your work, but also about selling yourself.
Question: How do you suggest writers balance the need for an online presence with their writing?
Alex: Doesn't want to feel the author has been sitting and writing by themselves without showing it to anyone. He needs to know the author has talent.
Chris: Follow-up to Alex's response. Unless the time spent not social networking is poured into writing a really great novel. He would hate to feel there are writers who don't reach their full potential, or give the novel enough time to reach its full potential. He would hate to see social networking happen at the novels expense.
Renee: Magic happens in the revision stage. You need to let it sit and then revise. Share with writers groups or a mentor. While you are not under contractual obligations, take your time. Once you get a contract, it is very hard to get a contract extension.
Alex: Networking with other writers, meeting other writers, get a mentor who is terrific. Meet and greet. Anything you can do to get yourself out there helps.
Renee: If you are on Facebook, post relevant things. Don't waste time on there.
Question: Do you have to have an online presence?
Sara: She represents debut clients. For sub-genres, she would prefer you to have an online presence.
Terra: If you do not want a Facebook page, then don't create one for yourself, but create one for your book. There are creative ways to have an online presence that you do not have to be a slave to.
Renee: Has an author that does not have any sort of online presence. She is a best seller and wants to focus on her writing. Renee says "good for her."
Question: How do you deal with the growth of manuscripts that come across your desk?
Terra: Has never met an agent who can get back to every person.
Chris: If you do not receive a response within four to six weeks, it is an automatic no. The author has to write a good first page and a query letter. It has to be immediately apparent in the first page that the writer can write well.
Renee: Gets rid of the ones that are not addressed to her. The writing needs to hold her attention immediately. Spend lots of time revising and rewriting your work. A smart query letter, plus credentials equals a read from Renee. If you have not heard back within four to six weeks it is considered an automatic no. You must follow the guidelines which are very specific on her website. She needs to know the writer is talented and can work well with a publisher. The writer also needs to be professional. It is a business.
Chris: The publishing industry does not assign value to a book, but tries to sell the book. Professionalism is key. Publishing is an industry and a business. The cover letter must be professional.
Question: What is the author's responsibility for promotions after publication?
Chris: Do what the publishers tell you to do. Be proactive.
Alex: Publishers will put money toward few books, so you should not sit back and do nothing. Hire an outside publicist if you can afford it. An outside publicist will be selling you and get you media.
Sara: Nelson Literary Agency has a publisher in house, but you need to make the effort on your own to sell your work.
Question: How long do you stick with a project?
Renee: It really depends on the author, no one size fits all.
Alex: This is definitely a question you need to ask your potential agent early in the process. What is the agent's strategy? How much does the agent believe in your book? Who will they send it out to? How long will the agent stick with you? You need to go with the agent who is best for you and your book and wants to help your career the most.
Chris: He likes to send things to all five major houses. He wants to know who likes it. The agent should always be thinking about who may buy the work and then tries to get the best deal possible.
Question: Tell us about what you rep.
Sara: Accepts novels via query letter. The absolute number one step is to find an agent who represents your genre. Then look at their sales. Have they sold anything in your genre? Start Google-Stalking the agency. Does the agency seem like a good fit? Does the agency seem moderately sane? Currently accepting completed romance, completed science fiction and fantasy, and completed young adult.
Renee: Don't send out your manuscript to thirty different agents at one time. Send it out to ten to twelve. If you receive all rejections, revisit the query letter. Be straight forward. If you send your query to six agents and one offers representation, let the other five know that you've received an offer and need to hear back from them within a week or so. If you have a number one agent in mind, consider sending the query on exclusive for a short period of time. You need to find who works best for you. Renee currently has a 70/30 ratio of fiction to non-fiction. She is looking for more horror novels and non-fiction books.
Terra: Not looking for much right now, but always keeps herself open. She reps literary fiction and memoir. She likes a good story.
Alex: Accepts 80% fiction, debut literary fiction, mystery and crime, and platform driven non-fiction.
Chris: Accepts 75% non-fiction, but would like to change it to 50/50 non-fiction to literary fiction.
There you have it! An hour and a half conversation in a really long blog post =) Hope this has been helpful, I know it was for me.
Check out my good friend Lindsey Edward's very timely blog post on how to be a literary agent's dream client. It fits well with this post. Happy writing!