Agent Monday: Writer’s Regression

Signpost of TimeHappy Monday! As an author of YA novels I, like many writers, felt my career rocked by the recession. And as an Associate Agent, I encounter many extremely talented authors who have had their careers derailed by the economic downturn and are still reeling to this day.  I feel your pain, and I am one sympathetic agent. So today I want to talk a bit about what I call the Writer’s Regression.

There are many writers who struggled to break into print at a time when everything in the publishing biz was dramatically contracting. Hard indeed. But in some ways it was even harder for those of us with debut novels in 2007-2009.

These writers worked sometimes for decades to finally land an agent and a book deal. This was the beginning of their true career as a published author!  What happened instead? Many of these writers lost their editors when jobs were cut, and that resulted in the loss of their biggest cheerleader at their publishing house. Booksellers, in their own panic over the economy, decided not to carry this particular author’s books at all.  The book didn’t receive any other push, and certainly no sizable advertising budget from the publisher. And even though a novel may have gotten awesome reviews, and perhaps even earned out its modest advance (though just barely), and even though this earning out was a feat in itself given the odds…well, the profit numbers to a cold and clinical eye may have seemed kinda, well, “eh” when stacked up to previous years.

So, though that writer was exceedingly talented, and the book was beautiful, and what happened is no fault of the author’s, that same author couldn’t interest that publisher in doing another book with them. And everyone else from agents to publishers seemed to look at that author with a jaded eye. It’s not personal, it’s just business. And the author didn’t sell big, right? So perhaps it was safer to just pass…

Okay, I’m generalizing here. Sure, there are cases where debut midlist authors did manage to land another contract with the same publisher, etc. But I must say I’ve run into many many fine writers who have found their careers stumble to a halt. For these authors, the economic recession feels like a writer’s regression.

Sure, they published a book, but since then, nothing. They feel stuck and hurt, and sad. Will they ever have that chance again to wow readers? Will big publishers ever give them another go? The writer can’t help but feel that maybe they are somehow at fault. That maybe they just aren’t good enough. If they were dropped by their agents because manuscripts just weren’t finding a home, the authors worried if any other agent would ever take them on.  As one very talented author said to me just last week, “What do I do? Do I give up my dream?”

Writers are a tenacious bunch, but even the most tenacious author will begin to lose heart when 2, 3 even 4 years go by and there is no new book contract in the works.  Well, if an author is talented and dedicated, I for one want to see their work.

I don’t believe that an economic downturn is the end of your career, and I think you need to know that it hasn’t diminished your considerable abilities one bit. It’s good sound business to recognize talent and promote that talent to the world. In my eyes, it’s the smart thing to do.

You know, when I research editors I want to pitch my clients to, I don’t even consider the deals that editor made prior to 2009. Honestly, that was a different world. The publishing biz has changed that dramatically. And I believe that looking back on the whole mess with our feet set nearly into 2013, smart editors and publishers get that too. The clever ones will parse out what happened at that time as really not about that book or that author.  And the smartest of editors and publishers and agents will see this as a great opportunity to snap up this talent floating around in the stratosphere.

Because it’s not always about the next new thing. Or that same tried and true thing over and over again. It’s about talent and voice.

So don’t give up on your dream. Please believe in your words. Step back into your writing world and hold your head high. Move forward.

Your lucky readers are waiting. Me too.

For my submission guidelines, click here.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

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Why Writers Win: The Age of the Author

A few weeks ago I gave a talk about the publishing revolution at the wonderful Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, PA.  The talk was titled “Claim Your Victory in Today’s Publishing Revolution,” but it could have as easily been titled “Writers Win!” or “Entering the Age of the Author.”  This upbeat presentation focused on how, yes, things are indeed changing, and some of these changes may seem scary, BUT many changes are benefiting us writers.

Anyways, since the chat was so well-received and motivating, and since, frankly, we’ve had enough doom and gloom chatter to last us a generation, I thought I’d share my points here with my fellow writers.

Okay, so remember that Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times?  Well, we authors are absolutely plagued by interesting times right now.  Yes, this indeed is a publishing revolution to rival the printing press.  Really, two factors are colliding to create the perfect storm of sorts: 1. Ebooks, and 2. The Economy.

For a LONG time we have plodded along with certainties. And the main truth was that a big publisher = big success.  Signing with big publishers meant contracts with great advances, reviews in prominent publications, your book would appear in all bookstores, you’d have tons of publicity and promotion, and you were well on your way to a long CAREER as an author.

Then this “given” started to erode as all the publishing models began to shift.  A large number of editors were laid off in 2008. Authors were suddenly expected to do more of their own promotions. Book reviews in many print publications began to disappear. There was no guarantee that your book would appear in the major chains or indies (even before the demise of Borders). And now we hear a lot from authors about low advances, or no contracts being offered on a next book.

Yes, the economy has a ton to do with all of this. And Ebooks have come in at an especially crazy time.  We fear they may pose a threat to print books. The pricing of Ebooks is a huge issue.  Brick and mortar stores feel threatened by Ebook sales.

And let’s pile onto this, indie publishing, which is on the rise.

All these factors together add to an overall sense of instability in what was once a fairly predictable business model for publishers, booksellers and authors.

So, let’s get it out there…here are some of the scary things that we writer’s fear:
1. It may be the end of print books.
2. Bookstores may go the way of record stores.
3. Top publishers could fail.
4. That we’ll never see a book deal…and even if we did, we wouldn’t get any sort of an advance, or an editor who would have the time to edit, or the sort of promotion that would make us succeed, and so we would be labeled a failure and really NEVER EVER get another book contract, and…

BREATHE, EVERYONE, BREATHE!!!

No. Really. Deep breaths. Head between knees if necessary.  See, this is the kind of stuff that feeds into our writerly despair.  So knock it off already, guys.  Isn’t it time to look at some decent facts that are out there?  Walk on the positive side with me for a bit, okay?

1. We are writers!  In all of the tumultuous changes, THE constant is the need for writers, for content, for great stories.  That ain’t going nowhere.

2. Writing the best book you can is still the most important thing you can do for your career, and ain’t nothing changing that!

Okay, I’ll wait a few minutes while you read these two previous points and let ’em sink in.  Now nod and smile.  These are good things.

I’d also like to point out that despite the doom and gloom we writers sometimes share whenever a bunch of us get together and natter, the reality is that book deals are being made, as always.  Great deals too!  In the past 2 days alone, more than 100 deals were posted on Publishersmarketplace.com.  These included film deals, international rights, and book deals in areas including YA, middle grade, debut fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, general fiction, women’s fiction, thriller, romance, memoir, mystery, picture books… There are multi-book deals, significant deals even (which are between $251,000-$490,000).  But what about debut authors? I spotted 24 deals involving debuts in the past 2 weeks.

And as an agent myself, when I’m calling major publishers to pitch books, I’m finding editors eager to listen, eager to acquire great stuff, and they have wish lists for me of the types of titles they want to see in the future. Lots of stuff is happening, folks. So feel positive.

ALSO, I feel that this is a great time for more smaller focused presses to start appearing and succeeding big-time. With the changes in technology, books can now be printed on demand (means no warehousing costs), and a small press can now have great access to retail distribution with the aid of online sales. This will equal even more options for writers.  At least that’s what my Magic 8 Ball tells me.

So what’s the upside about Ebooks? Well, studies are showing that Ebooks are leading to more readership.  Score another one for writers!  Some stats suggest readers buy 3 times as many books once they have an Ereader. And sales of Ebooks are climbing. Check out this article by Philip Jones of The Bookseller magazine, where he discusses some UK companies seeing a staggering 500% jump in Ebook sales, and how they expect a similar jump this year. Crazy, right? I’ve also found that impulse buys are a wonderful thing when it comes to Ebooks.  A person hears about a book or meets an author at a festival, they click on their phone and ta-da! They now own your book.

Other Ebook thoughts: Young adult readers are poised for huge increases in Ebook sales as teens start to get their own Ereaders. And because of Ereaders, more readers are branching out to different types of books.  For example, someone who wouldn’t be caught dead reading erotica in public can now do so discretely on their Ereader. This goes for adults reading YA, for men reading women’s fiction.  And we writers? We benefit with a growing audience.

Obviously this Age of the Author stuff is a HUGE topic, so I’m breaking it down into a few posts. In my next post about this, I’ll talk a bit about how Indie Publishing is presenting writers with more opportunities, and how traditional publishers are switching things up to better serve their authors. And in my final post on this subject, I’ll talk about the 4 most important things we Age of the Author writers should be doing right now to build our audience and expand our careers.

Hey, it’s all good!

Marie

Will Ebooks Hurt the Poor?

When I think of ebooks, I marvel at the technology, and I’m thankful that I’m a writer cog in the whole process of bookmaking and selling.  Stories will always be read, and someone will always have to write them. So in that sense, writers win.

I do wonder about the future of publishing and bookselling, though.  It’ll exist in some fashion, but what shape will it take? I have a daughter interested in possibly becoming an agent or an editor someday, or she would love to own her own bookstore. But what will any of those careers look like 7 years from now? Who knows!

But writing, yes, writing will still be very much intact. Perhaps more lucrative and more accessible than ever to us all.

Another form of accessibility, however, has been preying on my mind lately. Books are the ultimate form of cheap entertainment, and culture, and knowledge.  For a few bucks, and sometimes for less than a buck, a paperback can be had, held, owned, shared. That book doesn’t discriminate against its owner. You could be a wealthy person in a penthouse, or an impoverished child sitting on a dirt floor in a makeshift Third World schoolhouse, and still have the same access to that same information wedged between those pages.

But ereaders are another story. Could that child in that Third World school ever afford such a thing? And what are the ramifications for the poor worldwide? If the model shifts to follow the money, and paper books are replaced by ebooks, then will this lead to a Dark Ages of sorts for those who can’t afford them? Think about this for just a moment. Publishers no longer print in paper because it isn’t cost-effective. Want a new book? Or new information? Look to your computer or purchase it on your ebook. Unless you don’t have one of those…

I recently posed this scenario on a Facebook thread and on Twitter, with interesting results.  There was a surprising number of “enlightened” folk who said, and I paraphrase, “Ereaders are so affordable now. I have one! I don’t see the problem.”

As Seth Meyer on SNL would say: “Really?”

I’ve traveled throughout India, and witnessed firsthand how people in countless villages don’t have what we consider the basics, such as electricity, or plumbing, or those 3-square-meals. How will they will be able to afford an ereader? Or have access to a wireless connection to download those spiffy ebooks?

Even in the city of Philadelphia, a ridiculous number of children go hungry every day. Are poor school districts going to be able to give every child an ereader and wireless access for books? Hm.

So, my worry is that if ereaders become the norm, and IF those low-tech paper volumes do disappear as a result, that we will be in effect cutting access to the written word for the poor. Limiting opportunity. Decreasing knowledge. Facing rising illiteracy.

Maybe I’m being slightly paranoid, or maybe it’s the fictional “what if” part of my brain hard at work. But still, I want to send this thought out across the airwaves, to remind the visionaries among us to keep this in their own brains. To include a model within all the innovation that remembers that books are not just entertainment, they are knowledge. Knowledge is power, and we must all strive to ensure this power is in everyone’s hands. Equally. Really.

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this subject, so please chime in, share links to relevant topics and organizations, etc, and let’s get this discussion churning.

*Cross-posted over at the Liars Club blog