RT Booklovers Convention 2011: Agents Talk About The Publishing Industry And Answer Authors' Questions

Writing may be a solitary business, but getting your book published certainly isn't. This morning aspiring authors heard from some of the top editors in the publishing industry in an intensely focused writer session. And then it was onto the packed agents panel, after lunch. Agents including Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency, Jessica Faust of the BookEnds Literary Agency, and Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary agency were among those on the panel giving their advice and answering questions. (For a complete list of the agents at the panel, check at the bottom of this blog!) Author Mia Marlowe moderated as agents talked about their role in the publishing industry. 

During the panel, the agents discussed the importance of not following the trends in publishing reminding the audience that they work well ahead of what books are currently hitting the shelves. Agent Andrew Zack advised, "If you're not already writing what's hot, you're probably too late." But Miriam Kriss suggested that aspiring authors shouldn't be afraid to break out of the norm, reminded us that Laurel K. Hamilton's novels were originally categorized as horror novels until the Urban Fantasy genre emerged to make a space for writing that sounds like hers.

Sarah Heller suggested that there's no problem in breaking through traditional genre barriers as long as you are both "willing to do [the work] and you have an affinity for [what you're writing]." Her example with the historical romance author who was willing to research how long it would take to travel cross-country by donkey in the 1800s.

And all of the agents agree that you should write what you know. Miriam Kriss came right out and said, "Most of us live in New York. Don't write New York badly because we'll know." And the other agents on the panel agreed and chimed up that they live all across the country so it is really important to research what you are writing about. Kriss advised, "Google is your friend, use street views!"

When someone in the audience asked the agents if they would prefer to work with an author's entire body of work or just project-by-project, most agents said that they'd rather be the author's only agent. Laura Bradford says otherwise it can easily become a case of "too many cooks" and Jim McCarthy would also prefer to be an author's only representative. But all the agents agreed that it was important not to limit yourself when you are searching for an editor. Don't turn down someone because they only focus in one genre and you want to write across many. Says Jessica Faust, "When submitting as an aspiring author focus on the book you are submitting." And Miriam Kriss added, "We don't take people on for a book or a project - we take you on for your career." Jim McCarthy summed it up nicely, "I know agents kind of have a reputation for being bloodsucking money whores but no one here got into this business as a fast track to easy money ... everybody has projects they are particularly passionate about." The agent/author bond is a tight one because this is the fearless defender of your work, and many times the first person, other than you to do everything they can to get your book to the reading public.

The agents also touched on the importance of their role in today's changing publishing industry. Said Meredith Smith, "It's the Wild Wild West of online marketing going on." She shared how her company had brought on a full-time brand manager to come onboard in order to help one of their authors re-brand themselves in order to make the transition from the inspirational market to mainstream publishing. Eric Ruben said that despite dying bookstores and new frontiers of the publishing landscape, "new books are always going to sell". He spoke about how the agent's primary objective remains finding an author's story the right publisher. And he likened the search to dating. But suggested that authors think about "who would you like to have with you [in the long run]. This partnership is like a marriage." This is a sentiment that Andrew Zack agreed with. He cautioned, "[when] agent/editor relationships end it will probably feel like a divorce to both of you." His statement had everyone nodding.

But what I found to be a very helpful moment in the discussion was that with fifteen agents sitting on today's panel, Agent Eric Ruben was very frank in saying, "you're going to have heard as many opinions as there are people here, write the best book you can ... care mostly about your writing." 

I went into the panel thinking that this might not be very relevant to me because I am not ready to look for an agent. However, the agents were so insightful that I now feel more inspired than ever to consider trying to get published in the future!

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The complete list of agents who attended the panel: Laura Bradford (Bradford Literary Agency), Jessica Faust (BookEnds Literary Agency), Diana Fox (Fox Literary, LLC), Sarah Heller (Helen Heller Agency, Inc.), Saritza Hernandez (Lori Perkins Lit. Agency), Miriam Kriss (Irene Goodman Literary Agency), Kevan Lyon (Marsal Lyon Literary Agency), Jim McCarthy (Dystel & Goderich Agency), Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency), Eric Ruben, Esq. (Attorney and Literary Agent), Meredith Smith (Creative Trust), Rebecca Strauss (McIntosh & Otis, Inc.), Suzie Townsend (FinePrint Lit. Management) and Andrew Zack (Zack Company)

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For an audio version of this panel, visit www.ConferenceRecording.com. And for more tips for aspiring authors you can check out our coverage of today's Editor Panel or visit the Aspiring Author section on our website!