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Friday, February 22, 2013

The State of Publishing - A Literary Agent's View

A literary agent's
point of view
How has publishing changed from the perspective of a pub pro whose own job function/s may have been altered? How has he adapted? How has the new tech changed his outlook? E-books or print books? How has his duties changed from what they were 10 years ago?

We're going to find out in tonight's post.

Remember, this agent's view is coming from one direction only and would need to be meshed with other industry professionals' views to get a more well rounded picture --- But, it is coming from an important source.

This from Business Insider by Dylan Love:

Here's How Literary Agents Use Technology To Find The Next Great Authors

Scott Hoffman is an agent at Folio Literary Management, representing some of the preeminent authors on bookstore shelves today.

He comes from a varied background, having formerly run a lobbying firm in Washington, DC and transitioning out by getting an MBA in finance. He quickly realized it was a lifestyle he didn't want.
As he told us, "Who wants to spend 18 hours a day, eight days a week staring at spreadsheets in a cubicle, no matter how much they pay you? When I got done with grad school I realized that my two favorite things in life were books and deals — and that I could have a career that would combine both things. I've got the best job in the world."

Since it's quite literally his business to keep his finger on the pulse of the book world, anticipating trends and reacting to changes, we fired a few questions his way about the future of books.

BUSINESS INSIDER: For the normals, what exactly does a literary agent do?

SCOTT HOFFMAN: The same way that actors, actresses, and athletes have agents, most authors do as well. It's an agent's job to manage an author's career and ensure that he or she is fairly compensated for work produced.

In practice, this includes negotiating deals with publishing houses both in the US and all over the world; making sure that other rights in an author's books (audio, film and TV, etc.) are exploited to the greatest extent possible, and that publishers and other rights holders live up to their contractual obligations.

Basically, we're in the artist management business. In general, the kind of skills a person needs to sit in a closet for a year and write a beautiful novel, or to research and write an important nonfiction book are generally not the same skills that are necessary to maximize the economic value of intellectual property — and that's where we come in.

BI: How is your job different today from how it would've been 10 years ago?

SH: For one thing, there's a LOT less paper involved. Every agency has its collection of unsolicited submissions – the proverbial "slush pile" – where query letters from unpublished writers trying to convince the agency to represent them go. Ten years ago, it really was a pile — and in some cases, a mountain. Now, we handle all unsolicited subscriptions electronically, which makes for a much neater (and more environmentally-friendly) office environment.

More than that, though, the same forces that have transformed the slush pile have transformed the entire industry. Technology allows more authors to connect directly with their audience, and the rise of the independent model means that Big Publishing — the collection of agents, publishing houses, and traditional retailers — is no longer the gatekeeper it once was. In general, I think that's a good thing. The only way to make money in the publishing business in the long term (or in any business, really) is to give consumers what they want at a price they want at a time and a place of their choosing. Traditional publishing is, by definition, a mass medium — the entire business model is predicated on lots of people wanting to read the same book(s) at more or less the same time. That model is never going to go away— and the authors who achieve success in that fashion will be more successful than ever, for a few reasons.

First, as the world gets richer, more people will buy books. The rise of the middle class in places like Korea, Brazil, and Taiwan means that more wealth is available to consume entertainment and information in the form of the written word (whether those words are printed on papyrus or displayed on an electronic screen, or delivered in a manner we can't even conceive of at the moment.) Second, when consumers find a product they like, it's much easier for them to communicate the value to their tribe — which means that a book can achieve success much more quickly now than ever before.

In addition, the disintermediation of the gatekeepers allows the producers of content to succeed with the kinds of books that The Establishment never would have seen coming. Markets are a much more efficient way of determining what people actually want than a de facto committee made up of a bunch of people who all go to the same cocktail parties in Manhattan and Brooklyn (however smart we may be.) It also allows for books that occupy small niches to succeed in a small way, which is undoubtedly a good thing as well. Random House is never going to publish a book on how to repair your horse's hoof — but if you need to know, you're probably willing to pay a premium — and the person who does know, is going to be happy to tell you, for a small fee. Both parties are much better off.

BI: Does the signal-to-noise ratio of the internet make it easier or harder to find new talent?

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