Category Archives: relationships
The other day, one of my clients approached me asking if I knew anyone – an agent or a manager – in the music business who could help a close relative who is a talented songwriter and singer. This is something way outside of my bailiwick but then I remembered that a colleague, who I really like, respect and trust, works at a large, multi-faceted agency, and it occurred to me that they must have a music component. Sure enough, I contacted him and he got right back to me saying that he had been in touch with someone in their music department about my client and his situation. I put them all together and am really hoping that something solid comes out of this.
This got me thinking about the power of networking in our business. Over the years, publishers have come to me for recommendations on people they should interview for jobs and I have not hesitated to recommend those who I think are qualified and appropriate. And, of course, as an agent, it is networking that gets me to the right editors and publishers for my projects.
Historically, I haven’t seen a lot of networking among the various segments of the writing community. (Sure there are cliques – but these are small and not always effective.) That, however, seems to have changed now, and I think this change is a very positive one. Over the last year or two, a number of my newer clients have recommended me to their friends and colleagues and everyone has benefitted from this. By networking, these writers are learning more about their craft and about the business and I am learning more about new talent.
In fact, I think networking is absolutely essential in this crowded and very competitive marketplace. I would love to hear about your own networking experiences.
Recently I came across this interesting piece, and it got me to thinking about the value of publishing relationships.
It has long been felt that ours is a “people business,” and I strong believe this is true. Even with the growth of social media and e-mail, talking face to face always seems to get things done faster and more cordially.
And, in this age of such enormous change in our business, talking to each other about how we can all benefit from these changes is more important than ever. This goes for publishers and agents, editors and agents, authors and editors, authors and agents, and on and on. As these relationships grow and develop, they become more and more valuable to our clients and their books.
Recently one of my authors has faced some real challenges with their publisher where there is a great deal at stake. And so in addressing these challenges I included people who I have “grown up with” in the business – people who now are at the top of the publishing company. My younger colleagues who are directly involved in the issues involved have “slapped my hand” about this; they think I am going around them. But I don’t agree. I am simply using the fact that I know these folks at the head of the company can solve the problems and I am telling them directly how concerned I am. I know by doing this that ultimately these longtime relationships will help solve the issues.
Then there are always the points where there is a disagreement or misunderstanding between colleagues. Last week, I felt an editor had done something underhanded regarding one of my authors and when I brought this up a couple of days later at a lunch with the head of her company, we discussed it – each of us passionately defending our point of view — and ultimately agreed that we would put this behind us and move forward. Had we not had a long and solid relationship, this would not have happened.
I actually feel so fortunate to have made so many good friends over the years in this business; I have met and gotten to know some very smart, quite wonderful people. It is indeed one of the reasons why I love this business and have stayed in it so long.
I’m something of a science nerd, so I love it when science and literacy come together. Fortunately for me, I get just that in this Jezebel article about readers emulating their favorite characters. The study reveals that readers can shift their thoughts and actions to match their favorite literary character and attempt to live vicariously through a character by taking on what we think would be his or her thoughts, actions and emotions.
I know that there have been plenty of times when I have stopped to think, “What would so-and-so do in this situation?” and this article really made me think back and reflect on my habits and reading. I love to re-read Gone with the Wind, and I feel protective of Scarlett as I imagine what life might have been like for her. Now I wonder if I’m more flirtatious or take on more of a ruthless attitude towards the world as I read and think about Miss O’Hara.
What do you think? Have you ever lived vicariously through a book character? Do you think you emulate your favorite characters?
I participated in a cookbook conference last Friday and sat on a panel with four other agents who also represent practical nonfiction, including cookbooks. The discussion centered around the agent’s role in the current market and how that role has changed with the shift into electronic publishing.
It was a really thoughtful and informative conversation that lasted almost an hour and a half. We had a lengthy talk about the cookbook as object and whether that is something that will continue into the future or go the way of the VHS tape. We all agreed moving away from the book is a long way away, if it ever happens at all, and that there is still a great benefit to holding a book in your hands, cooking from a book rather than a computer screen, and sharing books as gifts with friends and family.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion centered on the agent and author relationship, and the question of how important is it to have an agent in a market where so many writers, bloggers especially, are going it on their own. I strongly believe that (and I think, based on feedback, made a persuasive argument for) authors need agents now more than ever. A savvy agent who understands the nuances of the market’s language and culture is critical as they oversee every aspect of an author’s entire career, focusing on the big picture, as well as the smaller details that can go astray at any point in the process.
What really jumped out at me, though, was the concept of how much book negotiations have changed in the recent past. Each and every negotiation now, even with publishers we’ve dealt with for many years and have boilerplate contracts with the best negotiated terms possible, is fraught with challenges that include new and changing digital royalty rates, author deliverables that previously didn’t exist (one agent mentioned a major publisher had asked that the author deliver along with their manuscript 20 minutes of the author on tape), and which rights will be retained by the author versus the publisher.
This might sound simple, but believe me when I say it is not. The landscape has been described as The Wild West, and we are using our collective years of experience to secure the best deal and contract terms that are possible in a market where publishers are pushing so hard in one direction to keep rights in their control and agents are pushing so hard in the other.
The good news is we are making progress with every deal. Each new contract offers an opportunity to renegotiate contract language we aren’t happy with, or get an author an improved digital royalty, or at least the ability to renegotiate the royalty in the future. We are always striving to protect our clients and maintain a positive working relationship with all the publishers we do business with. I’ll admit it can be precarious, but we have leverage because publishers know the value of our long, successful client list.
All this to say your agent is your friend and will be there to guide you through this sometimes messy and difficult process of being a book author. I’d love to know your thoughts on the agent-author relationship in this new market and also on cookbook as object and its future. Do you think cookbooks are going to go away, or will there always be room on your shelf to display your favorite stain-filled tomes as a badge of cooking honor?
In their interview with siblings-in-writing Ben and Jen Percy, Salon points out that similar instances of “brother sister acts” are rare. When I stopped to consider this I came up only a handful, most of which came from literary families of centuries past: the Wordsworths, Brontes, Alcotts, Rossettis, etc. I can think of sisters—Margaret Drabble and A.S. Byatt—but their strained relationship might argue that most families can raise only one writer. Do any of you have siblings who write? Is it a bond, a point of contention, competition, or (in this market, especially) commiseration?
Apropos of siblings, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and his sister Alison, a psychology professor, have produced a joint review of recently published THE SIBLING EFFECT by Jeffrey Kluger In hindsight, the piece seemed more about the clever Gopnik clan than the Kluger book, but I suppose that further makes the point that some topics–sibling relationships among them–are ever-green, and for this reader (the youngest of five children) endlessly fascinating. Kluger’s argument, that siblings make us who we are, is not especially earth-shattering, but is a fine example of the way in which an artful blend of personal narrative and research-driven reportage can render the familiar new again.