|Diane S. Nine|
Q: How have things changed for authors (and for agents) in the years you've been working in this field?
A: As an agent for over 25 years now, I have seen a lot of changes in the literary industry. The biggest change is in the area of technology, and the advent of ebooks. In fact, the ebook area is the only growing segment of the book industry. I think we will continue to see growth in this area, and when all the ebook readers are able to work on the same technology platform, they will really take off.
On a personal note, when I read for pleasure (as opposed to work-related reading), I only read ebooks now. I like the fact that you can have an entire library of books with you – and it saves the bookshelf space that is becoming quite limited in my home and office!
With all of this said, I don’t think the ebook phenomenon will result in the disappearance of physical, printed books in my lifetime – though it might result in decreasing sales of printed books.
The other major change I have seen in the literary area is in the diminishing number of legitimate publishing houses. This is an industry constantly in financial trouble – it is a tough industry to earn money in.
As a result, we are seeing increasing numbers of mergers among the largest publishers, and more and more smaller publishers are closing their doors. The latest merger among the big houses is between Random House and Penguin – which are now part of the same company. This change makes it harder for agents to locate a publisher for their clients’ books.
Q: What do you think is the most useful way for an author to find an agent?
A: Word-of-mouth! If you know someone who has had a good relationship with an agent, this is a sure-fire method of locating an agent who is honest, and will work hard on your behalf.
If you don’t know any authors, there are a myriad of websites and books listing agents. My favorite one among these is www.publishersmarketplace.com -- it lists agents by areas of interest, and seems to do an honest job of keeping the information real. I am wary of sites that rank agents or complain about agents since anyone can write disparaging things on these sites, and the reader has no way of knowing if what’s written is true or not.
Q: Would you advise an author to self-publish?
A: There is a place for self-publishing, especially now that it has become easier. For instance, if you want to write your memoir, yet you are not well-known, self-publishing may be the only way to actually have a book. Or, if you have written a book, and have tried unsuccessfully to interest an agent or publisher, self-publishing may seem like a good option.
However, self-published books still do not garner the respect of “legitimately” published books. This is because there is a perception (and even a reality) that self-publishing is not selective. Anyone can self-publish if you have the money to pay.
As a result, virtually no retailers will agree to carry the book, and hardly any media will do an interview or review the book. Therefore, in my opinion, self-publishing should be a last resort.
Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about getting a book published?
A: There are so many misconceptions in the literary industry -- I hardly know where to begin! But, I will talk about three of the “issues” that come up with a lot of frequency.
First, authors seem to believe they will have a choice of the publishing houses they desire to publish their books. In other words, they often hold out for their “dream” publisher, bypassing early offers.
In reality, most authors are lucky to even get one offer to publisher their “masterpiece” – so it is best to highly consider ANY offer received if it is in the norm of contracts typically offered.
I cannot tell you the number of times one of my clients has been presented with an offer by a publisher (other than their first choice publisher), and they have turned down the offer. More often than not, they don’t get another offer (let alone an offer from their preferred publisher) – leaving them with an unpublished book. Authors need to know that getting a book published is highly competitive.
Second, authors don’t understand that most books take 1 – 3 years to see the light of day, and they somehow think that their book should be published ahead of all the other books their publisher has acquired. Everyone has a good reason why their book needs to come out sooner, rather than later.
In reality, most publishers simply put out books in the order in which they have been acquired – because there is no fairer method. Authors need to understand that nagging their agent (or the publisher) about the release date of their book is only counterproductive. EVERYONE wants to be published tomorrow, but things move slowly in the publishing world – since things take time.
Most books go through a minimum of three rounds of edits, proofreading, galleys, jacket design, layout, converting the files for printing and all the different platforms for ebooks, etc. You can see where this is time-consuming – and why rushing things usually result in errors. And, it is not fair to authors patiently waiting their turn to suddenly have another author’s book put in front of the queue at any stage of the process.
Finally, some authors seem to think that their job is done when the book is published – assuming, I guess, that books magically sell themselves. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, I believe there is a direct correlation between books sold, and authors’ working to sell books. In other words, in order to have a successful title, it is necessary for the author to promote their own book.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a number of exciting projects. Among these is a memoir by Cindy Williams. Cindy was the co-star of the television show Laverne & Shirley (among other things). We met with publishers in New York not too long ago, and we have a lot of interest. Cindy has rarely, if ever, told anything about her life – personal or professional – so even I am absorbed by her writing as she completes chapters of her book!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Despite all of the pitfalls in the literary industry, it can be an intellectually rewarding area to work in. I feel fortunate to have landed in a job that (most of the time) doesn’t seem much like work, at all. After all these years, I can honestly say that I love my job 99% of the time – and that’s more than most people can say!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Note: I am currently working with Diane Nine on an upcoming project.