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Agent Symposium Series -- Publishing Changes

Many thanks to our three literary agents who took a stab at this month's symposium question. Notably, all three agents cited computer technology and the internet as a major change within the daily world of the publishing industry: how it affects their dealings with clients and potential clients; how websites like help agents research what editors are buying; and how the accessibility of cyber-information helps aspiring writers educate themselves about publishing. Yep, it's pretty much a fact: the proliferation of internet technology like websites, blogs, message forums, and searchable databases (like PM and AQ!) is revolutionizing the way agents find editors, writers find agents, and writers find each other. In fact, it makes us wonder... is technology simply keeping pace with the changing world of publishing? Or is publishing keeping pace with the changing world of technology?

How has the publishing industry changed in the past five years? Three years? Yesterday? How have these changes affected your job as a literary agent, and how have they changed the way you work with (and on behalf of) your clients?

* agents' responses are listed in the order that they were received

LITERARY AGENT: Nadia Cornier - Firebrand Literary Agency
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Markets aside, I think some of the greatest changes in the past few years within the industry has come about through the more consistent use of available technology (i.e. email, chat rooms, yahoo groups, blogs). Technology has become an intricate part of every step of the publishing process. Personally - I accept email queries and manuscripts from my clients; submit corrected (yeah track changes!) manuscripts to editors, receive responses – coordinate schedules, go over deal points and notify my clients of particulars by forwarding them important information – all from my lap top. Furthermore, I can work with the publicity department, market my author, arrange blog interviews, answer questions from production companies about the project… all from my lap top. As a young agent within a new agency, the ability to keep in touch with editors, clients and the publishing industry-at-large means the ability to do business in a more productive manner. That means that I can take on more clients while keeping my overhead down and still offer the personal attention that my clients crave and demand.

LITERARY AGENT: Janet Reid - JetReid Literary Agency
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The internet! The wealth of information has made it much easier to know things, but made it harder to evaluate things. Does a pretty, peppy website mean an agent is effective, or has too much time on her hands cause she's not making calls.

The arrival of Publishers Marketplace also made things much different. It's much faster now to know that Eva Editor is buying erotica disguised as romance because you can see the books she's buying.

None of this however has really changed the basics of how I work with a client. We're still in a car on the freeway of life, only now we have automatic transmission and more horsepower. You have to be a better driver, but you're still driving.

LITERARY AGENT: Jonathan Lyons - McIntosh & Otis, Inc.
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Wow, where to start…

First, it seems like everyone has to do a P&L now. Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t big deals happening (see the $10 million or so that Joel Osteen got and the $8 million Alan Greenspan received). Also, I feel like more editors are becoming agents. Of course, this is nothing new, but it does seem to be happening with more frequency. This makes the competition tougher, but it is also giving more options to authors. Too, Publisher’s Marketplace has really revolutionized the industry. While some of the information on the site should be taken with a grain of salt since it requires self-reporting, it allows for more information to spread to a wider audience. I believe authors in particular can now get a deeper insight into the business, and agents can get a better sense of who is buying what. Finally, I feel the young adult market has grown dramatically in recent years. This has led agents who traditionally represent adult work to expand into this area.

These are just a few of the big differences; despite what you might hear otherwise, the publishing industry changes at an amazingly fast pace. Last week the publisher of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers announced he is stepping down. Hachette bought the Time Warner Book Group. Stephen Colbert, Dave Winfield, and CJ Box all had big book deals. Oh, and I’m sure someone started a new blog. A big part of agenting is simply keeping track of it all.

LITERARY AGENT: Stephen Fraser - The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency
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Publishing has become more cautious in the past five years. While there are obviously big hits out there, sales are not stellar. As a result, publishers are less willing to take risks and want to publish sure and ready bestsellers.

For instance, in children's books, big publishers especially want to revisit successes instead of finding the next big thing. So there is a lot of repetition, in my mind. More of the same, which is what is happening in Hollywood and in TV. Of course, this isn't true of everyone, and that is encouraging. Some individual editors and individual publishers are leading the way with innovative thinking.

This all makes me, as an agent, more determined to find the next big thing, to champion the books that are truly fine, and not feed the bestseller-only mentality. It also means that we need to encourage our clients to take an active part in promoting their books. Bestsellers are a collaborative effort in the best sense. They don't just happen - they are the result of team work. This pro-active approach isn't necessarily bad: every writer should take an active interest in not just the writing, but the publishing and promoting of their books.