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The Kindly, Caring Literary Agent is probably extinct.
Today's agents are more likely to treat you like a paychecks than like the sensitive creative person you are. You won't get your hand held when you're blue. You won't have your manuscript lovingly edited. Even worse than this cold, business-like treatment, you're unlikely to get your works placed with a publisher by an agent today if you are a budding author.
Agents have changed, along with the publishing industry. They can no longer do the wonderful things they used to for their clients. As publishing houses have been absorbed by big conglomerates, decision-making has moved from editors who love words to accountants who love healthy bottom lines. Their criteria: will it sell? They tend to stick to writers with track records, so the same authors appear year after year on best seller lists. Few new voices are emerging from the big publishing houses which once brought us Faulkner and Hemingway.
Ironically, the best way to get their attention is to turn your back on both agents and big publishers! The large publishing houses now rely on their sales reps to scout out self- published and small-imprint books that are selling well. They then approach the authors about printing a second edition of their self-published books. This often results a lucrative book contract if an author decides to go for the deal.
But many authors are saying no to the Big Boys. Why settle for 6-15% royalties when you can keep up to 80% of the profits from your book sales and retain the rights to TV and video productions, foreign rights, book clubs, etc.? Especially since you're going to have to do most of the marketing work yourself anyhow.
No, authors have too many other options today to accept whatever big publishing houses offer. And you don't need an agent to pursue them. There are niche publishers and coop publishers (they will work directly with an author) ; there is self-publishing and/or electronic publishing (you become your own publisher). There are also lots of traditional ways to get out the word about a book without spending a dime, and the Internet has added a whole new dimension to cost-free marketing.
The problem is that few authors have the information they need to successfully maneuver today's brave new publishing world. They need advice on each step. That's why I gave up being a Literary Agent in favor of becoming the world's first Author's Advocate. I found that most writers don't start thinking about marketing until they have a finished manuscript -- which often means a complete rewrite is needed to get a marketable manuscript. I like to work with authors from concept to sales, helping them make the essential decisions that lead to publishing success.
To write a book that will sell today, you have to be very clear about:
Armed with up-to-date information on buying trends and publishing options, you can save yourself a lot of time and grief. The information is readily available in such publications as Writer's Digest, Publishers Weekly, The Library Journal, The New York Times' and the Los Angeles Times' Book Review. For self-publishers there is The Small Press Review and membership in the Independent Book Publishers Association (formerly the Publishers Marketing Association). The information is out there for anyone willing to do the research. Add to this a clear understanding of your audience and what you want to say to this audience and you're launched on writing a book that will sell.
Writers today have to be able to think like editors and publishers and book distributors. Publishing today is market-driven, and the reality is that a big publishing house may not be your best choice.
(Excerpted with permission from the book, "Everything You Need to Know to Write, Publish, & Market Your Book", by Patrika Vaughn. Available through A Cappela Publishing, www.acappela.com)
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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