Today’s guest blogger has had thirty years of experience in the publishing world. Claire Gerus has been Editor-in-Chief of two publishing houses, worked for seven major publishers, including Harlequin, Rodale, Random House, Doubleday, John Wiley, Kensington, and Adams Media, written articles for U.S. and Canadian magazines and newspapers, and taught corporate communications to such clients as IBM, Kelloggs, Mutual of Omaha, and Procter & Gamble.
She is presently working as a literary agent and book development consultant. She is always interested in projects that can change readers’ lives for the better. She is open to assisting authors as an agent, a book developer, or an editor. She is now focusing on nonfiction projects for all ages.
When Lynn asked me to contribute some insights “from an agent’s point of view,” I had to stop and think. What would people want to know? Would they be most interested in how they could write more effective query letters? What the secrets of a successful submission might be? Or whether it’s even worth the time and energy to try to submit a book proposal, whether to an agent or to a publisher, given how tough the market is these days.
Then, I realized that what would be most helpful would be a snapshot of what agents are dealing with –changing conditions in the marketplace, mergers of the two largest publishing houses (Random House and Penguin/Putnam), young, relatively inexperienced editors, shrinking advances….I could go on and on.
Even for a seasoned agent (going on 12 years now, with 30 years as an East Coast editor before that), the constant changes are challenging to keep up with. Mergers between companies and editors who are coming and going, publishers closing their doors forever—these activities are now so frequent that I’m no longer embarrassed when someone tells me of a change I might have missed. And while I tended to try to dissuade new authors from going the self-publishing route (always the optimist that we’d find the right publisher if we just hung in a bit), now I encourage those who are eager to do it themselves to, well, “just do it!”
Self-publishing is a whole new ballgame and is becoming increasingly respectable, although it’s still, usually, the alternative choice rather than an author’s first choice. It’s certainly faster than waiting for a nod from a traditional publisher, which can take months, and it’s often the perfect solution for an author who has a memoir or another personal perspective that’s important for him/her to get out there.
One has to keep in mind that it can take about two years between acceptance by a publisher and the book’s actual publication, considering the editorial process once the first draft of the manuscript has been turned in.
A colleague told me the other day that she sees these changes in the publishing scene as “the best of times” for authors (with more opportunities to get published than ever before) and “the worst of times.” That’s because there are more books in various formats out there (ebooks, trade paperbacks, and decreasingly, hard covers) than ever before.
In both cases, whether published by a traditional publisher or self-published, today’s authors need to either hire a superior publicist (preferably one who is also a social media expert) or have a game plan that will grab the attention of reviewers. Ultimately, this will involve getting attention on Amazon.com—and joining the majority of other would-be bestselling authors with the same objective.
Lynn will agree that book publicity and promotion are the key to getting sales and raising the author’s name recognition, and she’s been in the biz a long time, having graduated from the ranks of Barnes and Noble in marketing and sales. New tricks and tips are always being formulated by these folks to help authors move ahead of the pack, and she’s got intuition on her side to achieve exceptional results for her clients.
As for me, a literary agent whose livelihood has depended on getting book deals for my authors, I’m personally intrigued by the changing scene. Today, I’m committed to pointing my authors towards the solution that makes the most sense to them. Ultimately, I get the greatest satisfaction from seeing happy faces and hearing “We did it!”….even if it means I’m simply a conduit for an author who is now happily self-published!
The nice thing is, even in the face of tougher challenges for agents, new opportunities are opening up for us, too. Those of us who can add editing to our resumes are in demand to get authors’ proposals and manuscripts up to snuff. That’s because anything less than editorially and grammatically correct just isn’t cutting it these days—reviewers are increasingly critical of typos, grammar errors, and other flaws in self-published books. The old “who needs an editor?” attitude in a bid to save a few bucks is now coming back to haunt those who felt they could get away without one.
A bright new day is, indeed, dawning for all of us publishing folks, and every morning I look forward to sitting down at my Sony laptop, opening up my inbox, and finding out who has come knocking at my door….
With all best wishes for your publishing success,