How long have you worked as a literary agent?
I started with Curtis Brown in 2002, and I’ve been with the company ever since. I was an English major (at Stanford University) and knew when I graduated that I wanted to work with books. I was incredibly fortunate to land a position with the president of Curtis Brown, who has been an incredible mentor over the years.
How many authors do you work with on a regular basis?
I represent a total of about 30 clients, with usually a dozen or so with active projects at any given time.
Who are some of the standouts, and what attracted you to their work?
I represent some of Curtis Brown’s literary estates, such as the Estates of Winston Churchill, Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, John Godey, and Richard Powell, and on the living side I represent authors such as Lisa Brackmann, Barry Gifford, Jennifer Hubbard, Kim Long, Jack Lopez (and) Rebecca Ramsey ... I am drawn to authors with strong voices, novelists with interesting plots, nonfiction authors with strong platforms, and I don’t chase trends. I want to find authors whose work will stand the test of time.
How long have you been blogging about the publishing world?
I’ve been blogging since 2006. I wanted to have a venue to try and help out aspiring writers who were looking for guidance on how to navigate the publishing process, and since I was beginning to build my list I wanted to be able to differentiate myself from other agents. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I’ve learned a great deal from my readers.
Have you seen an increase in submissions as a result of your blog?
I’ve definitely seen an increase in both quality and quantity.
Talk about “Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow,” which comes out in 2011.
I had an idea one day for a novel about a boy finding himself on a planet full of substitute teachers. That became the genesis of “Jacob Wonderbar."
“Jacob Wonderbar” is about three kids who trade a corndog for a spaceship, blast into space, and accidentally break the universe. They meet a nefarious space pirate, have a series of adventures, and have to work together to find their way back home. It’s hopefully a funny adventure with heart, sort of like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for kids.
How did your publishing industry experience influence the way you went about writing, editing and publishing the book?
Having given so much editorial feedback over the years, I was probably more open to incorporating feedback into my work than I might have been otherwise. And being in the business certainly helped on the way to publication with writing my query letter, finding an agent, dealing with the rejections, and knowing what to expect along the way.
I don’t think there’s any way to quite prepare yourself for the emotions you feel as an author going through the publication process. I thought I would be totally calm throughout because I knew what to expect, but the experience was way more intense than I had anticipated. Luckily I think this has ultimately helped me as an agent. Having experienced these things directly, I know what my clients are going through on the way to publication.
One of the biggest issues in publishing today is the future of publishing itself. Are e-books here to stay?
E-books are definitely here to stay. I don’t think print books will ever disappear entirely, but right now the industry conventional wisdom is that e-books will be 50 percent of the market in just five years. There will certainly be disruptions and hiccups as we make this transition, but I’m optimistic about the future and I think the ease of access and portability of e-books will help us reach new readers.
What’s your take on self-published books?
I think they’re great. Some people fear that we’re going to be inundated by a deluge of poorly written self-published books, but I don’t believe this will ever really happen. Yes, the poorly written books will be out there, but truthfully they’re already out there.
Amazon sells hundreds of thousands of them, and for the most part we don’t even notice they’re there – we’re busy reading the books that were recommended to us by friends. But within that deluge of self-published books there are gems and niche projects that wouldn’t be viable for a publisher to take on, and why shouldn’t those books find their readership?
What are the greatest myths about the publishing industry?
There are perennial myths that the industry doesn’t know what it’s doing, is busy publishing dreck, that it is unprepared for the e-book era, that the entire industry is about to go the way of dinosaurs and vanish from the face of the Earth. But for the most part this is a business that is responding as rationally as possible to a very difficult bookselling climate – bookstores closing, media fracturing, an explosion of content online (most of it free), a transition to an entirely new format, and a significant recession.
Even while facing significant headwind, the industry has been holding up better than most of the retail sector, and there are more wonderful books published every year than someone could possibly read in a lifetime.
Favorite words of advice to aspiring writers?
My favorite bit of advice is simple: “Writers write.” The only way to write a book is to keep at it!