E-books, Publishing and Self-Publishing: an agent’s view
What are the pros and cons of getting a traditional deal or choosing the self-publishing route? In this rapidly changing landscape, what is the role of the agent? Report by Lisa Nightingale
It was Lorella Belli’s ambition to set up her own agency. She set out to know the publishing industry inside out. Her brief to discover ‘new blood’ gave her not just invaluable insider experience, but introduced her to many unpublished authors.
‘An agent works for their Author.’ Lorella says. As an agent, her primary concern and something which she feels forms a vital part of the agent/author partnership is; ‘What does the author want from their writing?’
She is the first to declare that the agent’s role in the modern author’s career remains unchanged regardless of chosen route of publication – self or traditional. An area of particular interest is the protection and exploitation of the author’s rights and here, Lorella is well versed and undeniably diva.
For the most part, a writer wants readers, they want to see their work in a bookshop. Equally, it is important to recognise the financial aspects of a writer’s career. Both the traditional route and the contemporary self-publishing route provides remuneration, but in different ways.
It is her belief that an agent has a responsibility to be aware of the many platforms of publication available to authors both new and experienced, how those platforms work and therefore be able to fit the author to the best publisher.
Lorella’s agency is vocational towards the needs of an author. There is no room for the agent’s preciousness over writing. ‘So what if the book is ‘trashy’.’ Lorella says, ‘If the writer is happy, then their readers are happy and so is the publisher.’
An author can retain some control over publishing decisions e.g. the cover even through the traditional route. An informed agent will know to insert such clauses into their contract. Similarly, self-publishing has given the publishing houses some much needed competition – authors now have an alternative.
However, authors must be aware that by choosing the self-publishing route, they are choosing to take on their career in its entirety and inevitably this will cut into writing time. A publishing house provides editing, a marketing department, a sales department and publicity.
The traditional route may seem like it is taking its time, whereas self-publishing can be a whirlwind. Of course this is after the author has learned all the skills needed to be a publisher.
One huge pro for the appointment of an agent – they get the hurtful rejections! However, an agent of Lorella’s talent will believe in the book and wants to see it published. It is that agent’s job to spot the writer’s talent and therefore their target audience.
It is hugely important that authors remain professional. When an agent is passionate about a book and has an author that they can build on, they will stand more chance of promoting it, even if it does not appear to fit, or is the wrong length.
Even to an agent as talented as Lorella, the next big thing is a mystery. There will always be the wild card – who could have predicted 50 Shades of Grey? However, a writer can keep their eye on publicity to hang on e.g. the Olympics.
As a writer grows more successful, their chosen path can become more complex. Lorella suggests building a team, delegate, remember the AAA (Association of Authors’ Agents) and ask an agent for advice. That is the bottom line of their job – to work for the author.
An agent’s website will state what they are looking for. There is no divide between male and female, it is all down to what that agent wants to feel when reading a book. For Lorella, it is what makes her laugh and what makes her cry.
The members present were left in no doubt of Lorella’s message – the agent works for the author, no one else, not themselves, not the publishers. Just the author. They thanked her for her candid, refreshing approach and dependably constant open door.
Special Guests: Moira Blackwell and Liz Nankivel, joint authors of the Binky Bear books
Now on their third title, Binky Goes to London, Lizzy and Moira are completely self-published.
Being a parent reader at a local school, Lizzy acquired a good feel for what children like to read. This gave the two women confidence when the traditional publishing route closed to them saying; ‘stories with photograph pictures will not sell.’
As partners, every decision and every woe is shared. As are their venture’s financial commitments. Lizzy advised us that using grants from the European Structural and Investment Funds, they attended locally run business courses.
The two authors keep to a strict business type functionality when making decisions. Once they settled on their chosen format things moved quickly. Within a year they were selling Binky books from a stall at Arlesford. Moira admitted to having to become brazen about their sales – marching into bookshops and asking the manager to put the book on the shelves. ‘When you’ve done it once, it gets easier’, she says. They now have some prestigious outlets including Harrods, Selfridges, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Binky Bear is one hundred percent British. He is printed using Cedar Press in Romsey and with the Union Jack branding, Moira and Lizzy now have an opening to sell Binky in Florida.
Claire Fuller. Author of Our Endless Numbered Days.
Forty-seven year old, mum of two, HWS member Claire refused to be dissuaded from writing when she was advised by a writer less than half her age, who had met her agent at a party and been signed up, that what matters is not what you know, but who you know.
Claire is proud of her writing and enjoyed it. She began an MA in Creative Writing and Our Endless Numbered Days was her dissertation. But she cannot say that her consequent success was secured by the MA. However, she is adamant that a writer should find a good writing group who will critique constructively.
Our Endless Numbered Days was submitted to a lot of agents, many of which Claire did not hear from at all. Her pitch letter stuck rigidly to the requirements stated on the Agent’s website. ‘See it as a job application.’ she advises, ‘If the application is asked for in one way, you would not submit it another.’ She also listed her previous publications which gave her credibility.
The agent that Claire chose wanted a face-to-face meeting. This told her that the agent was checking her out to ensure that she was workable with. It is worth remembering that an agent must sell the author as well as the book.
Once signed, Our Endless Numbered Days was ready for publication in 19 months. Debuts are published in the Spring. Claire’s enviable deal is for one book, so although the publisher is harassing her for book two, she can relax – book two is passed draft one.
Claire and her publisher, Penguin will be hosting a workshop at the Winchester Writer’s Festival this year. We hope that success will not go to her head and she will return to keep us updated on her future successes.