#LA11SCBWI – The Wisdom of Agents – Panel Discussion

My final agent-related #LA11SCBWI post is a report from the agent panel that featured Tracey Adams of Adams Literary, Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary, Marcia Wernick of Wernick & Pratt Agency, Tina Wexler of ICM, and moderator Brenda Bowen of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

The agents started with an introduction of themselves where we learned that Adams Literary represents the gamut from picture book through young adult, Wernick & Pratt is celebrating their 6-month anniversary as an agency and are looking to grow, and ICM is one of the oldest literary agency with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and London. The most intriguing factoid was not discovering that Barry Goldblatt Literary has been in existence for 11 years (and like Adams they rep everything from PB through YA) but that Barry is married to YA author Libba Bray.

The first question posed by Brenda was whether with the advent of e-books and increased ease of self-publishing the role of literary agencies was shrinking or growing.

Tracey feels the agent’s role is not changing, that they’re looking for new ways to get their clients’ work out there. Barry said it’s really nothing new, just the way it’s done is new. These new avenues don’t change how professional publishing works. Marcia agreed, yes the digital world offers opportunity, but digital is more supportive of the print book (e.g. a game app attached to PB) rather than replacing it. Digital doesn’t change the way stories are out there. The agent is still an author’s advocate and business advisor. Tina said that independently published/e-books are something to watch. She quoted Amanda Hocking as saying that with digital it’s easier to just get a book out there, but to have a career and get people reading your work, it’s very hard. Agents are partners more than just to do the sale, they’re supportive in all stages of the publishing process.

Brenda then asked, Is there a genre or age-group category that’s drying up/thriving.

Barry said no, there are always ups and downs in publishing. He just wants a great book and will find a home even if the market “isn’t buying that.”

Marcia said there’s always a market for well-crafted, strong, original books. She gave as an example Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! which sold in a “dead” PB market after many rejections. More books are challenged to do well, but the ones doing well are doing really well. One market that’s more challenged is the non-fiction market because it’s more geared toward schools/libraries which have had a decrease in funding. But you can succeed in any genre.

Tracey said that an author asks “Can my agent sell this?” while the agent asks “Do I love this?” If they love it, they’ll find a home for it. The PB market has been challenging, but we’ll never see its demise. For now, YA is the hot topic.

Brenda then posed a follow-up question: You’ve sold 4 books for a client and you don’t love next book, what do you do?

Tina said she’d give feedback, have that hard conversation. She’d tell the author, I don’t want to stand in the way, but I don’t think this is the next step in your career. Marcia said that in that situation, she will ask another agent or occasionally an editor (the one who’s currently publishing the author) to get a second opinion.

Brenda then asked, when you go out with a manuscript for a debut author, what makes you sure you can sell it?

Barry said it’s the excitement he feels. He loves to make a first sale for an author. Marcia added that just as it’s a passion for the author to create, it’s an agent’s passion to get the book out there and sold. An agent feels a certain entitlement on behalf of their client. For Tracey, she’ll be reading and get excited and can’t wait to show it to a particular editor. She’ll have a submission list in her head as she’s reading.

Brenda asked for those who represent PBs, how to you find illustrators?

Marcia, the only agent who answered this, said through referrals and commented that she needs to see character development in a portfolio. She needs to see that character development through the scenes. She also mentioned that she has met (illustrator) clients at conferences.

Brenda asked how much editorial work do you do?

Tracey answered that she and Josh (husband and partner) see themselves as the stagers (like in real estate) of the manuscript. They get it ready in its best form to submit. They do respect the role of the editor, and know they’re the one who’s doing the actual editing. She reiterated that they’re getting it ready to submit, not ready to print. Sometimes a manuscript comes in that’s ready to go, and her preference is to take something on that’s already at that stage.

There was a side discussion about voice, Tracey said it’s an immediately eye-catching element. Barry said it’s hard to define voice but we know it when we see it. At a writer’s workshop once, he had everyone bring a sample of what they thought was great voice. It was enlightening because whatever it was, they knew it when they heard it. Marcia said it’s distinct, you can envision the character through voice.

Brenda then asked that fatal question—what happens if you can’t sell something?

Barry noted that his agency has a 98% sell-through rate (i.e., they sell 98% of what they represent). He’s had manuscripts that were submitted to 22 publishers before they made a sale. Some things are unsalable, and you have to have that conversation with a client. But great writing will always find a home. Marcia added that it’s important that while the agent is trying to sell an author’s current book, the author is working on their next project. You have to look at the career path long-term, not just one project.

Next question posed by Brenda: I’m multi-published, how do I get to the next level?

Tina turned the question back on itself when she said, your writing has to get to the next level, what are you doing to get there on the page?

Next: My sales are fine but not great. Should change my name with my next release?

The agents didn’t answer that question specifically, but instead discussed the issue of authors comparing themselves to one another. Tracey said everyone’s on their own path and a giant deal for a first book isn’t the norm. Marcia commented that you do yourself a disservice comparing yourself on to others on Publishers Marketplace. Barry noted that you might see big deals on PM, but they don’t say what happens after that (i.e., how well a book with a huge deal ultimately does, that author’s future career). Brenda added that data in PM can be misleading, and it’s very superficial.

Then Brenda said, you have a magic wand. If you could fix any one thing in the publishing business, what would it be?

Marcia’s wish was that there’d be standard royalties and sub-rights rates. Tracey would end publishing by committee. She feels the publisher should trust the editor, that’s why they hired a great editor. Tina asked for a higher royalty for e-books, and wants more bookstores to come back (don’t we all). Barry said we should end the practice of paying authors their royalties semi-annually (i.e., they should be paid more frequently).

Next, the ever eternal question: How to submit. All four indicated they are taking electronic submissions only.

Tracey said Adams Literary takes all submissions via the form on www.adamsliterary.com. They’ll want to see the full manuscript.

Marcia said submissions are done online at www.wernickpratt.com. Check the submission guidelines there.

Tina said the ICM site is changing, for now submit to twexler@icmtalent.com, with the first 5 pages in the body of the e-mail.

Barry said go to www.bgliterary.com and follow the guidelines.

Lightning round: What do you not want to see ever again? Vampires, screenplays, bad writing.

What do you think is the next hot trend? Thrillers, suspense, science fiction, and horror.

What’s your pet peeve? Getting things you don’t represent, hostility, too long winded, Dear Sir (when the agent is a woman)

What do you want to see on your desk tomorrow? In order, the agents said, Something brilliant, ditto, award winner & best seller, all of the above.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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