Friday, July 17, 2009

RWA--Friday--Publishing News

Yesterday I told you about my panel with Abby Zidle from Pocket, agent Kevan Lyon, Deb Werksman from Sourcebooks, Tracy Ferrell from Harlequin and agent Emmanuelle Alspaugh (today I corrected all spellings. ouch.) and mentioned that the one common theme I’m hearing at the conference, from editors and agents alike, is that publishing is struggling these days. In fact, in my conversations yesterday with colleagues many were saying the same things.

My advice during this time is to continue what you are doing and that means continue to submit, continue to write, and keep moving forward. Many of you asked why? What are agents doing during this time and why doesn’t it make sense to wait a year until the economy recovers?

As usual I can only speak for one agent and what she’s doing and that’s me, but here are my thoughts on the subject. Publishing is in a huge period of transition and change and sure some of it is based on the economy and some of it is based on the success of e-readers like the Kindle, but the truth is that some of this has been coming for a long time. Changes have been needed and expected and while everyone has her own theory on what needs to be done and what will become of publishing over the next five to ten years the truth is that no one really knows. What I do think we can all agree on is that the book as a creative art form is here to stay, but how readers read and obtain books and how books are published is changing.

So why do I suggest you continue submitting and not wait a year until the economy rights itself? IBecause there’s no guarantee that the economy will right itself in a year, but more importantly, we don’t know that just because the economy starts an upswing publishing will too. In addition, what you’re writing today is for today’s market and tomorrow’s market might change. Most importantly though, I don't think it makes sense for anyone to put a career on hold because of situations you can't control.

You also asked what I’m doing and I’ll tell you about a conversation I had with a new client this weekend and yes, I said new client. I’m continuing forward almost as if the publishing world is in the same shape it was a year ago or even two years ago, I’m controlling what I can control. This client and I discussed the importance of time and how frequently agents might say that sometimes timing counts and while that’s true what’s the even more important is quality. I’m still actively submitting, I’m still actively taking on new clients, but I’m pickier. I’m working my clients hard and sometimes proposals and manuscripts are going through one, two or even three or more rounds of revisions before we even consider pitching publishers. I’m demanding that books we submit aren’t just perfect, but one step above perfect. And personally, I’m taking on more nonfiction these days since I’ve found that nonfiction is easier to judge (for many publishers), it’s less subjective and easier to compare a nonfiction project to a currently published book and get a feel for numbers and finally, I’m not worrying about something I can’t control, but instead focusing on those things I can.

Despite blog posts like this I see myself as a Pollyanna. I hear lots of people complaining about the economy and how it’s effecting them and while I can’t hide from the numbers (there’s no doubt book sales are down and bookstores are in trouble) I think it’s about change and frankly, I’m not scared. It means we all have to work harder, but the truth is we all love books and books have been around for a really, really long time. That’s not going to change. The stories you write are always going to be wanted and needed and (hopefully) someone to support you through whatever the publishing process is will be needed too. If not, maybe I could become a shoe salesman.

Kim would like to point out here that before I become a shoe salesman I need to learn to walk in my shoes. See, this is why I typically don’t share my blog posts until they’re posted [wink].

So other then the bad news what did I see yesterday at RWA? I saw thousands of people flocking to a book signing to meet and buy from their favorite writers (okay that was Wednesday night). I saw authors who were enthusiastic and confident about their careers. In fact, I met a young agent yesterday from another agency who really buoyed my confidence in the writing community. At one of the many awards events (this one served chocolate fondue which was to die for) this agent came to introduce herself to me because she is a daily reader of the blog which I so appreciate. You know for a long time I pretended I blogged in a bubble and that only aspiring writers read my words. Ha! I think I’ve been outed. What was really neat about this agent was the enthusiasm she had. She was literally bouncing out of her seat at the excitement of being an agent and meeting the authors she has admired and loved for years. It was sweet, it was inspiring and I think I might love her. Because this is what it’s all about and this is why we’re all here, at the conference and reading this blog. We love books and we love what we do and in the end that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

And as if this blog post wasn't long enough already I thought I'd leave you with one final conference tale. All day yesterday I wore these rocking red patten leather pumps. I mean rockin'. After a full day of running through the gigantic hotel and a few walks outside to various restaurants my feet were a little tired and while I'd like to blame this experience on the shoes or maybe even Kim, I suspect it was all me. While heading to dinner last night Kim and I were walking down Connecticut Ave chatting when all of a sudden, out of the blue, I found myself on my hands and knees on the sidewalk in front of a very crowded outdoor dining area. I'm pretty sure my skirt stayed down this time and I flashed no one, but if in fact I did, I apologize. I'm seeing a common theme here and it's making me a little nervous about how today might play out.


--Jessica

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Still a bit sad, but you are right--what else can you do but move forward? I am curious, though. When you say you are having your clients do several revisions before submission, how do you keep a fresh eye regarding the materials after several back and forths? Do you also have fresh readers within your agency to help this process?

Thanks.

DebraLSchubert said...

"Most importantly though, I don't think it makes sense for anyone to put a career on hold because of situations you can't control." That's the key. How and why would you?

Thanks for writing such a long and informative post while at a busy conference. We, your loyal followers, greatly appreciate it!

About five years ago I was in Monterey , CA for a wedding. The night before the wedding, I was walking with a bunch of people (like 20!) to dinner, and the next thing I knew, I was on my hands and knees, palms bleeding. The heel of my killer Franco Sartos decided to have a brief and dangerous love affair with a crack in the sidewalk, and I'm the one who paid the price for their selfish passion. Not pretty.

Aimee K. Maher said...

Dang. Stay on your feet!

Carol Benedict said...

Thanks for an interesting and enjoyable post. Having worked as a shoe salesperson, I recommend looking for easier ways to make a living. Personally, I went with trucking.

My daughter has mastered the art of falling, and uses it to her advantage. For example, shortly after she started at a new high school she embarrassed herself by falling out of the bus. She jumped up and shouted, "It's OK, folks, I'm fine. No injuries." This attention-getter broke the ice (literally), and several people made a point of befriending her after that incident. After a few more impressive falls, she became one of the most popular girls in the school.

superwench83 said...

One thing that can be said about publishing right now is that it certainly isn't boring. All these changes may be challenging and somewhat daunting, but it's also a really exciting time to be a part of the book industry. Thanks for this post. Lots to think about.

Anonymous said...

Falling. Ugh. The worst of it is that long weird stretch between the moment you lose your balance and the moment you hit the ground.

Thanks for the great post. Do you have anything that you tell your clients (especially debut) who have been on submission for a long time, like a year or more? How to keep perspective? How not to lose hope?
Thanks again and I hope there is no more falling for you!

The Writers Canvas said...

Appreciate the info from DC and the panels, Jessica. Thanks for continuing to blog during RWA.

As far as the tripping and the shoes, well, I accidentally slammed my luggage into you last year while checking in at SFO Marriott, and I'm still standing :)

Have a great time and thanks again for keeping us posted,

Elaine

Dara said...

Thanks for the post! I know all this change in publishing is a bit daunting for me, as well as many others, but change is a fact of life. Like you said, I believe there will always be a need for books and stories. I even think that the traditional bound book will be around at least the rest of my life (and I'm only 24); I just don't see everyone going digital. I think there will still be a market for the bound book, even if it shrinks dramatically. I think it'll be awhile before eBooks become the way most people read simply because of the price factor for an eReader. But what do I know? I'm just an average, every day reader with a dream of having a story of my own published and on a bookshelf someday. So it might all be wishful thinking :P

And everytime I put on a pair of heels or pumps, I stumble--and some of them have been quite embarassing...I'm also sure most women have had similar incidents.

That's why I prefer my ballet flats, although I've even fallen in those :P I suppose I have an inherently clumsy nature!

Matilda McCloud said...

I agree with Dara--check out the rocking patent leather flats out there...like our First Lady wears... I never wear heels, no matter what!

~Sia McKye~ said...

You're right Jessica, "We love books and we love what we do and in the end that’s what makes it all worthwhile."

That's true whether we are Agents, Publishers, aspiring authors, Bloggers, or readers. That's what it's all about. Stories to entertain, whatever the format, will always be in demand.

I feature authors on my blog every week, and a common thread I see is they love what they do, but more, they love stories and love to share them. They're confident that people will want to read them. They work hard to make those stories what the readers want to read.

All of us are keeping an eye on the economy, but you can't stop living life on what ifs. If this is what you love to do, do it.

Mira said...

Wow - thanks for taking the time to blog, while at the conference - it's cool to hear about it.

I like your stance of continuing on, doing the best quality job you can and not letting imagined fears de-rail you. So much of what we imagine never comes to pass.

I'm still waiting for the Y2K thing, for example. Wasn't society as we know it supposed to crash? It never happened, and I feel rather put out. I got really stressed about it, and all the stress was totally wasted. It's terribly unfair and I'm starting to wonder who I can hold responsible for the fact that the world continued on.

I am holding out hopes, however, that the world will come to an end soon - this time. Either due to an economy that crashes forever, and ever and ever and ever, and we are all homeless and alone on the street and no one will talk to us, or give us a crust of bread, and random dogs run up to us and bite us, or, if not that, I heard something was going to happen in 2012.

So, actually, I started out this post on a positive note, but now I'm thinking why worry about the economy and publishing when the world is ending in 2012 anyway.

So we really should relax.

Although - high heels? Now, those are dangerous for your health.

Hope you both have fun with the rest of the conference. :-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

hmmm... I(anon 11:13 from yesterday)'m still not convinced. I mean, carpe diem all the way, but a lot of submitting is about timing. Now trying to time things perfectly is a fool's task, but if I know most books are being rejected out of hand... seems like prudence and patience will be speaking my language. I'm guessing I can't resubmit my novel in a year and say, "Hey now that Dan Brown has saved publishing, want to reconsider my novel?" Big business has made the first step in recognizing its flaws, but the jitters have to be shaken off and the new blood has to warm up. Whether writers can be that new blood, or whether they'll just be saved in its stream, is yet to be seen. I'm not sure I want to risk my baby's shot at glory in that uncertainty.
But please... talk me into it.

Christina said...

Admit it, Kim - You keep trying to snag Jessica's shoes! That's why she is constantly taking a digger while you're around. We know the truth! =D

Seriously though, the news about the publishing environment definitely sucks. You can't help but feel a bit pessimistic about the whole thing.

I'm going to hold onto my hope though. Sooner or later it will happen.

Anonymous said...

glad you are having a good time, and an informative time at the conference. my wife is there -- and even tho i don't get to speak to her as much as i wish, tell her i love her if you see her. she's a big fan of yours (and thinks kim is ok too). try to stay on your feet.
signed: at the pool with a toddler while my wife is at rwa

Laura Martone said...

It is hard to stay focused, to keep writing, and to believe in the inevitability of getting published in this tough economy. After all, every industry's hurting, every industry's cutting back. So, it's nice to hear an agent (especially a busy one at a writers' conference) try to dispel the "doom and gloom" and encourage us to "just keep writing, just keep writing, writing"... so, thanks!

P.S. I'm sorry to hear about all your embarrassing stumbles, but it could be worse. I once rolled down an Ozark Mountain. Not a pretty sight, I'm sure - and it hurt a lot!

Anonymous said...

It's patent leather, douche.

Kate Douglas said...

Ouch! Sorry for the crash, but may I present some promising news? I was at my publisher's "spotlight" this morning--Kensington Publishing. CEO Steve Zacharius and my editor, Audrey LaFehr, talked about the fact they are actively acquiring new material, with an interest in historical romance, women's fiction, multi-cultural fiction, erotic romance and paranormal romance. It was a wonderful, upbeat hour listening to the enthusiasm and excitement in their voices. The secret is--be original and fresh.

Anonymous said...

After seeing the publishing program on PBS, I feel hopeful. I doubt I'll ever buy a Kindle, but it may attract a new group of readers who think it's cool--or like the ease and format (bigger type, etc).

I think the publishing business will be affected the way ebay changed the antiques market--it gave it new life and brought in more, younger customers.

Sure, the antiques are still for sale, and there may be fewer shows, markets and auctions, but they are totally different venues and there's plenty of room for all. Yes, the best will survive and thrive. To quote an old song, let's accentuate the postive, eliminate the negative!

jenniferroland said...

Thanks for this post. So many people are freaking out, and it doesn't do anyone any good.

It's like trying to save money before you have a kid. If you wait until you have enough money saved up, you'll likely die childless.

If you wait until economic conditions are perfect, you'll likely never submit.

Marsha Sigman said...

I am looking at this situation in a positive light. Agents and Publishers are being more selective in their choices so we as writers must work harder to put out a really quality product.

Let's face it, if it were easy everyone would be writing and published and take all of this for granted. This way, success will be even sweeter when we do make it.

A few ways to recover from a public fall:
1) Jump up quickly and yell "Found it!".
2) While on your knees clasp your hands together and begin praying loudly (only works in certain parts of the midwest).
3) Drag the nearest person down with you and blame them afterwards.

The First Carol said...

Rock-it with those cute shoes. You're only young once. There's a lot of things we could put on hold due to the economy. I say, be grateful there's a roof over your head, a computer in front of you, and keep writing. And non-fiction is probably in all of our futures.

Bryn said...

Great post! I can't find it in myself to feel discouraged about writing and publishing. I understand the facts and the numbers, but I'm too in love with my projects to slow down.

I was lucky enough to be in TWO of your workshops this past week, Jessica...the one about queries and the one about synopsises. They were both SO helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

Yorkie said...

Actually, for most writers, the book is in us anyway. What's the harm of finishing it and trying to get it out there? Isn't it better to have it ready when things pick up, rather than sit back and wait till it happens, and wind up rushing to "git 'er done?" I personally plan to use the slow period to make my book the best it can be, just as Jessica suggests. What have any of us got to lose?