Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Agent's Thoughts on a Publisher's Restructuring

It's no longer news that there have been some dramatic changes at Berkley/NAL, changes that aren't necessarily a complete surprise, but still difficult for everyone involved.

I knew this was something I needed to, and wanted to, address on the blog, but after several starts and restarts I realized I wasn't sure what I wanted to say.

When Random House and Penguin announced the merger in 2013 everyone in publishing knew that change would be coming. At the beginning of 2015 we started to see the first effects of those changes.  Appointments were made announcing new names in new positions, contract renewals were slow to come and imprints were consolidated. While I'm not sure any of us foresaw what exactly would happen, it's hard not to look at these changes and see why it did happen. In many cases there was just too much overlap between the many imprints of the new Penguin Random House.

It's been a tough week for a lot of people, including the BookEnds team. We've been in business for over 15 years and we've worked with editors over at Berkley/NAL for 15 years. These are long-standing, trusted relationships. I'm not going to lie, when I hung up the phone with an editor who lost her job I cried. She's good at what she does and a victim of restructuring. I'm going to miss discussing everything from cover copy, to contract negotiations, to cover art, to an author's next idea with her.

While agents and editors are often seen as working on opposing sides, the truth is we work more closely than many realize. I think sometimes even more closely than we realize. Together we are part of an author's team and together we work to try to make each decision in the author's best interest. That means long discussions about the cover art, the cover copy and even the direction an author is taking with her next book or her career. An author's success means success for all of us. Seeing an editor leave, for any reason, is losing a trusted member of my team.

Well if I'm upset, you can imagine the state of many Berkley/NAL authors. The question in almost every author's mind is what's next. What can an author expect during a time of upheaval with their publisher and what should an author do? Of course each author's experience is different. For some everything is status quo and nothing should change. For most, unfortunately, change is inevitable. Even those who are lucky enough to retain the same editor, change is happening within the publisher and that will have an impact on everyone. This could be because of the change in the art department, the copy department or even buying decisions. I'm not saying it's all bad, I'm just saying there will be change.

The first thing to remember is that we can't control the actions of others. The only person you can control is yourself. Panicking isn't going to help, but coming up with a plan might.

Once you've taken a few deep breaths here are some suggestions:

1. Penguin Random House just introduced this wonderful Author Portal where you can see sales, royalty reports and get hints and tips to how to build your brand as an author. Spend some time there and really look things over. Take notes if you need to. Get some perspective on what more you might be able to do to build sales and, most importantly, get perspective on how your brand is doing. A good CEO always has an idea of how well the company is doing at any given moment. As the CEO of your brand you should do the same. Check out your book sales. Are they going up? Going down? Do they seem to be holding strong?

2. Talk with your agent. Once you have an idea of what your numbers look like, give your agent a call to discuss them with her. What concerns do you have and are they valid? Should you continue on the same path or is coming up with something new a good idea? Knowing how to proceed is always smart, plus, as one author once said to me, "it's always good to have something in your back pocket."

3. Ignore the gossip. I can only imagine what the writing loops and discussion boards look like right now. In fact, I think I'd prefer not to imagine it. Watch out for the doom and gloomers, the Chicken Littles with the falling skies. This sucks. It sucks for a lot of people, but as in any good Dystopian YA, those who are prepared to fight and accept change will win. Those who want to sit in a hole and refuse to accept change, will die (probably in some horribly gruesome death). If you are concerned about some of what you're hearing please call your agent. Many times she has an insider's perspective that can be very helpful.

4. And here is the same advice I give in any situation. Keep writing and make your next book even better than the last.

Change is always a frightening thing and it's not going to be an easy road for some people, but those who are willing to pull up their boots and keep walking (love that song) will always see the light at the other side.



Jennifer S. Brown said...

I appreciate such level-headed advice. As an author with an upcoming book with NAL, I have decided to take the proverbial "ostrich with head in sand" approach. I'm not being naive, but all I can do is plug away, make my novel the best it can be, and have faith that others will do the same as well. I'm ignoring all the news until someone relevant to me (such as my agent or editor) tells me to do otherwise. Thanks for this post.

Krista said...

Thank you, Jessica. Very well put. And I cried about that editor, too.

Kaye George said...

I'd like to look at the Author Portal. How do we access that?

After everything shakes out, or after you think it has, will there be an announcement of who stays? I have heard that my editor is staying, for now. How about the cover artists? I think they are VERY important for the Prime Crime cozies. I hope they will be retained!

Peg Cochran said...

It's certainly a scary time, but upheaval often creates new opportunities which is how I'm trying to look at it. And I'll write the best book I can because that's one thing I can control.

Alexia Chantel said...

This is a good way to look at it. We can all hope that for those losing jobs they will find a new one that suits them better and that the authors will be supported.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

In the past month I have gone though extraordinary changes at my job, (not publishing), and the tears I have shed would fill a bucket. Change is often difficult and the ruthlessness it exhibits is often hard to make sense of. Why the f*** the higher ups make the decisions they do is sometimes unthinkable and hard to grasp. BUT, there's always a "but", how we accept change shows how best we manage our lives.
I used to say that everything happens for a reason but I don't anymore. It's how we face change, how we give it some time, how we wait for the smoke to clear and sift the ashes, that forges our best path. Like you said, don't panic, avoid the sh** stirrers (well, you didn't actually say sh**) and make the best of what's left.

Just remember that from sand and ash the best castles are built.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Jennifer Brown:

I'm late coming to reply, but I think head in the sand is sometimes the best way to be. As long as you don't stay there too long.