Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A call for a new breed of agent - by Terry Burns

Last month I used this blog to talk about all of the changes at Hartline and we continue to work on restructuring as agent Diana Flegal makes a move to establish a field office in Ashville NC and Kathy Myers joins us at the agency as Joyce Hart’s executive assistant.

This month I’d like to talk about WHY they are occurring. My good friend, Pulitzer nominee Jory Sherman, wrote a blog recently on a call for a new breed of agent. (http://jorysherman.blogspot.com/ ) It is interesting to note that at the time he wrote the blog Hartline had already begun to address some of the items he talks about.

He takes note that “legacy publishers are no longer promoting either midlist books or their authors, so the writer must promote and publicize their books in order to compete in today’s competitive market.” We did recognize some time ago the need to be more proactive on the behalf of the author as advances have gotten smaller and more and more houses don’t offer them at all. It’s true royalties have increased, but with a lot of publishers cutting back on promotion for smaller authors as Jory suggests we felt the need to offer the author more assistance on the sales and promotion end of the effort.

Our first response was to establish a client group for the discussion of PR and marketing, where they share tips, talk about what works and about what they have tried that doesn’t work. We stopped short of actually beginning to usurp the work of publicists as he suggests, I for one simply don’t have the time with the task of wading through all of the submissions I have to go through. The task of working the slush pile and culling submissions was passed to us by the editors at houses some time ago. And the need to continually research the constantly changing market and make submissions on behalf of our clients eats up the majority of the time.

Hartline chose a different route, adding an in-house publicist to work with our clients at no extra charge. Jennifer Hudson Taylor works with our authors as soon as they sign with an agent to start developing that all-important name recognition. When they sign a publishers contract she helps them prepare for the release of the book, and when they actually have a book released works with them on PR, sales, and promotion.

Jory suggests that literary agents are becoming obsolete since the writer can now directly publish their own book, but as Mark Twain said, “the rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I recently surveyed over 400 editors at various mainstream and Christian publishing houses and asked them if they would be willing to take on a print project that had already been published as an ebook. 70% of them gave me a flat no as they don’t do reprints whether it is hard copy or ebook, and most of the remaining responders said they would look at one but it will have to have significant (multi-thousand) sales and the book would then have to be removed from any listing so the ebook rights could be in the publisher’s contract. Will this change? Maybe, but it is the situation at present.

It is true that those who go straight to ebook can also set up an account and self-publish to get a print copy via POD technology. But Publishers Weekly points out that over 80% of all books published today sell 100 copies or less. This number is primarily fueled by all of those suthors who have self published or feel they can go straight to ebook without help. Sure, some are doing it and doing it very successfully but apparently the large majority need some production, sales and marketing assistance.

While Hartline has chosen to not be involved in the production of books in this manner, we have instead allied ourselves with several providers that we feel give the author the most bang for the buck, assist in the contract, insure that it is well produced and supported in a manner that will give the author a chance to rise above the huge number of titles coming out now. And of course the PR and marketing help is there for them as well.

We don’t counsel and assist the client to take these steps as long as we think we can secure a contract for them at a “legacy publisher” as Jory termed it. But when the client does think it is time to consider other options, we help them to do it right and in a manner that assures they won’t get lost in the herd. While they can net a larger percentage on sales if they do it all on their own, it appears to us that they will actually end up with a larger return if they have the assistance to do it right and promote it properly.

Will we continue to evolve as he suggests? Who knows? A couple of years ago I would have scoffed at the idea that we would be taking that we are. The rate of change over the past few years, primarily due to emerging technology is amazing and we have no idea what else is in store for us. But we love a challenge and expect the future to be most exciting.


Jeanette Levellie said...

I like your attitude: "We love a challenge." It reminds me of Jesus.

Millie Samuelson said...

YIKES! I'm feeling somewhat shaken today with all these changes that are happening at Hartline. . . but I'm also trusting they're all for the best. . . plus praying LOTS for you, our leaders there at Hartline, as you continue re-organizing and heading boldly into the future, leading us authors onward for God. . . :-)

Joyce Hart said...

Millie - not to worry. These changes are all good, well maybe except for Diana moving to NC. But Kathy will be a good assistant to me. In this changing world we have to do our best to keep up with technology. We're still here for you and you will be well taken care of as always.

Judy Bodmer said...

Great to hear that Hartline is hedlping their authors succeed. It can be overwhelming for some of us to swim through a book of a thousand suggestions for publicizing our books. Solid advice from a professional can help us focus our efforts.

Stacy The Author said...

All of the information is very interesting.
Hartline doesn't let any grass grow under their feet.....
Blessings to all
Stacy Nix Pencil Box Crew

Dee Yoder said...

Change is a challenge, but I'm excited to be in the swim of things with this agency! Thanks for an interesting and informative post, Terry.

Elaine W. Miller said...

I'm excited about the changes. Ashville is beautiful. May Diana and Hartline thrive there! Praying for all of you as transitions commence. To God be the glory.

Elaine W. Miller