Friday, November 22, 2013

Debunking the Roles of Publishers, Literary Agents & Publicists by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

#publishers #publicists #agents

Much of what I'm about to say is up for interpretation and opinion, but my goal is to attempt to dispel some myths and define how most people in the publishing industry see these three roles, including how these roles are starting to change a bit. Why am I writing about this? Because I have had several people contact me this past year, hoping I can help with things that publicists do not typically do. I'm using the word "typically" because you will always find a rare exception to every case.

  • Publishers - Publish and distribute books to book sellers
  • Literary Agents - Represents authors & sells unpublished works to publishers & negotiates contracts
  • Publicists - Promote and publicize published works & authors to buying readers, including the media to increase their audience

Traditional Publishers 

  • Contracts - Prepares and offers contracts to authors. This includes an acquisition editor reading your manuscript proposal, taking it to a committee and pitching it to others. Once approved, it is negotiated with your agent, attorney and the author. Contracts are signed, authors typically receive half of the agreed upon advance.
  • Editorial Process - Author writes the manuscript, turns it into the editor, editor reads the manuscript and makes edit changes. Author makes changes and it goes through another round of edits, sometimes a third round of edits. 
  • Distribution Process - The publisher is responsible for having the right connections and maintaining those connections with book sellers and distributors who sell to bookstores. Based on the quantity of print runs and these connections, determines where an author's book will be available for purchase in bookstores to readers. The smaller the publisher, the fewer connections they will have and the fewer quantities of books they will have available. If you choose to self-publish, this is YOUR responsibility. You will not be able to hire a publicist or a literary agent to do this for you. Getting your books into bookstores and to distributors who sell to bookstores is not a task that most publicists take on. You may be able to find a publicist who will try, but most will not even tackle this difficult job since it is too hard, too time consuming, and feels like banging one's head against a brick wall.  
  • Marketing - Some publishers will provide an in-house publicist and/or hire a consulting publicist to promote their entire book list. This means that this publicist works for the publisher, not the authors. While the publicist will be an indirect benefit to the author, they are given priority to the books that the publisher determines and that is usually the big name authors who are already selling the most books. New and small authors are not a priority. Some small publishers do not have a publicist at all. This is why so many authors end up hiring their own publicist to represent them and their works on an  individual basis. 

Literary Agents

  • Manuscript Screening - Literary agents screen hundreds and thousands of manuscripts each year. They reject most, ask to see more of others, and find a select few that they feel is good enough and/or will fit into a publishing line. 
  • Proposal Process - Some agents are involved in requesting authors to provide additional edits and formatting the manuscript in a proposal process. They may give authors guidelines on what should be included in the proposal such as bio, book comparisons, marketing plan, how much of the manuscript to include, etc. Also, this will vary from publisher to publisher since each house has their own specific requirements and standards. Once the proposal is ready, the agent writes a cover letter and submits it to editors at publishing houses that are open to that particular genre.
  • Contract Negotiation - Agents are responsible for keeping authors informed of the status of manuscripts at publishing houses, rejections, feedback from editors, editorial changes if an editor is willing to look at it again, if it advances to a committee and negotiates the contracts if a publisher makes an offer. Agents often nudge editors if they have had a manuscript for a long period of time and have not responded at all. 
  • Career Advice - An additional benefit that agents sometimes provide is career advice to authors. Agents will often suggest an author try writing in a different genre or consider submitting to a publisher that they were not originally targeting, give marketing advice, and encourage authors. 
  • Handles Author/Editor Disputes - Sometimes an agent can step in and negotiate terms and issues if an author and editor are having a disagreement. This saves authors from having to deal with an uncomfortable situation and saves the relationship between the author and the editor. 


  • Media - Promotes the book to the media via press releases and news-wire distributions, including TV, radio, podcasts, newspapers, magazines, ezines, bloggers, and social media channels. Unless the author is a well-known celebrity, it is difficult to get on some traditional TV, radio and newspapers. 'Therefore, publicists will often concentrate on the author's local media connections and or strategic topics of interest to show hosts that may relate to the book itself.
  • Book Signings - Traditionally, publicists would contact bookstores, festivals, book fairs and conferences to schedule authors to sign books. These days most authors do not have the funds to travel and publicists either concentrate on the authors location connections for these signings or foregoes book signings in favor of virtual book tours. 
  • Virtual Book Tours - Publicists will schedule authors to appear on 20-30 blogs over the period of a month or two. Tours can include book reviews, author interviews, guest posts by the authors, scavenger hunts, etc. Giveaways of the book are often included, as well as gift certificates, kindles, nooks, ipads, free trips, etc. 
  • Digital Platform - Nowadays authors must have an online digital platform where readers can find them through all kinds of connections, networks and channels. Publicists will often give consulting advice or offer services to design branded websites and blogs, social media packages, video book trailers, banner ads and/or ad campaigns. 
  • Facebook & Twitter Parties - Some publicists will coordinate and host social media parties in a fun way to bring authors directly to their readers. It's a live online chat at a designated place where authors share news of a book launch, readers ask questions, and lots of giveaways are offered. 
  • Speakers Bureau - Some publicists will offer the service of booking authors to speak at special events and conferences, while others will just offer a listing service for an author to promote their speaking talents and topics. 

With digital publishing, some literary agents are now taking on the role of publishing e-books and offering publicist services. Likewise, some publicists are taking on the role of publishing e-books. I have considered this as well since I offer book cover designs, and I may start offering it in the near future at Upon the Rock Publicist.

The role of distribution will soon have a new dynamic as subscription based e-book services continue to pop up. This past weekend a reader came up to me and was excited to meet me because she had read my newest novel For Love or Loyalty on a book club subscription service. I didn't even know that my book was available on this service, but it made me realize how valuable something like that could be if my book wasn't available on a popular service that could become as big as Netflix and Hulu for books.

I'm sure I left out a few things, but hopefully this post will give people a clearer understanding of these roles. What are some of your thoughts and questions?

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