Saturday, December 24, 2005

Some Hints About Publishing Challenges

People who know little about the book publishing business assume that editors arbitrarily reject their submissions. Or they assume literary agents are the ones who have the greatest power over the publishing process. As I’ve said repeatedly in these entries about the Writing Life, there is not a single path to publishing. It’s as much art as science. While the economic bottom line of selling books is a business, publishing is a consensus building process and involves many varied factors.

I was fascinated with this article in the New York Times last week. The main focus of this article is Laurence J. Kirshbaum, the former chairman and chief executive of the Time Warner Book Group.  He held one of the top positions in book publishing yet he’s become a literary agent.  A number of former book editors are literary agents. I loved this quote from writer Edward Wyatt, “Now he has become part of a steady stream of editors and publishers who, over the last two decades, have jumped to the agenting side of the business. Just how many people have switched sides is impossible to count, in part because - unlike Hollywood talent agents and sports agents - literary agents are unlicensed and unregulated. The Association of Authors’ Representatives, a trade group, counts 341 literary agents among its members, up 5 percent from a year ago.” 

Did you notice the phrase about unlicensed and unregulated? It’s why some unsuspecting writers are caught in scams from literary agents. It’s why books like Jim Fisher’s excellent Ten Percent of Nothing, the Literary Agent from Hell are published.  A book like Ten Percent of Nothing is a huge warning to writers that they need to carefully select their literary agent.  I understand the challenges of finding a good literary agent. Writers feel like they have to go with anyone who will take them yet each writer has a responsibility to research the literary agent and their reputation in this business.

Also buried in this article, notice the information about how the first novel from Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian, gained the recognition to get on the bestseller list.  Another key point in this article is the involvement of the author in the marketing and promotion process for the book.  Many different factors are involved for a book to sell into the marketplace. This article gives some hints about the challenges and opportunities for writers. 

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