After receiving comments from various literary agents, it dawned on me that members of this profession are as split on the actual impact of digital publishing on the industry’s landscape, as well as their own chosen profession, as the rest of us. After all, these gals and guys are only human and diverse as the rest of us and see things more slowly or quickly depending on their vision, talent and position in the food chain.
Some agents are inextricably tied to traditional publishing (TP) and you couldn’t blow them away with any amount of c4. Others are absorbing the newer tech, adapting and learning ways to bring the new publishing models and formats to their clients.
Not keeping up with the latest publishing changes is the greatest menace to literary agents. As mentioned below “If an agent doesn’t dive in and integrate digital publishing into every client’s career planning, he or she will cease to thrive and eventually be out of business” — Laurie McLean, literary agent.
Two of the major problems for newer writers under the TP model was accessibility and discoverability. These problems have been eliminated by self-publishing and social media and current and successful agents need to have a deep understanding of these platforms.
Laurie McLean: Literary Agents in the New Publishing Era
With the advent of indie publishing, there has been much speculation about the demise of traditional publishing and the role of the literary agent. Laurie McLean, Senior Agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents, shares her views on her profession and the changing industry. Check out her agent blog, www.agentsavant.com, for tales of the agenting life, and the agency’s site, www.larsenpomada.com, for valuable information and links.
- Can you tell me a little bit about your background in publishing?
I entered publishing from a sideways path, not the traditional one of being an intern at a publisher or agency having gotten a creative writing or MFA degree from college. I was a journalist first, then worked in public relations, eventually starting my own PR agency in California’s Silicon Valley and building it into a multi-million dollar business. When I retired early, I was too young to sit around and do nothing, so I wrote a novel. Got a literary agent (Elizabeth Pomada), got involved with the San Francisco Writers Conference, and never looked back. Less than two years after I retired I was a full-time literary agent, author, and on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference. Today I am also the Dean of the newly created San Francisco Writers University found at www.sfwritersu.com. And this year I am starting two ePublishing companies with two of my clients to make out-of-print vintage romance (JoyrideBooks.com) and children’s books (AmbushBooks.com) available to a new generation of readers.
- How would you describe the role of the literary agent?
I find authors with promise, work with them to improve their manuscripts and try to sell them to a large New York-based publisher, a smaller indie publisher or help them self-publish their work. But agents do so much more than that. (see next question)
- In your opinion, what are the most important things that you do for your authors?
An agent is:
- A scout who constantly researches what publishers are looking for
- An advocate for an author and his or her work
- A midwife who assists with the birth of a writing project
- A reminder who keeps the author on track if things begin to slip
- An editor for that last push before submission
- A critic who will tell authors what they need to hear in order to improve
- A matchmaker who knows the exact editors for an author’s type of writing
- A negotiator who will fight to get the best deal for an author
- A mediator who can step in between author and publisher to fix problems
- A reality check if an author gets out of sync with the real world
- A liaison between the publishing community and the author
- A cheerleader for an author’s work or style
- A focal point for subsidiary, foreign and dramatic rights
- A mentor who will assist in developing an author’s career
- A rainmaker who can get additional writing work for an author
- A career coach for all aspects of your writing future
- An educator about changes in the publishing industry
- A manager of the business side of your writing life
- What skills and qualities should literary agents possess?
An agent must be organized, intelligent, multi-tasking, a good negotiator, have excellent time management skills, love books, know marketing and sales and be well versed in the mechanics of writing/storytelling/character development/plot/pacing and social media. He or she must also be relentless in keeping up with developments in publishing contracts, editorial taste and digital publishing.
- How do you think the role of the literary agent has changed in the past ten years?
Two things: digital publishing and social media marketing. These are disruptive technologies that are transforming one of the oldest businesses on the planet. The rapid rise of eBooks is truly changing the industry and opening opportunities for writers and new eBook-only publishers never before seen. By solving the twin headed dragons of accessibility (through self-publishing) and discoverability (through social media), authors will be free to experiment, broaden and enjoy the control they have over their creativity and careers for the first time in hundreds of years.
- What would you describe as the biggest threat to literary agents?
The biggest threat I see is not keeping up with the changing landscape of publishing. If an agent doesn’t dive in and integrate digital publishing into every client’s career planning, he or she will cease to thrive and eventually be out of business.