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‘Social’ Media: If the Agents Queried You

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [1]
Teatro Carignano, Torino / Porter Anderson

Someone needs to listen to what authors want, and respond. Someone needs to help them navigate a complex and challenging publishing landscape.

Clare Alexander, Agent, Aitken Alexander Associates, London
Best Fit [2], The Bookseller Blogs, January 24, 2013

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Do you know the splendid term impresario

Humor me: say it aloud right now: Em-preh-SAAAAH-ree-o.

You could sing it, an aria in a single word, couldn’t you?

And at the ballet? A danseur noble performs this word in a turning leap, the tour jeté. He ramps up in a springing vault, turning impossibly en l’air—saaaaaah—before landing with spongy precision, retro-hamstrings deployed, somewhere near center stage.

Impresaaaaaario. So Italianate you want another Campari [3] every time someone says it. Thank you for saying it. Cin-cin.

Of whom do you think?

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [4]
Serge Diaghliev / Wikipedia

I think of Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929), impresario of the great Ballet Russes. He collaborated with Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Coco Chanel. He staged Nijinsky, Pavlova, Rambert. He hired Gide, Apollinaire, Cocteau. He worked with Picasso, Braque, Matisse, De Chirico. He slept with some of them. He was tough on a lot of them. He was called “Sergypops” by one of them. He discovered them, cultivated them, trained them, disciplined them, befriended them, presented them, partnered with them, bowed beside them, made them better, made them famous, made them Them.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a modern-day impresario, a Brit. You’d know his work. They don’t all sleep with you, you’ll be gratified to learn. Or maybe they just don’t sleep with all of us. Remind me to ask.

Impresario. So much music in the word.

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[pullquote]While corporate publishers become larger, and their search for the latest phenomena encourages many to think only in the short term, then surely more than ever agents should be the ones who promise long-term loyalty to their clients.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit [2], The Bookseller Blogs[/pullquote]

Now, of course you know the word agent. Not so musical, maybe. Not so dancerly, either. As words go, it thuds on touchdown, a matinee understudy who needs more time at the barre.

Cin-cin. Oh. Sorry.

But in our digital recitativo—the story told by this chattering village of busybodies who make up publishing’s opera chorus (“the industry! the industry!”)—this stock character, the agent, is morphing in the most interesting way.

Morphing into? A manager.

I had a long, memorable conversation with agent Clare Alexander [5] in London last month, she’s wonderful company.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [5]
Clare Alexander

She’s advising her agent-colleagues these days that mergers of agencies may not make much sense. The “best fit” of her Bestseller [6] post’s headline means that whatever bigger-is-better mentality may play out in the publishing-house scenes of I Publiacci, the agencies get no benefit from scaling up.

For more and more agents, it’s becoming the thing to include on the client list self-publishers and those AC-DC “hybrids” who publish both ways. What are agents doing for self-publishers? For one thing, international deals.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [8]
Rachelle Gardner

Don’t miss the gentle irony here: Gardner has just this week become an agent who’s a self-publisher. Give yourself a moment to consider how outlandish, even scandalous, that would have sounded a few years ago. (Chorus: “Scarlet letter! Scarlet letter! SCAAAAARlet letter!”) And yes, she uploaded the manuscript herself, she told me so.

We’re all here to help writers find their audiences. Maybe in the indie world that might not always be the readers in the U.S. market, but we also enable them to sell foreign rights, translation rights, audio rights…We also can free their time so they can sell their own books and do what’s most important and that is write more books. That’s what a good agent does.

Whoa, that last bit. Did I hear the string section march back into the orchestra pit? “Free their time,” the good lady said. So writers can “do what’s most important and that is write more books.”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [15]
Jason Allen Ashlock

And in their partnership, they’ve developed one of the first agency-curated and -operated author collectives, The Rogue Reader [18], featuring a very few carefully selected writers of creative noir.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [15]
Adam Chromy

Ashlock, by the way, is being added to the Author (R)evolution Day conference [19]produced by O’Reilly’s Tools of Change (TOC) on February 12, to do a special session with authors on the topic of today’s post here, the evolving nature of the agent and relationships with writers.

And, of course, in the biggest development, we’re now seeing more than one successful ebook self-publisher get a major publishing contract from a Big Six publisher that allows those authors to retain their e-rights. The publishers get print rights only. (And I’m calling S&S a “Big Six” publisher until the Penguin Random House merger is approved and gives us the Big Five.)

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [23]
Kristin Nelson

Nelson spent months sending spreadsheets on Wool sales to publishers, showing them, for example, that on one promotion, Howey had sold 20,000 ebooks in a single 24-hour setting. Now? He’s just spent a week in Los Angeles in meetings with two production companies about a film adaptation of Wool.And then just this week, Colleen Hoover’s [24] Hopeless [25]—a shirtless-men-kissing-beautiful-women erotic romance—was picked up, again by S&S and also in a print-only deal [26]that leaves her control of her e-rights. Hoover’s agent is Dystel. Who was on a panel with Howey’s Nelson at DBW.

So shut my mouth, that word “agent” just got a lot more musical on the way toward “manager,” didn’t it?

A clarification here: My original write called the Howey-Nelson-Hoover-Dystel-S&S deals “unheard of before now.” Writer Unboxed stalwart Jan O’Hara [27]reminds us in a comment below that in October, self-publishing romance author Bella Andre [28]got a print-only deal from Canada-based Harlequin [29] reported [30] by PR Newswire [30]to be in the seven figures. Although that event didn’t crack the Big Six, it’s certainly highly significant. Andre is repped by agent Steven Axelrod.

[pullquote]

When self-published authors weigh up the pros and cons of how best to reach readers, while they may not be sure if they need a publisher any more, most continue to want an agent.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit [2], The Bookseller Blogs

[/pullquote]

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So I recommend that this weekend, we take to heart these good noises we’re hearing from such prominent agents. Let’s orchestrate them into a grander vision, shall we?—one that might someday better fit the reality of the author-empowered, the author-entrepreneurial, the auteur newly seen as the bringer-of-the-essential-product in need of professional and career-long support.

What if agents could one day become impresari to their writers?

It’s not just the Campari talking, grazie.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [3]
Penelope Cruz is featured in the 2013 Campari calendar. This has been a value-added caption provided for your edification and because I could use the sponsorship, you know?

Think of Nelson stonewalling the publishers: She wouldn’t hear an offer for Howey that started at less than $2 million—and yet she cleverly set up in-person meetings for him with the pinstripes.

And when the offer came in, she demanded to know whether the Simon and Schuster people on the other end had the authority to make such a proposal because once in the past she’d been misled.

Hear what the chattering villagers from Brooklyn are singing in the train-to-Manhattan scene now? Impresaria! Impresaria! Impresaaaaaaaria!

What would you like to see an author’s impresario or impresaria handle?

I’ll start us off, in hopes you’ll join me in the comments and add to the list.

[pullquote]

I would contend that agents need to be just big enough to be fit for purpose in a changing publishing landscape, but that their offices should remain human scale.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit [2], The Bookseller Blogs

[/pullquote]

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook [3]
Did I mention I’m willing to work it into every scene? On the rocks.

I’ll only get so far with operatic fantasy and a few shots. Puccini had the same problem.

But what I’m proposing here is this:

If our agents, whom I consider to be not a has-been group but a true key to the entrepreneurial author’s future, are really going to come around and embrace and work with self-publishing authors, then, dudes, do it. Start your services earlier. Bring the authors you want to promote in before making them move four e-mountains all by themselves and shut down their writing in order to platform! platform! PLAAAAAATform!

I’m going to give you another line from Alexander, then  I want you to help me round out this list of things with which authors could really use some impresarial help early. I said early. I said EAAAAAAAly! Ha-Ha-Ha.

Agents who believe their bargaining power with publishers will be enhanced simply by getting larger are misguided. The truth is that the clout of an agency is not about the number of agents gathered together under one roof: it is only as great as the value publishers place on their most valuable clients.

Clare Alexander,
Best Fit [2], The Bookseller Blogs

 

And that, Unboxed ladies and gentlemen is your cue. Your downbeat: Agents could mount speaking tours for their clients to help gather speed for their authors’ topics and books long before a publisher came into the picture, right? Tell me more. What would you add to your impresario/impresaria’s list?

The orchestra is vamping for you now…

 

About Porter Anderson [32]

@Porter_Anderson [33] is a recipient of London Book Fair's International Excellence Award for Trade Press Journalist of the Year. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives [34], the international news medium of Frankfurt Book Fair New York. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. Priors: The Bookseller's The FutureBook [35] in London, CNN, CNN.com and CNN International–as well as the Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, and the United Nations' WFP in Rome. PorterAndersonMedia.com [36]

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