A Decade of Reflection–on Writing and Literary Agency Work
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Filling in for Wendy Lawton, who is traveling today.
I first stepped into the offices of Books & Such Literary Agency ten years ago this week. I’d agreed to come in to help Janet get the taxes done for 2003, for just one month. I’m still here and getting ready, for the tenth time, to run the 1099s!
A lot has changed in the decade I’ve worked in the publishing industry. I want to reflect on those changes today.
*Paper and Mail
A large percentage of the literary agency’s business was conducted through the US postal service in 2003. We processed a lot of paper and the recycle bin was filled each week. We used a case of paper on a regular basis.
We’ve worked hard to reduce paper consumption at Books & Such. Most of our business is conducted through email today–along with phone calls, of course. “Manuscript” submissions are now usually read on Kindles or Ipads. I don’t remember the last time we bought a case of paper.
How has your paper consumption changed over the last ten years?
*Queries and email
I spent countless hours responding to queries when I first began my job. Janet read every one and wrote “yes” or “no” on the outside of the envelope and sometimes added a comment. I then opened up the WORD template for the response she wanted to send and typed out the letter.
I folded the letters, licked the envelopes and mailed them. Some days I’d process as many as 60 query letters. On days like that I’d come home so discouraged by having to type out the bad news, my husband would worry: “Are we even eating dinner tonight or are you too depressed?”
Several years ago we switched to email-only queries. We feel badly about not replying individually, even though all queries still are read, but there simply isn’t enough time in the workday to respond personally.
We received 5,893 email queries in our office in 2013; or nearly 500 a month (125 per week/ 17 per day).
How has your usage of email expanded over the last ten years? Do you even have stamps?
*Writers and craft
Ten years ago I poured through the 808 section of my local library to examine books on the writing craft. (Among my favorites: Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages; James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel; Stephen King’s On Writing; and lately James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure).
The quality of writing has increased tremendously over the last decade. Writers are far better informed about the process of querying and writing proposals. They know where to go for help, and critiquing opportunities abound
While writers conferences like the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference (where I met Janet) have been going strong for years, the last decade has seen a rise in on-line opportunities like the American Christian Fiction Writers organization, which has many tools to help writers–whatever their level of experience.
Have you attended any sort of conference or craft-building opportunity since you began writing? What have you found works well for you and why?
Writers did little marketing ten years ago. I remember few discussions about it.
Now marketing and platform are key elements of the nonfiction writer’s proposal. Fiction writers are expected to use their creativity to help sell their books. The days of sitting in an ivory tower and writing the great American novel are over; writers now have to hit cyberspace, as well as the road, to help sell their books.
Where have you gone to find creative ideas for marketing books?
*Writing Life–research and other options
Ten years ago, we were urged to get magazine credits before moving into the world of book publishing. That’s always good advice, but the magazine market dried up with the explosion of cyberspace.
While the writing life always has been full of distractions, opportunities abound for research online and blogging. Hours that may once have been spent crafting a great sentence or query letter, now can be spent writing a blog, fan fiction or just responding to blog posts like this one.
Are you writing more now than you were ten years ago?
I didn’t know a lot about publishing when I stepped into B&S’s cramped office space piled high with books and papers ten years ago. Today, I sit in a roomy office with the paper neatly filed away and the books lined up on the shelf.
Writers are better at crafting their proposals now. I “speak” to most of our clients through email or Facebook these days. We applaud the creative marketing schemes our writers come up with, and we celebrate as they zoom through cyberspace and their stories delight audiences again and again.
My life has changed for the better in countless ways over the last ten years. I can hardly wait to see what the next decade will bring–all the while knowing this job probably will not look the same when it’s time for my 20-year pin!
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How literary agencies have changed in the last ten years Click to Tweet