Why do agents visit publishing houses?
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
As you read this blog, I’ll be spending the day ensconced in meetings at a publishing house. In preparing for this trip, it occurred to me that on this blog we’ve never talked about why agents travel to publishing houses. What do we hope to accomplish?
- To conduct meetings on behalf of a client.
That’s the reason behind my trip today. Writing careers are complex animals, and sometimes the best way to bring an author and a publisher together as a team is to put them physically next to each other in the same room. The meetings might be to introduce an author to the entire publishing team either because the publishing house is very interested in a project and wants to meet the author or because the author has just signed a significant contract with the publishing house. Everyone has a lot at stake in these relationships, and nothing helps to kick off the team spirit like brainstorming on marketing/publicity ideas and hearing the author’s heart for the project.
Today I’m traveling with a client who is working with her publisher to produce video curriculum, repackage all of her books, and create a look for a website the publisher is developing to promote all the author’s work. Having a dialogue about what her brand looks like, how it can be updated yet remain true to the initial look, and how to transfer that same look to the new product will be part of the discussion. The plan is to agree about how to move forward with the design of all these elements by the end of the day. There’s nothing like sitting down at a conference table to make the way forward clear to everyone.
An established author who has a sizable contract with a publisher might also benefit from traveling with his/her agent to the publisher’s offices to toss around ideas for marketing and publicity. Both sides of the team prepare presentations in which they show what they intend to do. Significant synergy can occur as one group’s ideas spark ideas for everyone.
- To discuss projects and business issues.
An agent can decide to visit a publishing house sans author if a face-to-face meeting hasn’t occurred naturally via a book convention or writers conference. Relationships deepen and the dynamics of what each party needs from that relationship unfold during these meetings. They’re an important part of the partnership that publishing entails. When an agent understands the publisher’s needs (both in terms of contractual issues, financial issues and types of projects sought) and vice versa, the likelihood of making a good match of author to publisher or satisfactorily negotiating contractual terms is greater.
Wendy and I made a trip earlier this year to visit with publishers about contractual issues we believed were damaging to our clients and that publishers needed to change. The honest conversations that resulted were enlightening to both sides, and as in any good negotiation, both sides moved toward the middle.
Sitting down with an editor or an editorial team and having them showcase which of their recent releases have done well and which were disappointing is enlightening. I remember a trip this autumn in which an acquisitions editor showed me a title a lot like one a client of mine wanted to write. The editor explained that it never took off, despite the author’s sizable blog audience. The publishing team had determined that the author was offering the same sort of material in a book form as she created on her blog. Why should her readers buy what they were receiving for free?
I realized my client was stepping onto that same path. What a great insight! When I returned to the office, the author and I discussed ways to make her book’s offerings unique from her blog content.
Pitching projects to an editorial team is educational, too. A lot of discussion takes place in face-to-face conversations as editors give feedback such as:
“My sister was looking at the list I’ve built and pointed out that I’m tending toward publishing dark novels. So, yes, I do want to see this romantic comedy.”
“I think I’ve overbought in romantic suspense, so even though this idea sounds great, I’m going to pass.”
“I’ve met insert author’s name at a writers conferences and had the best conversation with him. Yes, I’d like to take a look at his project.”
I leave these meetings with plenty of notes about what a particular publishing house is looking for right now, not a few months ago when we talked last, but now.
So those are the main reasons agents visit publishing houses. I could also add that sometimes an author-publishing relationship isn’t going well as a reason for such a trip and occasionally a visit will result when communication between an agent and publishing executive is strained. But thankfully these are less common. My travels are usually about points of commonality rather than contention–thankfully!
Can you think of other reasons for an agent to visit a publishing house? Does anything I’ve written surprise you?