logger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Back at the Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
This week I’m talking about the best part of the job of being a literary agent–even after doing a grueling trade show. And, yes, I still love it after 27 meetings with 36 different editors. In fact, I have fresh ammunition for one of my favorite parts of the job–trend-spotting and industry analysis.
I contend that there’s no one better situated to be an observer of the industry than a literary agent. Here’s why. The publisher or editor has in-depth knowledge of the industry from the vantage point of his publishing house and culture. If he’s worked at more than one house, he has a bit broader base. The agent, on the other hand, works with all the publishing houses. We’ve studied the lists of each house. We know many of the upcoming projects. We know what their contracts look like. We know what kinds of sales numbers they are seeing if we have clients at that house. We talk to editors every day. All that adds up to collecting an overview of publishing.
Of course we never forget that all this information is proprietary. A good agent does not share sensitive information. But we do take it all in, and it gives us a broad base from which to analyze the industry.
We also keep up with what’s happening in the writing community. My colleague, Janet Kobobel Grant, always says that the agent is the still point in an ever-revolving universe. It’s true. Publishing, publishing houses and even editors are ever changing. The agent may be the one thing in a writer’s life that remains unchanged throughout his career.
The unique place of the agent, with one foot in the publishing community and the other in the writing community, prepares us to spot trends and forecast changes. This is another part of my job I enjoy. Because of my business and marketing background, I love analyzing the big picture. I like to think that thirty years of trade shows have given me the ability to separate the media spin from actual trends and paradigm shifts.
To serve our clients, we need to be futurists. We need to anticipate changes and work to make the adjustments long before a crisis. For instance, in the last couple of years, Janet and I talked to many industry insiders about e-books and how they might affect the future. We found little consensus among publishers about how they would handle electronic books. We decided to get out ahead of the problem, and we compiled and distributed a white paper (a position statement) about e-books. It led to many fascinating discussions with publishers. Now that some of the dust is settling, it looks like much of what we suggested has been implemented–which means that we either had some influence or accurately predicted which way the wind was blowing.
As someone who loves the world of business and how it intersects with culture, this is the stuff that fascinates me.
What industry trends are you watching? What’s worrying you? What positive directions do you see?