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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Career Planning in the Wild, Wild West

Sandra Bishop was invited in 2009 to join MacGregor Literary, an agency consistently listed among the top five dealmakers on Publishers Marketplace and was named ACFW's Agent of the Year in 2010. Prior to agenting, Sandra worked in the marketing department of a major CBA publishing company, and made a living as a freelance writer for nearly a decade.
Career Planning in the Wild, Wild West
While on an agent’s panel at ACFW in September, I sat next to Lee Hough, one of the smartest and hardest working agents in the business. While we all fielded the typical questions we get as panelists, someone asked a question about the current state of affairs in publishing, and how agents are faring.
I tend to take a positive, entrepreneurial, and philosophical approach when answering questions about the challenges of publishing.
Lee, however, hit the mark when he said “It’s like the wild, wild west out there right now.” His summation about the new landscape of publishing has really stuck with me. In fact, it’s a new constant on the landscape of my daily work life these days — right alongside MacGregor Literary’s long-standing company philosophy that “good is always better than fast.”
As positive as I try to remain, I’ll admit, it’s felt exceptionally difficult to place books and find homes for authors these past few months. Even with the successes I’ve enjoyed this year in spite of it all, it feels like I’m on more uneven ground than ever. And I know agents aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
Marketers are constantly scrambling to orient themselves to what it takes to get readers to buy in a noisy online environment. Sales teams are faced with succeeding in spite of the literal crumbling of their brick & mortar customer base. Publicists are being asked to do more with less. Editors are overworked. Authors are no longer just invited by publishers to help market their books, but are expected to do so. In fact more and more, the strength of an author’s proposal is weighed as much for the type and number of readers they bring to the table as it is for the quality of their writing. Maybe more.
Top that off with the consideration that authors are not only competing with other authors for shelf space, but with the reality that booklovers are so easily lured away from the rewards of leisure reading by endorphin fixes that pummeling pigs with birds, or outrunning evil demon monkeys can deliver far more instantly.
If I think about it too hard, it can start to feel fruitless to spend time and energy building a serious novelist’s career in a time when e-books have flooded the market and caused so much confusion over what is good and what resembles cow dung. But, I have faith in my ability to help sort out the good from the bad for publishers and authors, and I figure that’s worth something. A lot, actually.
Still, I’m sure I’m not the only agent who feels like it’s us in the hot seat these days. We’re constantly having to urge our authors who want to go the traditional publishing route to be patient and wait for the right timing. It’s not always easy to encourage authors to continue to wait for decisions from acquisition boards – decisions that seem to be taking so much longer than ever – when the seemingly instant brass ring of self-publishing is flashing in the corner of our collective eye.
E-publishers have an edge, of course, when it comes to delivering content at rapid speed. But I believe it’s the new frontier for them as well. In the end – finding readers and making the grade still comes down to effective marketing, word of mouth, and content.
The good news on this front is that where we’ve tended to take an either/or approach, I do think the two are starting to merge. I’m excited to be talking with publishers about how authors can do both successfully. We’re talking more and more about how market savvy, and marketing savvy, authors can help publishers lead the way.
While I continue to take the long view and keep my eye on the horizon, as we always try to do here at MacGregor Literary, I’ll admit, Lee’s perspective gave me a huge pick-me-up when I needed it, and actually has me riding a little higher in the saddle these days.
Go ahead. Call me an optimist. (Or, I suppose you could call me a cowgirl. Wouldn’t hurt my feelings — I’ve got a hand tooled leather belt with my name on it, a silver buckle, pointy black boots, and everything.)
I’m excited about authors who are in this for the long haul and are willing to ride on rough ground. This new territory – Lee’s “wild, wild west” is most definitely not for the faint of heart – and, honestly, that suits me just fine.

NR: From Lee's CaringBridge site, he wrote on Nov 4th, "Two weeks ago, however, my latest MRI showed a new cancer spot." He goes on to report the cancer is only in one spot and along the scar line where he was operated on before – meaning that it’s accessible again, and they’re catching it early. Lee's journey is one of strong faith and a powerful testimony. I encourage you to go to his CaringBridge site and read it for yourself. And please, keep Lee in your prayers.

1 comment:

  1. Sandra, truly a good post, and Lee's definitely a trooper and in my prayers.

    I have just one contention in the analysis of this wild, wild west scenario. Long before e-books became the bane of traditional publishing, let's recall the percentage of fiction that earned back the advances. The professionals always like to speak of "quality" as if traditional publishing is the goal post for the scoring. Yet the "failures" in trad pubbing are numerous. Even if the majority of their selections break even as far as publishing costs, this doesn't prove their abilities to select quality from the boatload of selections available to them.

    As you might remember, Sandra, this has been my complaint as my heavy-duty reading of CBA novels has confirmed. There are some truly great writers in Christian publishing, but average novels, certainly not outstanding or of the "highest" literary quality, dominate the landscape of the industry. All that to say this: something needed to shake up the biz. And if it's e-pubbing or self/vanity publishing, yay for it.


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