We spent our time at DBW soaking up as much wisdom from industry insiders as we could, including insights and advice for writers from the best in biz. Here are some of our favorites.
On the role of the agent and editor….
“You want to have a pure relationship with the author. you don’t want to talk about money or anything that can sully it,”—Deb Futter, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Hardcovers, Grand Central Publishing
“The publisher should be the number one biggest fan.” — Amy Einhorn, Senior Vice President and Publisher, Flatiron Books
“It’s in the author’s best interest to have a literary agent. They play a very important role,” — Amy Einhorn
On what makes a great platform…
“Writers who have an ongoing conversation with readers. “ — Laura Nolan, Aevitas Creative Management
This was something we heard echoed in many sessions and different contexts. You don’t have to have an enormous, nationwide platform if you have a consistent, rich conversation with readers. Many writers do so through Twitter, WattPad, and Facebook. This also means tweeting more than just about YOUR book, but interacting directly with your readers and their conversations, too.
On writing to fit in a trend…
Don’t do it.
The overwhelming comment on this was that trends, in an editorial sense, are often conflated with fads. So, just because a lot of vampire novels are coming out right now doesn’t mean the way you will get published is if you write a vampire novel. As Amy Einhorn pointed out, in each success there is nuance. You get published because your story spoke to something in the publisher or agent, usually a combination of the impact of the story and your marketability, which brings us to advice….
On what makes a great story…
Narratives with conflict, characters and settings filled with specific, concrete details and experiences.
Collectively the panel of literary agents agreed on these criteria because within specifics lie universal truths and experiences that readers can relate to on a visceral level.
“All of us are exactly like the consumer–we’re readers. And we want the best product we can give them.” – Deb Futter, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Hardcovers, Grand Central Publishing.
On query letters….
“If the love doesn’t come through on the page, it’s a no go,” said Deb Werksman, Publisher of Sourcebooks.
Workman and others echoed phrases like “if you could meet the author, I know you’d love the book” in query letters, but that’s unfortunately not a productive metric. In other words, YOU might be lovely but you need to get that to convey on the page. The consumer doesn’t have the benefit of meeting you and falling in love with you, so the publisher has to act of the same accord.
Most editors want to see midlist titles for comps, not the book that blew everything out of the water.
Maybe your book is as good or better, but there are too many mitigating factors to say that it is actually a comp title without doing a thorough analysis of the book, audience, and author platform.
On the children’s market…
“Within the children’s market, we want a writer who has at least two out of the following three: compelling writing, a compelling hook, and a compelling platform.” — Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown Literary Agency
On market entry…
“Sometimes it’s not about starting with the book,” commented Regina Brooks, President and Lead Agent of Serendipity Literary Agency “It starts with the right medium, and then moves to the other lucrative property options.”
Brooks doesn’t always begin with the sale of her client’s book, but instead movie rights, audiobook, merchandising, etc.
On rights sales and contracts….
“Every division in your publisher isn’t going to have the same enthusiasm for a title,” commented Ginger Clark, agent at Curtis Brown. “You can’t force passion.”
This one requires a bit of context. Part of the benefit of an agent is that they have your back at every juncture of the negotiations process, including the sale or protection of foreign rights to publication. Clark pointed out that the concern over those rights–be they foreign or format-specific–is not simply about money for the agent and writer, but consistently working to find the right home for the book in each market and across each medium.