Last fall I attended the Saturday Writers conference and listened to a talk given by Krista Goering from the Krista Goering Literary Agency LLC. Krista enlightened us with the inner workings of the publishing industry. This knowledge has been instructive as I have researched the effects of the newer digital distribution models like e-Books, print-on-demand and the Espresso Book Machine.
I contacted Krista to see if I could interview her about these technologies and she graciously accepted. I’ll let you read the interview in its entirety:
Tom: Publishing houses are experimenting with different profit models, like 50/50 splits, in response to the changing market. How does that affect your role as an agent?
Krista: As publishers continue to streamline and downsize their staff, they will continue to need agents to bring quality projects to them. My role as an agent is to read through a lot of query letters, proposals, and manuscripts to find projects which I believe I can sell to publishers. In most cases, the manuscript or proposal is not ready to send to a potential publisher and my job is to help get it ready. I don’t see that changing. Profit models may change, but publishers will always need quality writing.
Tom: With the advent of digital books on the Kindle2, Sony Reader and the iPhone; DRM (digital rights management) has become an issue for authors. What is your opinion on authors that wish to pursue DRM-free content, even if it puts them at odds with distributors?
Krista: The DRM issue is in flux. I read recently that the major labels conducted their own tests with Amazon, Walmart.com and others and reached the conclusion that MP3 distribution (DRM-free) does not in itself lead to increased piracy, and they are now moving their entire catalogs to this approach.
Tom: If technologies like the Espresso Book Machine become widely used, creating a direct-to-consumer distribution model, what will publishers have to offer authors?
Krista: Any time a book is published, it takes a lot of time, energy and creativity to let potential readers know it’s available. Getting them to buy the book is another hurdle. Traditional publishers use bookstores to distribute their books, but some publishing companies are using a direct-to-consumer distribution model. They still need quality authors to publish – specifically authors who are ready, willing and able to promote themselves and their books. I’m always looking for publishers who are looking for great authors, regardless of their distribution model.
Tom: If technologies like the Espresso Book Machine become widely used, creating a direct-to-consumer distribution model, what will agents have to offer authors?
Krista: Agents will continue to offer authors the services they currently offer — specialized knowledge about the publishing industry and the ability to “get a foot in the door” with publishers. I don’t see that changing. For example, I represent an author who is being considered by one of the direct-to-consumer publishers I mentioned above – the fact that they have a direct-to-consumer distribution model doesn’t change the fact that they need quality authors. I know what publishers are looking for in an author – and when I find a “match” I hook them up.
Tom: Have the recent digital technologies changed the way you have approached your business? And if so, how?
Krista: I’m still selling books to publishers – whether they publish the books in print or in digital format, or produce an audio book. The change I’venoticed recently is that publishers are using digital technologies to their advantage to improve the process of communicating with the agent and author during the process of selecting, submitting and editing the work as well as to market and promote the book. For example, rather than print a large number of ARCs (advance reading copies) some publishers are sending the ARC by email in pdf format. Keeps costs down and saves paper.
Tom: Do the changes in the technologies pose any legal challenges to agents? And if so, how?
Krista: I’m not sure I’m thinking of “legal challenges” in the same way you are, but the legal challenges I usually think of are copyright protection, plagiarism, and piracy. These are problems facing publishers and authors, so they also affect agents. If it becomes easy to “rip off” publishers using technology, authors will suffer and so will their agents.
Tom: What do you think the publishing business will look like in ten years for publishers, authors and agents?
Krista: Regardless of how the product is delivered in ten years, books will still be written and sold. People will always need information, so they will continue to buy nonfiction books, and people love great storytelling, so people will also continue to buy novels –either in print, in audio form, in digital form, or in a form we haven’t imagined yet. Publishers will continue to be on the cutting edge of delivering content to the public. Agents will continue to bring quality authors to the attention of publishers looking for great authors.
Krista makes a lot of great points about the changing marketplace and I can tell she has her finger firmly on the pulse of these changes. When she left me with one last comment that summarized her answers, I could tell she saw through my ham-handed subterfuge, answering the question I was really asking: “Do we still need to bother with publishers if we can sell direct-to-readers?” I’ll let you see her answer yourself.
Krista: I also wanted to address what you call “disruptive technologies like e-Books, print-on-demand and the EBM.” People may think the Espresso book machine will replace traditional publishing by traditional publishing companies, but I don’t see that happening. Sure, these technologies may make it a lot easier for a person to self-publish and sell direct-to-consumer. But self-published authors can already create e-books and get their books printed fairly cheaply now at a POD printer. The hardest part about selling a book to the consumer is getting her attention and creating such a desire in the consumer that she is willing to part with $15-$20 to read the book.
The last part hits the topic squarely between the eyes–“the hardest part about selling a book to the customer is getting her attention”. Even with an author’s ability to use the Internet to laser onto potential readers, the publishing houses outgun them wielding mass weaponry to reach a wider audience.
These new technologies are sure to shake up the publishing industry, removing the tangled knots, until we have a more streamlined process of reaching our readers without filling warehouses with unloved books. The publishing industry won’t be going away, because it still sets a bar that authors must jump over to prove their worth before potential readers will plop down their hard earned cash.
Will some authors bypass the publishing industry? Absolutely. But the majority would rather spend their time working on their next novel than worrying about marketing plans.
It will take time for the real consequences of these new technologies to be understood and exploited, so I think the publishing industry is safe. And besides, there are only two Espresso Book Machines in the whole of the US.
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Sounds like publishers are looking for quality authors. That’s good to hear. I’m sure it’s true that the agent’s role doesn’t really change, but as profit models change in favor of better royalty agreements with less or no money up front in the form of advances, I wonder if the way agents do business will also need to change. Some agents do not care to do business with publishers who don’t pay advances.
Good interview, Tom.
Somewhere around 1985, on NPR radio I heard an executive from Motown Records say, “Vinyl records will be around for years to come because there are millions and millions of turntables still in use out there. A year CDs had completely taken over. Not too many years ago there were only three TV networks. Now, there are hundreds. Things change.
I think it will be good for literature when the rest of America wrestles away control of the publishing industry from the big New York publishing companies as computers empower everybody and control of publication moves from the few to the masses. Today anyone can get anything published. Distribution and marketing are the hard parts. A Kindle or other reading device cost twenty-nine-ninety-ninety-five instead of nearly four hundred bucks could upset the applecart in a big way and make it possible for a pimply-face computer geek marketing genius to dominate the game. It is bound to happen. Fifty years from now there will be books. We still ride horses even though we have cars.
If you detect a note of sour grapes in this, you are right. I am an unpublished author.
I’ll have to find it, but there was a good article I read recently explaining how Amazon is really shaking things up with the publishers. Also, Apple is set to get into the eBook game soon, but no one’s sure in what format or how they’re going to attack the market, but if I were Amazon, I’d be worried that they’d tie their reader to the iPhone like they have with iTunes.
And don’t have sour grapes, keep plugging away and you’ll be published some day. 🙂