Sunday, January 6, 2013

Agent Q&A Part Three: Marketing & Publicity

Late last year Operation Awesome asked YOU, our readers, for your most burning revision questions that you'd like to ask our panel of agents. We'll be posting them throughout the New Year's Revisions Conference, but first here's a little more about our awesome panel of agents:

The Agents

Laura Bradford established the Bradford Literary Agency in 2001. She considers herself an editorial-focused agent and takes a hands-on approach to developing proposals and manuscripts with her authors for the most appropriate markets. During her own misadventures as a writer, Laura came to understand the importance of having a friendly but critical eye on your side, a career strategist in your corner and a guide who can lead you through the travails of publication. She continues to actively build her client list and is currently seeking work in the following genres: Romance (historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, category, contemporary, erotic), urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, thrillers and young adult as well as some select non-fiction.

Josh Getzler is an agent and founder of HSG Agency. He left Harcourt in 1993 to get an MBA from Columbia Business School. After Business School, Josh spent 11 years owning and operating a minor league baseball team (the Staten Island Yankees). He left baseball in late 2006 and rejoined the book world on the agent side. Josh worked at Writers House until November 2009, building a list of novelists, YA and children’s book authors, and the occasional nonfiction writer; then joined Russell and Volkening. Josh represents fiction and nonfiction (mostly fiction, much of which is crime-related (mystery, thriller, creepy…)), adult and YA/middle-grade books (though not picture books). And please don’t send religious fiction. He is particularly into foreign and historical thrillers and mysteries, so send your ruthless doges and impious cardinals…and your farmhouse cozies!

Erin Harris is a literary agent at Folio Literary Management. She represents literary fiction, book club fiction, contemporary YA, and select narrative non-fiction titles. Some of her clients include: Times Magazine contributor and former Newsweek correspondent Carla Power, Executive Editor of The New Criterion David Yezzi, and the novelists Bryan Furuness and Jennifer Laam. Erin began her career in publishing in 2008 and has worked for both William Clark of WM Clark Associates and Irene Skolnick of the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the New School and her BA in literature from Trinity College (Hartford, CT).

Natalie Lakosil is an agent and Laura’s assistant at the Bradford Literary Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. After nearly four years at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and a brief dabble in writing author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune, Natalie joined the Bradford Agency in February of 2011. Natalie is drawn to talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialty is commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book-teen), romance (contemporary, paranormal and historical), upmarket women’s fiction and select nonfiction. Her interests include historical, multi-cultural, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, middle grade with heart, and short, quirky picture books.

Victoria Marini is an associate literary agent with the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency,and an assistant to Jane Gelfman, Deborah Schneider, and Heather Mitchell. She began taking on clients in 2010 and is actively building her list. She's looking for adult literary fiction, commercial fiction, and women's fiction, plus YA (especially literary, contemporary, heartwarming and funny, or dark, edgy, and commercial), Middle Grade (fantasy and coming-of-age humorous), and nonfiction (narrative non-fiction, humorous/pop-culture non-fiction, and memoir, as well lifestyle/how-to non-fiction).

Kathleen Rushall is an agent at Marsal Lyon. She started as an intern at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency, and then spent almost two years at Waterside Productions. Kathleen looks forward to garnering fresh voices, strong narratives, and whimsical tales in all areas of young adult literature including contemporary fiction, suspense, Southern gothic, historical fiction, and science fiction. She is open to all genres of YA, but has a soft spot for thrillers, horror, romance, laugh-out-loud voices, and would love to find a dark mystery. She’s also open to New Adult queries. Kathleen is looking for funny, character-driven, quirky picture books and all genres of big voiced middle grade fiction. Kathleen also represents select nonfiction and is interested in parenting, cooking, crafts, business, alternative medicine, women’s interest, humor, pop-culture, and some how-to.

The Q&A Part Three: Marketing & Publicity

On to the questions! Once we had our agents cornered, some of the questions went off topic. But that's OK -- they answered anyway. Here's what they had to say about marketing, publicity, and industry changes.

Are marketing tips part of your work with authors?


Laura Bradford: Having been in the business for a while, I have some anecdotal information about marketing/promo ideas I have seen work and not work. But I do not tout myself as a marketing expert. If a client wants my input and advice on marketing then of course I do share what I know.

Josh Getzler: Absolutely. I spend a great deal of time with authors discussing what they ought to do to maximize their reach. Given that the goalposts have moved a bit over the last years, with the publishers expecting authors to do more self-promotion, it is incumbent on writers to also be marketers. And while some are naturally good at it (or have a professional or educational background in marketing), many do not. If we want to maximize sales, then the author needs to be as up-to-speed as possible. Now, I can't DO the marketing for them in most cases (I largely reshare and retweet and offer encouragement). But it's necessary for me--and most agents--to be conversant with the better self-marketing strategies.

Erin Harris: Marketing tips are absolutely part of my work with authors, particularly because I’m interested in building long-term professional relationships– I care about a writer’s career, not merely his/her current book project. This means that author branding and future goals are always central to the conversation.

Natalie Lakosil: Yes, to the extent that I can advise. I’m not a publicist, so my knowledge is based on what I see and hear about; I keep a running list of ideas (the template of which I posted on my blog) and update as I can, and am happy to brainstorm with clients.

Victoria Marini: They are, yes, but I’m not generally the creator of the tips. I point my authors toward resources I’ve found; feature articles, blog posts, news letters, WEBinars, Conferences and Expos, etc.

Kathleen Rushall: Yep. Agents wear many hats: book doctor, contract expert, cheerleader, brainstorming partner, and career consultant, to name a few. While we aren’t full blown publicists, we definitely see the importance of marketing. I like helping authors with quick tips to expand their social media reach, or about suggested events, book blurbs, blog, or book launch help, etc.

Now more than ever, publishers are drawn to writers who have social media platforms and are able to help promote their own books. Brainstorming innovative ways of reaching one’s audience is crucial, and I enjoy being a sounding board for my authors’ ideas – as well as devising my own unique strategies for them.

Do you advise authors (with either small press, traditional or self-pubbing) to do a short story giveaway to generate buzz for a novel? Ex. say a novel is being traditionally pubbed or pubbed by a small press, is it fair/good idea for an author to self-pub a short story, like a prequel, and should the short story be free?


Laura Bradford: This seems to be a really specific question. I have had authors who have given away “bonus material” through their websites. I have had authors self pub short stories/prequels related to their traditionally pubbed/epubbed novels. I have had authors publish novellas intended to be used as promotional tools through their NY publishers. Sometimes they have been offered for free, sometimes they have been made available for a low price. I think it depends on the situation and I can’t make a blanket statement like prequel short stories intended for promotional use should always be free instead of sold for 99 cents. It just always depends. On the length of the piece, what it is related to, when it is released.

Josh Getzler: I've made a couple of deals recently where I bundled these kinds of short stories into contracts--or indicated to the editors as I negotiated that the author intended to do so. Look, it's far more necessary if the author already has a number of books out and therefore a built-in readership (both authors I just mentioned had had numerous novels and stories already published). Then the story serves as a preview, a marketing tool.

Erin Harris: This is a great question, and one that doesn’t have a singular answer. The scenarios you outline above are all very different! What might work for a self-published title won’t necessarily work for a traditionally published title. But what remains true across the board, I think, is that early buzz helps move copies come publication day. Releasing content in advance, as a kind of teaser (who doesn’t love a good preview at the movies?) can be a highly effective strategy. Content that derives from the book, but isn’t an excerpt of it, can also help boost sales.

For a book that is being traditionally published or published by an indie press, the agent and author must consult with the publisher – after all, the publisher now controls the rights to the author’s material! Ideally the publicist, the author, the agent, and the editor work in concert to dream up and implement the best pre-publication publicity strategy for the author’s particular project. This can sometimes include generating fresh book-related material for the author’s website or e-publishing a short story tie-in etc.

For authors who self-publish, the rules are clearly different – and still being written.

Natalie Lakosil: Yep. Why the heck not? If an author doesn’t want to do it perpetually free, I’d advise to at least do a free giveaway for a few weeks. A lot of publishers are now doing these tie-in shorts under digital imprints, which is a route I’d suggest going first for the sake of consistency on edits and cover, but even if a house doesn’t want/offer to do it (usually authors need to initiate) I still think it’s a good idea.

Victoria Marini: This is a question I would have to answer on a case-by-case basis. I might suggest a free companion novella in between novels, like THE CHAIROS MECHANISM by Kate Milford, for example. But for debuts, excerpts have proven more effective than short story giveaway

How would you incorporate publicity and would you recommend authors to work with publicists?


Laura Bradford: Well, most major publishers will assign each author an in-house publicity liaison and ideally this will be a mutually beneficial relationship where the publicist and author can share the promo workload and put their heads together to come up with some interesting promotional ideas. But of course not all publicists are AMAZING, just like not every author comes equipped with marketing savvy and a spirit of aggressiveness when it comes to promo. Publicity is important.

Discoverability is key. Some authors are capable of carrying a lot of the publicity workload themselves. Some have no clue where to start. Some have really outstanding publicity pros assigned to them at their publishers, some don’t. But hiring an outside publicist can be expensive. And it can be hard to know who and what will be effective. It is certainly possible to spend a lot of money to hire a publicist only to end up with an ineffective campaign. On the subject of hiring outside publicists I caution my authors to be really careful and make sure they check references, talk to previous clients before considering throwing down a wad of cash for a publicist. All publicists are not created equal and some are worth their weight in gold and some are not.

Josh Getzler: I've had a number of authors hire publicists, and others explore it and not pull the trigger. It's fine if you can afford it. Publishers don't love it sometimes, and so it's a good idea to hire a publicist who will serve a complementary role; ie, don't have a publicist send a release to Publishers Weekly and Library Journal when the publisher's own department will already do so). I've seen publicists be very successful planning blog tours, which many authors don't have the time or inclination to do, and therefore hire it out.

Erin Harris: When a traditionally published author hires a freelance publicist to supplement the publicist assigned to the book at the publishing house, I think it’s very important for everyone to remain on the same page – communication becomes paramount.
In my experience, publicity outreach needs to take place at least 6 months prior to publication, in order for it to be effective.

Natalie Lakosil: Good publicists can be great, but pricey; I think whether or not I would advise for an author to work with a publicist would depend on a variety of factors, such as, what is the in-house publicist already doing/going to do, and would a publicist cover enough new ground, what the publicist could do/is offering, if just hiring on one as a consultant vs. full time makes more sense (if the author just needs some ideas to kick around vs. actual legwork), if the author can AFFORD one, if the author has already tried all the social networking/school visits/signing/reviewing/blog hopping etc he/she can, and the reputation of the publicist.

Victoria Marini: I, as an agent, don’t incorporate publicity beyond tweeting, seeking blurbs, generating word-of-mouth-buzz, and educating my clients about marketing and promotion. I’ve never advocated hiring a publicist for my clients, but I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it. I just think a self-published or small-press author can do a lot on their own – through plenty of hard work – without the expense of a publicist.

What are your thoughts on the recent merger of Random House and Penguin?


Josh Getzler: Like most people I am nervous that the merger will result in a downsizing and combining of editorial divisions. There are already fewer options for submissions than there were in, say, 2007, and my job is very much to submit manuscripts to the largest number of appropriate editors. Many publishers have a one-and-done philosophy: If you've submitted to one editor at an imprint, you're finished. So the more imprints around, the better. This isn't even a matter of looking to pitch publishers against each other for auctions. It's simply a matter of having as many sustainable significant outlets for books. To this point, both Penguin and Random House were certainly sustainable, and it was still getting tougher and tougher to place manuscripts. If in the merger we lose, say 1/3 of the editors and get a smaller (if still large) Penguin Random House, then it simply squeezes the Buy Side that much more.

Erin Harris: It is my hope that the merger of Random House and Penguin will benefit both companies and the publishing community overall. If banding together fortifies the major houses, preserving their vision and ensuring their survival, then I am for it. With change comes opportunity.

Natalie Lakosil: I’m pretty disappointed the name isn’t going to be something cooler than Penguin Random House. I’m also apprehensive to see who gets laid off/what editorial changes there will be. But generally hopeful they’ll stick to their guns and keep the same level of “healthy competition” they already tout.

Victoria Marini:  I am… cautiously optimistic, let’s say.

Thank you to all of our agents and all of our readers who submitted questions.


Angelica R. Jackson said...

Thanks for all your time and insights, agents!

Jessica Harvey said...

Such great insight. That you to all involved in these Q&A's. They've been really helpful and insightful!

Stephsco said...

Wow, what a cool idea for a blog series! I enjoyed reading through this.

Mim said...

These are so helpful. Marketing actually scares me as much as anything with the entire process. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Thanks for taking the time to offer all this advice! Marketing in particular I think is a tough job for more solitary writers, so it's always good to know what to expect beforehand so we can prepare as much as possible.