MR: Welcome April! It’s an honor to have you here today.
AE: Thanks, Mary!
MR: So April, you’re known in the literary world as a “literary change agent.” What does that mean?
AE: When I moved into agenting a relatively few years ago, it was clear that things were changing, and fast. I could foresee a time when authors would need, and want, to take control of how their work was published. Legacy publishers haven’t been able to keep up with the changes, nor have they really tried very hard since it means relinquishing profits and power. In my view a change agent is someone who looks to the future with the goal of enabling people to do more, or to achieve outcomes that were previously unattainable. I’m excited about the new publishing models emerging because as an author advocate, I want to see authors have the greatest control over their work, make the most money they can, and achieve a level of satisfaction that often isn’t available to traditionally published authors.
MR: Now that self-publishing has taken root and become a respectable way for writers to get their books out into the world, what cautions do you think new writers need to take before they make that leap?
AE: I always say that good self-publishing is usually anything but “self.” Before embarking on a self-publishing path, authors need to understand the business, know what’s involved in producing a high-quality book, and be honest about what they can’t or won’t do themselves. Most successful “self” published authors have invested in a team of experienced others to help them get there. I’d advise any author interested in self-publishing to spend some time researching the industry, analyzing successful self-published authors’ work and approach, and talking with others who have been down that path and can share what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what missteps they inadvertently made.
MR: In addition to traditional and self-publishing, there are so many other options available now. For example, there are many publishing companies that will edit, proofread, design, and publish a book for a writer for a fee. The books produced by these presses often look very professional, and many writers are drawn to them. But from what I’ve heard, they’re not all great. Are there any pay-to-publish presses that you’d recommend? Any that you’d advise writers to avoid? And what sorts of things should a writer look for in a pay-to-publish press?
AE: Above all you want experience, transparency and references in a partner publisher. You also want curation and distribution. Companies like She Writes Press, White Cloud Press and Turning Stone Press are led and managed by people with long experience in traditional publishing. All are open about their approach, costs and clients. They are selective about which authors they publish, and have clear contracts granting all rights to the author, along with offering distribution, usually through Ingram. The legitimate ones will happily refer you to other authors who have published with them so you can learn more about their experiences. I’d suggest steering clear of subsidy presses like Author Solutions that accept any and all manuscripts, tend to produce inferior-quality books priced at non-competitive prices, don’t offer distribution, and sometimes pressure authors to buy more services than they need.
MR: You advised me to consider partner publisher Booktrope for my novel, Leaving the Beach, and I’ve been very happy with them. One thing I like about Booktrope is that they’re selective about what they publish, and there’s no upfront cost. Instead, everyone involved in the publication process—including the writer, the editor, the proofreader, the designer, and the marketing manager—gets a percentage of book sales income. Do you see this model becoming more prevalent in the industry?
AE: I do see partnership models, both paid-by-the-author and cost-shared, becoming more prevalent and popular with authors. Some authors see the value in purchasing the services of industry experts upfront, then retaining the profits themselves; others prefer to crowdsource the team and then share the spoils with them. Either way, the author gets the expertise and support s/he needs to publish well independently.
MR: Are there any other new publishing models out there that look promising to you?
AE: One I’m particularly excited about is Inkshares, a crowd-funding model that selects high-potential manuscripts among those submitted, sets up a crowdfunding site for the author based on an algorithmically-determined financial goal, project-manages the process, and produces and distributes the book. It’s a brilliant model, and I have high hopes that it, and other innovative indie models, will proliferate and succeed.
MR: So what about traditional publishing? Certainly it hasn’t died, as so many doomsayers keep predicting it will. Do you believe traditional publishing will continue to thrive?
AE: Traditional publishing will undoubtedly survive, albeit in vastly altered form. Legacy publishers are heavily weighted in favor of their own interests. To entice authors who have other, and in many ways better, choices, Big Pub will need to make their value proposition more attractive, by increasing the share of profits authors receive, by putting more into marketing and promoting authors’ books, and in general by making the experience a more satisfying one for authors. Otherwise the advantages of indie will quickly eclipse the perceived value of legacy publishing’s stamp of approval. They no longer get to choose whose work gets published, read and praised. With the web’s transparency, readers will decide.
MR: What genres of writers do you like to work with, or are you open to all genres? Do you represent both writers of fiction and non-fiction?
AE: I’m particularly fond of fiction, especially debut, and have a passion for work by, for and about women.
MR: Aside from a computer—or a typewriter, or some paper and a pen—what’s the most important thing a contemporary writer should possess?
AE: Probably self-awareness. Know what you’re good at, and ask others to help you with the rest. It’s the only way to get a great book, and one that’s published well. Curiosity, openness, perseverance, resilience and confidence are good to have too.
MR: Thank you, April! I really appreciate your time, and know many writers–both new and experienced–will benefit from your wisdom and advice.