One of the decisions I had to make as a debut author getting ready to hit the publishing world was the route I wanted to take: should I go traditonal, indie, or self-publish? I researched each route and found that they all have their own pros and cons. One of the most important aspects on traditional publishing was landing the right Literary Agent to represent your book to the publishing world. Finding an agent to represent you is not an easy task these days and if you are not well prepared it is near impossible. I figured, the best way to find out would be to ask Literary Agents themselves.
In that spirit, I reached out to Eric Smith, a Literary Agent with PS Literary, an agency that represents a diverse list of internationally published, award-winning, bestselling and debut creators. Eric is also a Young Adult Author. His next novel, Don’t Read the Comments, will be published by Inkyard Press in January 2020. Click Here to Pre-order the book for very cute pins and bookplates! Follow Eric Smith on Twitter for more information.
As much as I would’ve loved for this to have been an audio interview, Eric has a very busy schedule which meant that I had to do a written interview with him. Read on to find out what Eric has to say about traditional publishing, finding a literary agent, Writing Conferences, and more.
Rashmi: In today’s marketplace, how difficult is it for a writer to succeed without an agent? Do you think every writer needs an agent?
Eric: Honestly I think it depends on what your goals are as a writer, both for your career and your book. There are scores of wonderful indie presses out there who don’t require an agent, but for the most part, if you want your book to land at one of the larger publishing houses, you’ll need an agent to help you get it into the right hands.
An agent’s job isn’t just to sell your book though. We help talk about your career as a writer. We discuss next projects. We make sure the publisher is handling everything they’re supposed to. We dig into contracts and keep track of your royalties. We’re there to support you and be in your corner. But some authors don’t need agents. Some self publish their books, some know their audience well enough to do their own thing, and sell to who they have to. It’s on the writer to know what they want for their career and books.
Rashmi: What is a debut author’s chance of getting you as an agent? What are you looking for?
Eric: Really high. I mean, every author had to debut at some point. There are debut novels selling and being announced every single day.
All I’m looking for, when it comes to fiction, is a good story and a person I want to work with. There isn’t any special equation and list of things I need other than that. Give me a riveting tale, written by someone I want to support, and off we go.
Non-fiction is different, as I’m looking for platform. An expert, someone who regularly publishes articles or essays, pieces in their field. That’s a whole other conversation though.
Rashmi: What has been the highlight of your career as a Literary Agent? What makes you happy doing this for a living?
Eric: The tricky thing about publishing, is that sometimes the biggest highlights of your career are still secrets that you can’t quite talk about yet. Ah, the joys of secrets. So the biggest thing is something that I still can’t quite dig into yet, but the ongoing highlights are when I get to give authors those phone calls, and let them know their book (or books!) is being published.
Nothing beats that call. You get to make dreams come true, you know?
And that’s probably what makes me happiest doing this for a living. Making those calls, and then seeing those books on the bookshelves. Going to the authors’ events, taking pictures, just being wildly proud and seeing them have their moments.
You get to change someone’s life, and consequently, the lives of readers by introducing them to their work. It’s the best.
Rashmi: Why should an author still hire an agent? It’s so easy to self-publish today, also there are a lot of disillusioned authors who are tired of asking agents and publishers to pick them, so what would be some of the advantages of working with an agent?
Eric: Agents get you through to the bigger publishing houses, keep track of things in your career, and they also hustle to sell things like your foreign rights, sub rights, help with film and TV, you name it.
If you’re ready to be your own publisher, do your own marketing and publicity, handle all of that huge picture stuff… self-publishing is fine! Plenty of people do it. But do it because you’re making a business decision.
Rashmi: Even if an author hires an agent and traditionally publishes a book, he or she might still want to self-publish. Is that a possibility or would the contract with an agent be a hindrance to that? Or do agencies work with authors in this journey?
Eric: Nope, it’s fine. Plenty of traditionally published authors put out short stories, novellas, novels, etc. in addition to the other books they are putting out there. Talk to your agent about your plans, of course. They might even be able to help you sell the audio book rights or something. Every agency is different though, so I can’t speak to whether or not agents will work with their writers on that particular journey.
Rashmi: There’s a popular belief among authors that if they self-publish and demonstrate that their books can generate huge sells, a traditional publisher will take an interest in their work. Is this true? What’s the reality?
Eric: Yeah I’m not sure where that came from. I think it’s because this has happened a few times, which is great! Good for those authors! But if this is your plan and tactic… it’s a bad one. Even with a ton of sales… maybe that just shows the agent you’ve hit everyone in your market?
Again, self publishing is a business choice. You’re ready to be your own publisher. You’re ready to get your work out there. You aren’t doing it to snag an agent or a bigger publishing deal down the line. You’re doing it because you want to publish your own book.
Rashmi: The biggest complaint I hear from authors who have traditionally published is that they are left holding the marketing bag. When you sign an author with a traditional publisher what should they expect as far as marketing?
Eric: There’s no one answer here, it varies publisher to publisher. No matter the publisher, at the end of the day, you’re a team. There’s always going to be a lot of lifting on both sides, and if you aren’t interested in that, that’s going to be a bit of a problem.
Talk to your agent about marketing and publicity, have open conversations with your publisher. Get an idea of what to expect, and how, if it isn’t delivering exactly what you want, you can work together to get to where you want things to be.
Rashmi: What is it that makes an agent take notice of one author over another?
Eric: It’s all about just writing a good query letter. And at the end of the day, the book just has to be good.
Rashmi: When should authors start querying agents? Do agents normally represent the client book by book or on a career basis?
Eric: When your book is finished and as polished as you can get it. I always tell my friends, if you’d feel comfortable with your book being on the shelf as-is, maybe you’re ready. And that varies agent to agent. Some are book by book, some are career.
Rashmi: How effective is it to attend Writing Conferences as a writer who is querying? Do agents take a genuine interest and look for new talents?
Eric: I think conferences are great places to make new writer friends and connections, which are arguably the most important thing about them. The community that surrounds publishing and writing makes the whole process a lot easier, both form a business side and a personal, emotional side. It’s a lot more fun when you have friends with you along the way.
Agents take pitches at all of these things, but remember, you can pitch agents via email just as easily and effectively. I’ve signed one person at a conference, and tried to sign a few others, so they do work. But you can totally pitch via email. Conferences can be expensive. Sending queries via email is free.
Thank you, Eric Smith, for agreeing to this interview and taking the time to answer my questions. I am sure this is helpful to aspiring authors, especially those embarking on the querying journey for the first time.