Stuff in the ‘Agent Life’ Category

14 August, 2012

The dog days of August. Really?

There was a time when things slowed down in publishing.  It had a name. August. 

It was a blissful time, when editors and their bosses were away and agents retreated to their houses at the shore or upstate.  Unfortunately, by the time I became an agent, there was no little cabin in the woods to run away to.  But I looked forward, nonetheless, to catching up on reading manuscripts, and maybe reorganizing my filing system.  What joy!  And maybe even indulging in a few long weekends away.

No agent in her right mind would send out an important submission until after Labor Day, right?  Then, inevitably in September, that back-to-school fervor instilled in us at a young age would take hold, and we would get serious.  Editors would call to set up lunches, ready to buy.

A couple of years ago, I decided to test the hypothesis that it would be crazy to actually try to sell books in August. And guess what?  I found many editors at their desk, some even answering their own phones!  And so now you know this agent’s dirty little secret.  I love to sell books in August.  Just ten days ago, I shared an important new nonfiction project with some of my favorite editors, and within a week we had three offers.  How did this happen?  Truth be told, if you have a wonderful project, it can overcome the August doldrums.  True, one editor I would have liked to see bid was away, but most of the others were around and with fewer projects on their desk vying for attention, I was able to channel their energies toward my client’s book.  The same day, my colleague Jacquie Flynn sold a novel, and we were ready to break out the sangria (or in Jacquie’s case, a beer).

So this year, I am going to do the unthinkable–go away in early September when I’m supposed to be back at my desk.  The mischievous rebel within is telling me that this is smart business.  Especially since I’m heading for Rancho La Puerta, a gorgeous health retreat in northern Mexico where I help to lead “Rancho Reads and Writes.”  Four years ago, I met Ritu Sharma at Rancho at the pool.  Ritu is Founder of Women Thrive Worldwide, a nonprofit dedicated to helping to positively impact the lives of women in the developing world. Ritu came to our workshop and based on one page of her writing, I encouraged her to become an author. It is Ritu’s book, TEACH A WOMAN TO FISH, that I just sold.  So the cycle begins again as we travel full circle.

–Joelle Delbourgo


30 May, 2012

BEA Watch–Get Ready for Book Expo

We’re counting down for BookExpo, which starts June 4-6 at the Javits Convention Center in NYC.  Publishers from all over the country will be showcasing their Fall 2013 books, meeting with booksellers and rights holders, creating buzz, bringing in authors for events and signings.  And there will be tons of fabulous events, parties (yes, publishers love to party), and one-on-one meetings. The best part for me is running into colleagues with whom I don’t have meetings scheduled and the marvelous serendipitous exchanges that can follow as we catch up and share what we’re doing.

You can follow it all by clicking on the link below, and of course, I’ll be live-tweeting:

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–Joelle Delbourgo

12 April, 2012

JDA in the press this week!

Two great stories in the press this week in which we are featured! 

Deadline announced that Ti West has been tapped to write the screenplay for Tango Pictures of Ben Winters’ tale of urban paranoia, BED BUGS, published by Quirk Books.  The deal was brokered by agent Shari Smiley who recently left CAA to found her own agency on behalf of Quirk, working with Joelle Delbourgo Associates. The story was widely picked up in the Hollywood press. Congrats to the brilliant Ben Winters, one of our all-time favorite clients:

Huffington Post just ran a story by Terri Guiliano on why self-published books are so poorly represented in indie bookstores, which makes for fascinating reading.  Terri interviewed me for the story.  Thank you, Terri!

And now, I’m off to Madison, Wisconsin for the Writers Institute conference that begins tomorrow. You can read more about what I’ll be doing there in my previous post.

–Joelle Delbourgo

8 February, 2012

What do agents do all day?

What do agents do all day? 

The answer is, well, complicated.  We think of agents as wheeler dealers, power brokers, talking tough and extracting large sums of money from publishers on behalf of their clients.  There are occasional moments like this, and they can be fun.  But the truth is that agents–at least effective ones–are incredibly hard workers who spend a great deal of time behind-the-scenes, greasing the wheels of an exhaustive process.  We are the middlemen and women, who seek to discover and nurture talent and ideas, something hard to grasp, and even harder to measure.  Would that perfect proposals and manuscripts arrived each day in our inbox and that all we had to do is put them out there and voila, the offers come pouring in.  A far cry from the reality for most of us.

Instead, we spend countless hours coming up with ideas and trying to find the right person to execute them, or reviewing hundreds and thousands of pages of query letters, proposal drafts and manuscripts which may or may not hold promise. We offer editorial suggestions for improving and polishing the projects we do take on, and sometimes after doing so, we don’t win the client and receive little thanks for our  time.  I have spent as much as a year in development of a project, perhaps pairing an expert and a writer, finding the book that resides within that expert, honing the pitch, developing the strategy.  We build relationships with publishers, keeping up with scores of editors and publishers, getting to know not only their areas of interest and responsibility, but also who they are as people.  This can be relevant.  A mother of small children may love a new perspective on child development.  An editor whose loved one was recently diagnosed with mental illness may buy a memoir about that same illness. We also invest time getting to know our clients: What makes them tick? What makes them anxious? How can we best support them?  What is their style?  (For example, some writers do best left alone while others like/need a lot of interaction.)

Once a project is ready, we go into pitch mode, and as we do so, we learn immediately if the pitch is working or falling on deaf ears.  It may need to be rethought.  Should we send the project to a few select editors or more broadly to a long list of editors? Is this a project that calls for meetings with editors (given how limited their time is)?  Should it be auctioned?  Is there a better way to make the right sale, getting the writer paired with the best fit publisher?

We negotiate the deal, and sometimes that also means rewriting or attempting to revise a contract that may run from 5 to 25 pages, in excruciating detail. This means we have to keep up with industry standards, and increasingly today, the rapid pace of change which results in constant revision of industry practice.  This is not fun (at least for me) and takes countless hours.  Then we chase the publisher for the fully executed contract and payment.  More and more, publishers think of every trick in the book for delaying payment–“a glitch in the system,” “checks go out from a different office and we have no influence on when they go out,” “computer is down”, “accounting is on vacation/maternity leave” and so on.

Sometimes the relationship between the author and publisher is smooth sailing, but more often than not, there are hurdles.  The editor may not be returning the author’s emails and calls.  The author has writer’s block or may not meet deadlines. The author hates the cover. The publisher doesn’t have a marketing plan in place and expects the author to do everything (or so it seems to the author).  My job is to facilitate this relationship if need be, smoothing things over, facilitating, keeping things in perspective, explaining the unexplainable.  This is excellent training for negotiating peace in the Middle East.

Once the book is published, a new set of anxieties may arise.  The book isn’t selling. The book isn’t at Barnes & Noble.  Amazon is out of stock. The book is out-of-date and needs revision and reinvention.  The publisher decides not to bring out a paperback.  The e-book isn’t available.  The e-book is available but it is priced ridiculously high.  The author doesn’t understand (understandably enough!) her royalty statement,  and even if the book is not earning out its advance and never will, we owe it to the client to answer these questions.

An agency is a business, and as such, there is a great deal of administration involved, just as in any business.  It’s not just about publishing.  It’s also about making sure we have the right business owner’s insurance policy in place, pay our taxes on time, issue accurate earnings statements to clients, cut and mail checks, wire funds to the author in Australia, analyze overhead costs, etc.  Not all agents worry about this, but owners of agencies do, and it takes time.

And of course, in between, agents tweet, blog, update websites. That’s why I am writing this blog post at 5:00 a.m.

But here’s the bottom line, at least for me. My top priority is the authors and their work.  As long as there is life in the book, or in today’s parlance, in the content, I’m thinking about it.  How do we keep the pulse going?  What more can the author and publisher be doing?  How do we reach more readers?  And overall: how do we help the author to build his or her presence, develop his career, become more successful?  Can we make dreams come true?  (Sometimes, and when we can help that to happen, it feels great.)

As far as I can see, my job is never done.

–Joelle Delbourgo