Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Agent & Editor Q&A: Agent Three

The Rear Admiral for the Atlantic POD-dy Mouth Fleet is proud to introduce you to: Agent Three. Sounds like a side-kick from Get Smart. Oh, but this person is so much more. And no Cone of Silence is needed!

Agent Profile: This agent has been selling fiction and non-fiction (evenly) to the snooty-toots of New York for just under 20 years. Agent Three sells "approximately 2 titles per month from the current stable of authors and another 1 or 2 per month from new authors, but closer to one" -- so that adds up to, we'll say, 40 titles per year. Wow. Agent Three has [his/her] own agency in New York and lives just outside of the city. This agent gets [his/her] calls returned promptly.

Girl: What is your impression if an author first publishes his or her work with a POD company? Is there a difference in quality between POD and traditionally self-published?

Agent Three: Worst case scenario, POD titles are equal to the slush pile or the standard submissions we see everyday. Best case scenario, the POD book might be a soupcon better only because the author might have tried to clean it up more intensely since they were paying to publish. And I see no difference between POD and other self-published means. It is just a different publishing model; what is underneath usually remains the same.

Girl: If you like a book, do you care if it was once published POD?

Agent Three: No. In fact, I sold a book last year that was a POD title. I found it in a bookstore near my home and thought, "what a great book. I wonder who published this." When I realized it was self-published, I hunted down the author and offered to represent her. I sold it four days later for $45,000.

Girl: What if someone pitched a POD book to you and told you it had sold 1000 units in 6 months? Or 3000 units in a year?

Agent Three: Well, that can only help, in my opinion. But I have seen a lot of horrible books sell copies in the five digits. So sales numbers mean nothing to me unless there is talent to back it up. If I am going to attach my reputation to a book, it better knock my socks off.

Girl: Do you think POD will eventually revolutionize the publishing industry?

Agent Three: How could it? The "revolution" that needs to occur in the industry is the removal of the "returns" model. And though POD could aid in this effort, it is not the solution. It would be like moving from one sinking ship to another. Plus, the cost and time delay of production is a big loser. I attended a conference recently where POD was getting a lot of attention and they kept saying, "we can print a book off the same day the request comes in." But when someone asked why it takes two weeks to get one shipped through Amazon, they gave a long string of excuses regarding all the intermediary channels (the POD publisher, Lightning Source, Amazon, etc.) Bottom line is it is too slow. "In print" and "in stock" are not the same thing. That is why having a book "in stock" is something we all strive for. Fundamentally, I would say e-books are a much more valuable media form: cheaper and faster (even instant.) If it were just easier to read them. . .

Girl: Do you think POD publishers are taking advantage of hopeful authors by giving them a glimpse of being in a bookstore?

Agent Three: I'm not sure it matters. [The authors] are paying for a service like anyone else. Unless they are not getting what they paid for, or were lied to, then that is how the business operates. As for the glimpse of being in a bookstore, that's got to be a mighty dim glimpse. I've seen some in stores, as I mentioned, but I can count them all on one hand with two fingers broken.

Girl: Do you think POD publishers will have an impact on books already out of print?

Agent Three: Yes. POD could make the term "out of print" extinct. Do I think they can/will bring every title back? No--there are costs associated with everything. And books that did not sell well in the first place will probably stay dead and buried. But POD might just save a big part of the [big publishers] weakening backlists.

Girl: If someone POD'd a book but still wants to pitch editors/agents, should he or she simply send the paperback?

Agent Three: No. I want to be able to make notes and/or make copies. I want the version I can submit to my contacts with the houses. A paperback is good for a flight, but that's about it.

Girl: Bonus question: True or false-"If you have a brilliant manuscript, your book will find a home/get published."

Agent Three: False. I have to tell very talented writers two or three times a year that their books will not get published because the publishers passed for whatever heedless reason. It happens all the time. And, sadly, I have sold many more thrillers in the last three years than literary works . . . books that I absolutely loved.

Girl: Anything you want to add?

Agent Three: It is a tough book market. But it has been worse. Think about who will read your book. If the audience is severely limited, you might want to try POD first as a way to build sales first.

Thanks so much, Agent Three. And thanks for at least trying to sell some literary stuff. Thrillers are cool, too, though. I mean something has to pay for that Jaguar, right?

Coming up soon . . . Editor Two, who happens to be running behind because [he/she] is so busy rejecting quality manuscripts.