Friday, May 13, 2005

Agent & Editor Q&A: Agent Two

The internationally renown conglomerate known as POD-dy Mouth Industries is proud to bring you installment number two of our Agent & Editor Q&A Series:

Agent Profile: This agent has been in the publishing industry for 22 years and is an agent with a very large (read: 5 or more agents) literary agency. Agent Two sells between 25 - 35 titles per year, both fiction and non-fiction--but carrying more of an interest in fiction, with nonfiction tending to be more narrative. Agent Two was an editor with imprints at three major publishers before becoming an agent. Agent Two regularly attends writer's conferences nationwide. Agent Two lives and works in that dark abyss known as New York.

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 Two: It used to mean more than it does today. If you are asking about a stigma, I would say it no longer means a thing. My take on it is that it used to be a dumping ground for the slush pile but more and more authors are starting here and skipping the entire "traditional path" to publication, through the agent pool. It's still an "in print" slush pile of sorts but the quality is increasing as time moves on. To answer your second question, self-published is self-published to me, whether it is print on demand or print run. I don't care if it was written on cocktail napkins so long as I am engaged.

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

Agent Two: With all the titles published every year, it might be hard to believe but we are always having a hard time finding good books to sell and publish. So if a book comes my way that is a real stunner, I don't care that it took the shape of a print on demand title, and neither will my editorial contacts.

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 Two: Depends. If the book is commercial fiction, for example, and it has sold 2000-3000 copies in its first year, that really says something. I'd definitely be interested in taking a look, and in the big picture I could use this to help sell it. If, however, the book is a niche title (like a book/story geared directly toward ornithologists or some such thing) then the book may have already sold itself out, leaving not much left to market to a publisher. But generally speaking, sales usually help the case for a book.

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

Agent Two: If you mean, do I think print on demand will be the industry standard someday, after I finish laughing I would tell you NO. This technology can only aid the current production model as a back-up for out of print titles or difficult-to-find books. Even the fantasy some folks have of printing books out at the bookstore level is naive. Anything that makes a customer wait is a big turn-off. Can you imagine a line of people waiting for their books to print at the Christmas sales rush? If a book prints even as quickly as 30 seconds, imagine how annoyed you will be when there are 25-50 books in queue before you, or the printer jams, and on and on.

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

Agent Two: It's a blurry glimpse if they are. I'm not aware of any bookstores that stock them due to the issue of returns. Besides, even if they did allow returns, they would never get stocked because they will never have the sales forces that Random and Penguin and S&S and Warner have. The big publishers have excellent sales reps working full time for every inch of space at every bookstore. The print on demand self-publishers will never get even .01 percent of that unless they decide to pick a handful of titles and hire hundreds of sales folks. It will never happen. As for taking advantage? I think there is some give and take on both sides.

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

Agent Two: Actually, I think they should be playing an even greater role. The real core business of [a POD company] should be selling services to publishers, by returning titles to print that are [dropping off the backlist.] Printing self-published authors should just be a side benefit. The real usefulness lies in the out-of-print arena.

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

Agent Two: The author should always check with the particular agent or editor. I'd be open to looking at a printed copy, though if I were interested in representing it, I would later ask for a digital copy to use for printing for editors. Eventually, the text has to be single-sided and double spaced.

Girl: Anything you want to add?

Agent Two: Print on demand is a cool technology that will certainly play a greater role in coming years and how it is used will determine its relevance. Companies like Lulu are starting to take share from the iUniverses and Authorhouses. I think the bigger companies should be selling their services to major and international publishers and let the Lulus print the self-pubbed authors.

Thanks, Agent Two. You're the best. Except for the fact that you rejected my original manuscript. I suppose that makes you second best.

Stay tuned--because next up we're going to hear from one of NY's hottest editors!