Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A New Kind of Literary Agency

Lucinda and I met during the first annual Book Bloggers Convention during BEA in New York City in 2010.  At the time, she was working for a literary agency and I was still fairly new to blogging (though I had already established TNBBC on Goodreads a good three years prior). She was incredibly energetic and interested in what I wanted to accomplish with my blog and I was completely captivated by her. 
Over the past year and a half, we have worked together numerous times - scheduling in books for giveaways on the blog and hosting month long discussions with her authors in the Goodreads group. She has also been a tremendous mentor and coach to me.
Today, I'm thrilled to congratulate her on her newest venture - Lucinda Blumenfeld Literary Consulting! As a way of introduction, Lucinda has shared the following information with us. It helps bring to light the ever-evolving role of a lit agent and explains how digital publishing has changed the marketplace. (Please be aware that as of right now, the Lucinda Literary website is not officially launched, so the hyperlinks won't work... Try 'em again later this week though, as it's anticipated to hit the internet soon!)

A new eLiterary Agency: Interview with Lucinda Blumenfeld
President and Founder of Lucinda Literary LLC
Coming this week…

Is readership diminishing in the advent of digital publishing?

There will always be readers so long as there is human curiosity. I see digital publishing as a major advantage, not merely in terms of the infinite marketing avenues it allows, but also in terms of hard data that, historically, has not been accessible for authors or their publishers. We never knew who readers were before; what books they liked to read. My personal thought is that what I call “app-sized publishing” is not a bad thing at all, but conversely offers authors and publishers a greater chance to stand out in a high-volume marketplace. This means more books, ultimately with lower production costs, more appeal for multimedia, and more readers—albeit with smaller attention spans. 

Consider my friend Ted, an avid reader who is also an MD/PHD. Ted has an IPad, an Android; he loves obscure social networks and blogs, and he likes to read on diverse subjects in the little time his schedule permits between classes and residency. In other words, on the subway.

Ted is the reader of the future: the kind writers need to write for, and publishers need to market to. (The dangling preposition sounded more affirmative, no?)

Read more about Ted and his wacky ideas at http://www.lucindaliterary.com/blog.

What does this mean for publishers and authors?

Book purchases at lower costs and higher volume. Greater reader engagement through interactive/social media integrated into enhanced eBooks or mobile apps. More visibility, creative power, and possibly financial benefit for authors.

Those of us who enjoy looking at visual media and reading books but are conservative in our spending—those who  wait for movies to release on-demand, and for cheaper iterations of the IPhone and IPad—likely do not buy a hardcover book at $25.99, unless you just can’t wait another minute for Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Tom Connelly’s, Stephanie Meyer’s, JK Rowling’s latest book. We’ll splurge to that.
But a debut author with no prior bestselling credentials and zero recognition, save that great book review in the Times that your mother mentioned? Limited.
I’m not saying don’t try to be a bestseller, get an agent, get a book deal with Random House! But if you come up dry, you have options. There are plenty of successful self-published authors out there, and with the dawn of “micropublishing”—not yet an industry term, FYI, just a term I’ve coined—readers can find and impulsively buy your books on mobile devices; we can follow you using social media. You could be the next Kindle Mover & Shaker. And then you can pursue that book deal you’ve been wanting, with your audience already established (which means, a bigger book deal.) Writers need patience above all…any agent or editor will tell you the marketplace is all about timing.
P.S. Don’t expect your mother to know what a Kindle Mover & Shaker is. But at least she won’t be your only reader.
(Do you still even read The Book Review, or do you scan Goodreads for recommendations? Vote here.)
Where do literary agents stand? What's their take on all of it?

It’s a conflict for agents. They’re mainly a smart and forward-thinking bunch, so we see the power of digital media, while we cling a hardcover past, because our livelihood historically has depended on it. Older agents, however, remember similar fears when paperbacks came along, which later proved a sales advantage—a larger print run of books sold at half the price of a hardcover made sense in terms of the numbers. Many of these agents therefore don’t tremble in the wake of eBooks and apps…but they’re not exactly on Twitter. And that may be the largest issue.

I’ll be very transparent with authors that I’m a learner at Twitter, too, and that my primary work is helping authors to leverage social networks, which often means I do less self-promoting than I should as a new company. But getting versed and being knowledgeable in whatever’s coming next in terms of new media could be seen as a big advantage to working with me. I’m an outsider looking in, but at least I’m looking: I’m as clear as I can be on how it all works.

And yet, aspiring authors still see big deals happening for hardcover books….

I love the way the legendary editor Jonathan Karp puts it in a recent New York Magazine article, ‘As for the big advances,’ he says, “when publishers swing for the fences, I think that’s admirable. Does anyone want publishers to bunt?”  Publishers today bank on a book’s possibility to go out of the gate like gangbusters. But everyone knows this kind of success to be negligible, just like publishing’s precedents in music and film.  It’s a very difficult business to represent authors today, however talented, however devoted we are to their books. And so, while I love Karp’s wording above, I find it completely contradictory to his preceding sentence in the very same interview: “Why anyone would write a novel and not want everyone to read it is a mystery to me.”

Wouldn’t that just prove that the app-sized or micropublishing model of lower advances, lower production costs, and lower prices is the preferable option if it offers the most expansive visibility bar none?

Can you tell us some frequent author misconceptions about what having an agent means?
Myth 1: Because I have an agent, I have a book deal in the horizon. (It’s just that the horizon is presently cloudy, indiscernible to me.)
Myth 2: An agent is like a real estate broker. His job is to sell my book.

No savvy agent is going to take you on if he/she doesn’t believe your book will sell! But you won’t see in your author agreement with an agency that your book might very well not sell. Myth unraveled: all agents have not sold books (in the plural). And anyone in the industry will tell you the marketplace is more restrictive than ever, though better than it was a few years ago, before eBooks brought a whole new revenue stream and substantially added value. 

Thus a natural, human confusion arises in the minds of authors—I certainly don’t blame them—my agent is responsible for selling my book (not manage all the crises that arrive once the book deal happens, not offer career strategy, not market and network on your behalf, not relentlessly pursue any ancillary deals, like television, long after your book has published. We are there to legally and emotionally and financially protect you—all of which make an agent more landlord than real estate broker. All that’s in parentheses are as much an agent’s work as the effort, not guarantee, to sell your book. 

Myth 3: An agent is a publisher.
Myth 4: An agent is not an editor. (There’s a trick here)
Myth 5: I do not need an agent.

I kid you not: there are many people, including writers, who actually think agents publish books. (OK, well arguably, some agencies do now.)  But agents neither physically produce nor distribute books. Both our product and capital is client service, interpersonal relations, and above all, advocacy.
You’re right: an agent isn’t an editor. But agents play editors all the time. We need to share their eye, and we need to share the workings of their brain. If you’re refused on the basis of “platform,” that horrible platitude all of us have come to despise, that doesn’t mean an agent doesn’t believe in your talents as a writer. (Yes, a double negative, because it sounded more affirmative. Just want to be clear that I do have some sense of proper sentence construction…)
I do not need an agent—au contraire! I personally know one author who chose to publish her first novel with a small, independent press and seen real success, but that’s because she’s an exceptional networker, has zero trepidation in self-promoting, confidence in the quality of her work, has published traditionally with an agent and major publisher before, so she knows the game, and had marketing help from my company. Jointly, Sonia and I worked as partners to tirelessly promote her book…and magical things happened.
Other authors need to be walked through the process. They need someone to verse them and possibly handle rights; they need editing help, which good agents provide; they need marketing insights, which many agents can inform; they still need legal, emotional, and financial protection. Who wants to go through this alone?
Plus, in the future, authors may see more negotiating power in terms of agent commissions in eBooks-only representation. (Not to worry agents, because this will be a fun challenge, less bureaucratic, and consequently, our days won’t be swallowed in mediation. We’ll be dealing author-agent only, possibly with a third marketer’s involvement. Didn’t we get in this because we wanted that primary agent/author relationship?)
How do you consider your agency different?

I represent book proposals and writers just like any typical literary agency. But I’m not an elitist: I enjoy diverse categories of books because I’m an insatiable “curiouist”—again, a word of my own design. I’ll review any project I solicit or any project referred to me with the exception of fantasy, sci-fi, diet, children’s, just because I can’t fall for those categories of books to which I’m not a devoted reader or expert. I can’t fake enthusiasm even at the prospect of a big advance.

My particular company and role in the new, digital era of publishing is to work with aspiring and established authors looking to grow their audiences, and coach them through best practices for social networking, offline networking, and messaging from both a marketing and book standpoint (these are usually different). I lend, along the way, a love for and thoroughness in editorial development and presentation, my marketing experience and publicity connections for the strongest platform possible. You can learn more about my “B2B,” or “Blog to Book” model servicing bloggers and business practitioners, doctors, filmmakers, psychologists, celebrities, professors—those who already have the book idea, and even those who don’t, but should be writing one.

Some call this ADD, but I call it all-accessibility—it’s what’s needed in a new, evolving marketplace—and I have the capacity to be all-accessible as a new company, hungry, and 5 years away from having children. Unlike those more seasoned, I’m not cornered as a specialist.

As previously discussed, I see the value of working with an agent far beyond a sales capacity, and the value of working with a marketer far beyond publicity, or blog tours, or Amazon promotions. I’m the person who is both, and I’m training my employees to think and grow in these complimentary directions, too.

I’m trying to re-invent publishing. I know that’s ambitious.

Lucinda has worn many hats in publishing as a literary agent at Fletcher & Company, an online marketing manager at Scholastic, and as a publicist at HarperCollins. Recent projects include women’s nonfiction debut My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young, by Stephanie Dolgoff, leadership debut Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, by Rajeev Peshawaria, and historical novel The Momentby Douglas Kennedy. Learn more about LBLC at www.lucindaliterary.com or follow her on Twitter@lucindaliterary.



  1. As a passionate fan of Indy ANYTHING, and a complete Lucinda convert, I can't tell you how excited I am for this new venture of her's. As a professional -as well as hobbyist- book reviewer having access to Lucinda's keen eye, creativity and enthusiasm has been a boon for my productivity, content, and stoked the flames of my adore for books, digital or otherwise (though I will forever remain a REAL book girl.)

  2. Laura, I just saw this -- what a wonderful way to start a girl's Monday! I hope to be in touch with you soon on any of the fantastic books I'm working on at the moment. Let me know of anything you might like to see on my site...