month I announced several changes at Hartline. We continue
restructuring as agent Diana Flegal establishes a field office in
Ashville, North Carolina, and Kathy Myers joins us at the agency as
Joyce Hart’s executive assistant.
This month I’d like to talk
about why all these changes. My good friend and Pulitzer nominee Jory
Sherman wrote a blog recently on a call for a new breed of agent
(http://jorysherman.blogspot.com/). It is interesting to note that at
the time he wrote this, Hartline had already begun to address some of
the items he talks about.
He takes note that “legacy
publishers are no longer promoting either midlist books or their
authors, so the writer must promote and publicize their books in order
to compete in today’s competitive market.” We recognized some time ago
the need to be more proactive on the behalf of the author as advances
have gotten smaller, and more and more houses don’t offer them at all.
It’s true that royalties have increased, but with several publishers
cutting back on promotion for smaller authors as Jory suggests, we felt
the need to offer the author more assistance on the sales and promotion
end of the effort.
Our first response was to
establish a client group for the discussion of PR and marketing, where
they share tips and talk about what does and does not work. We stopped
short of actually usurping the work of publicists, as Jory suggests. I
for one simply don’t have the time because of all my other tasks.
Hartline chose to add an
in-house publicist to work with our clients. Jennifer Hudson Taylor
works with our authors as soon as they sign with an agent to start
developing that all-important name recognition. When they sign a
publisher’s contract, she helps them prepare for the release of the
book, and when their books release, she works with the authors on PR,
sales, and promotion.
Jory suggests that literary
agents are becoming obsolete, since the writer can now directly publish
their own books, but as Mark Twain said, “The rumors of my death are
greatly exaggerated.” I recently surveyed over 400 editors at various
mainstream and Christian publishing houses, asking them if they would
be willing to take on a print project that had already been published
as an ebook. Seventy percent responded with a flat no, because they
don’t do reprints, whether it is hardcopy or ebook, and most of the
remaining responders said they would look at one, but it would have to
have significant (multi-thousand) sales and the book would then have to
be removed from any listing so the ebook rights could be included in
the publisher’s contract. Will this change? Maybe, but it is the
situation at present.
is true that those who go straight to ebook can also set up an account
and self-publish to get a print copy via POD technology. But Publishers
Weekly points out that over 80 percent of all books published
today sell one hundred copies or less. This number is primarily fueled
by those authors who have
self-published or believe they can go
straight to ebook without help. Sure, some are successfully doing it,
but apparently the large majority needs some production, sales, and
While Hartline has chosen not to
be involved in the production of books in this manner, we have instead
allied ourselves with several providers that we feel give the author
the most bang for the buck, assist in the contract, ensure that the
book is well produced and supported in a manner that will give the
author a chance to rise above the huge number of titles coming out now.
And of course, the PR and marketing help is there for them as well.
We don’t counsel and assist the
client to take these steps as long as we think we can secure a contract
for them at a “legacy publisher,” as Jory termed it. But when the
client thinks it is time to consider other options, we help them to do
it right and in a manner that assures they won’t get lost in the herd.
While clients can make a larger percentage on sales if they do it all
on their own, we believe that they will end up with a larger return if
they have the assistance to do it right and promote it properly.
Will we continue to evolve as he
suggests? Who knows? A couple of years ago I would have scoffed at the
idea that we would be making the changes we are. The rate of change
over the past few years, primarily due to emerging technology, is
amazing, and we have no idea what else is in store for us. But we love
a challenge and expect the future to be most exciting.