Thursday, 3 February 2011

Authors: e-network or die? (part 2 of 3)

Part 2: What do agents think? (or, bear in mind that JK Rowling was turned away by several agents and publishers)

Publisher to agent: "This doesn't look like the menu to me" (image:
For new author, getting published is a daunting proposition. The very nature of the typical writer puts them at an immediate promotional disadvantage – self-doubt is a crippling trait. Then there are the horror stories of authors wallpapering their writing sheds with thousands of rejection slips. Add to that the rumours of slush-piles so large and old that they have their own listed building status.

Simplified, the traditional route for a novel is for an agent (or a sub-contract reader) to receive the manuscript, judge its potential for success in the market, and, if good enough, talk to a publisher who might agree with the proposition. So, where does the futurologists’ publishing new world order fit in with an agent’s lot?

Eve White, head of her own literary agency, said that an online presence would not be the first thing she looks for. She made it quite clear that ‘with a novel, the writing always comes first.’ However, Eve did go on to say that if an author had an online presence, she would mention the fact to a publisher as they ‘are very keen on authors who can promote themselves through social networking.’

Conville and Walsh agent, Alex Christofi, who runs the company’s website and Twitter page, said,’It depends on the kind of book. Non-fiction depends more on profile than fiction.’ Alex gave the example of 59 Seconds author, Richard Wiseman, who has a huge online following and is able to take advantage of it. Alex pointed out a potential downside to having an online existence: ‘If an author has drawn the wrong kind of attention to themselves by spamming, self-publishing or vanity publishing, that’s going to work against us when we try and sell their book.’

When asked if agents consider the internet profile of a prospective author, Sam Copeland, an agent at Rogers, Coleridge and White, was unambiguous: ‘No, manuscript only. Anything else is dressing.’ He felt that having a healthy following wouldn’t hurt, given that it contained the right kind of content. When pushed about whether an author with a large Facebook following might be easier to sell to a publisher than one without, Sam would only commit to ‘possibly’.

Veronique Baxter, of David Higham Associates, said that she would look for an internet background if it existed, but added, 'The writing comes first. If I like a manuscript, a lack of online presence doesn't bother me.' However, Veronique felt that publishers like writers who are clued up on social media matters, 'A good writer, with a good idea and a large social media following, isn't going to find it hard to get a publisher.'

None are fully aligned with the crystal ball gazers’ views, so what does this all mean?

In the third and final part, I'll discuss where I go from here.

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