Publetariat Dispatch: Why I Signed With A New York Agent

October 2, 2012
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Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publishing consultant Joanna Penn explains why she decided to sign with a literary agent, despite having enjoyed considerable success as an indie author.

Last week I announced on my author blog that I have signed with literary agent Rachel Ekstrom from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency in New York. Thank you for all the congratulations I have received!

Many  of you have been incredibly supportive of my independent publishing  career so far and I know you will have some questions. Since I have  always been transparent with my journey, I’m happy to share what I can.

I am a fan of publishing in all its myriad guises, and none of us know where the industry is going.   It’s also quite ironic that I feel like I have to defend my decision,  since in the past, self-publishing has needed the defense more!

Why do I even want an agent?

I am an author and an entrepreneur, so my goals center around:

  1. Creating great books and quality products that will delight, entertain, educate and inspire my readers
  2. Building a long term career as an author and widening my reader base
  3. Growing a sustainable income that enables me to travel and spend my time on (1) above!

In working towards these goals as an independent author over the last 3.5 years, I have used business partnerships  with professional editors, book cover designers and formatters. I also  depend on distributors like Amazon, Kobo and BookBaby to get my books  into the hands of readers. I use tools like blogging and social  networking to market and I pay for internet hosting to enable this. I  sell from my site so I use Paypal as a merchant service.

I could not run my business without these business partners.

I look at signing with an agent, and possibly a traditional  publisher, in the same way. They are business partners who I will work  with to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. I am not a newbie in this  business anymore. I have been learning about publishing for nearly four  years, so this is certainly done with forethought. I have also done a  lot of research on contracts and legalities, attending the Rights  workshop at the London Book Fair as well as poring over books on  contract clauses. I’m not going to sign anything that doesn’t fit with  my goals.

Being an indie author is not only about self-publishing anymore. It’s more about taking control of your career as an author and becoming a creative director for each book. The Alliance of Independent Authors has a fantastic definition here if you want to read more.

So signing with an agent and pursuing traditional publishing reflects on my overall goals above as follows:

(1) Traditional publishing is excellent at creating quality products.

I’m an ebook only author right now and although I have dabbled in  print, I don’t enjoy the process. I know a lot of indies do it  successfully but I am a huge fan of doing things I enjoy :)

I currently employ several different editors during my writing  process, and I absolutely believe this is critical for any author to  invest in. Traditional publishing will hopefully take me to a new level  with my writing and push me further. I will certainly be looking for a  great editorial team as part of any deal.

(2) Traditional publishing will enable me to build a wider audience.

There are still many readers who will only buy print books in  bookstores, or who hear about books through more traditional venues e.g.  book clubs. I can reach an online audience myself but there are  possibilities with traditional publishing that I also want to pursue.

(3) On the income question.

I am the kind of indie who wants a hybrid approach combining traditional publishing with self-publishing. After all, traditional and independent publishing are not mutually exclusive.

This approach can bring in spikes with advances, and then a monthly  rolling income with self-publishing. I specifically went with the Irene  Goodman Agency because they understand self-publishing can be an option  for some of their authors at certain times, depending on the specifics  of the author’s career and goals. I know some of their authors who are  already following this hybrid approach successfully.

Nothing changes right now in terms of my books being available for sale. You can still buy Pentecost and Prophecy at the moment (better snap them up though!).

Here are some of the other reasons for pursuing this opportunity.

Authority, experience, social proof and let’s face it, ego.

You guys know I am proud of self-publishing and absolutely intend to continue doing it in some form. Indeed, I recently re-released my first book on career change. But originally, this blog was sub-titled ‘Adventures in Publishing’ and it was always my goal to have a traditional book deal one day.

In the UK, there are still bookstores on the high street and my  parents read books in print that they buy from Waterstones. I do want to  be on those shelves among the bestsellers. There is definitely still  some authority and social proof with traditional publishing that I want  to benefit from, so long as I can integrate it with my self-publishing  goals.

I would also like to say I have ‘done it’ so I can justifiably join  in the discussions on traditional publishing that I can only report on  second-hand at the moment.

Film rights and other subsidiary rights.

As well as my lovely agent, Rachel Ekstrom, the Irene Goodman agency  has a couple of great rights agents who focus on specific areas of  subsidiary rights. I am interested to see what they can do with my  books.

Lee Child talked at Thrillerfest about  the upcoming movie Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise. Very exciting. I  want Morgan Sierra to be the next Lara Croft, so I need people with the  right contacts to make that happen. I know the film deal is a lightning  strike type of luck, but some authors make it, and I have always had  stretch goals and dreams!

Peer respect, blurbs and networking.

At Thrillerfest, I was excited to meet some of the big name authors  who I call my writing heroes. Much as I love self-publishing, even in  the current market, I think I am more likely to be able to get blurbs  from big name authors if I get a traditional book deal. I have to build  my author brand over time and peer networking is critical for this.

Entry into prizes.

This is an arena that is slowly opening up to indies, but most prizes  are still currently based on traditional publishing. I think  nominations and awards can help marketing and enable the expansion of  readership.

Speaking opportunities at festivals.

I already have a professional speaking career but it doesn’t currently include talking specifically about my fiction :)  The festivals in the UK especially are only about traditionally published authors, and this is an area I want to break into. (btw, I’m speaking at Zurich WriteCon in October if anyone fancies some Swiss chocolate with their scribbling!)

Why a New York agent when I live in London?

I am British but I moved back to London last year after 11 years in  Australia and New Zealand. In the last four years, I have learned about  online marketing from mainly US blogs so I am enmeshed in their business  models. My Mum also lived in the US for many years so I have visited a  lot. I love my homeland but in terms of publishing, I believe the  Americans are still ahead of us in terms of the new paradigms in  publishing. I wanted a forward thinking agent at an innovative agency.

It’s also a bigger book market in the US and my current sales are  about 4:1 US:UK split. I wrote for the US market and even use an  American spell-check. My traffic for this site and my podcast is over  50% US so most of my existing audience is there. In publishing terms,  books that make it big in the US are more likely to be picked up in the  UK and in other countries. So it is a business move that hopefully will  put me in a better position for achieving my goals.

I have years of writing ahead of me.

The books I have out right now are not the end of what I can create.  They are not precious snowflakes (much as I love them!). I have stacks  of ideas and I am writing more books. At the moment, I am mostly in the  library working on edits for Exodus, ARKANE book #3 and researching my  next book, Hunterian, which is possibly a stand-alone or the beginning  of a new series.

This is a serious career for me. I want to sell some books to the right trade publisher and self-publish others.

I am 37 with (hopefully) 50+ years of writing ahead. The decision to  sign with an agent and pursue traditional publishing for some of those  books opens possibilities but it certainly doesn’t stop me from doing  all kinds of exciting things in the future.

This is just the beginning. I hope you will join me for the ride!

I’d love to hear what you think as I know it’s an emotional topic. Please do leave your comments [here, in the post's original location].

 

This is a cross-posting from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.

 

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