LA Times Festival of Books Sunday Panel-Inside Publishing

After the Editors Speak Out panel my friend and fellow bibliophile and I wandered through the tents between Royce hall and the library and ate lunch. We had just enough time to attend a book signing by James Owen(this will be a separate blog) and promptly got lost trying to find Young Hall CS 24. In one of the worst cases of map reading ever, we ended up way south of the building. The friendly co-ed volunteers were not able to help us at all(um don’t you attend UCLA?). Finally a security guard on a bicycle pointed us in the right direction. To sum up, we barely made it to the beginning of the panel.

The panel was moderated by Betty Amster, of Betty Amster Literary Enterprises. The panelists were George Gibson(Bloomsbury), Bonnie Nadell(Hill Nadell Literary Agency), and Johnny Temple(Akashic Books, Brooklyn Book Festival). From the introductions there was a light, informal and friendly tone put out by Ms. Amster and the panelists.

The first question confirmed the friendly tone: What is working/not working/ any comments on the economy/ with the books you are publishing?

Mr. Temple answered first that he published noir/dark literary fiction and crime novels. He says that it is a great time to be a small company/independent publisher because unlike the “Big 6” who are concerned with the bottom line, smaller companies are more about fostering relationships with the artists and cultivating them throughout a career.  He used an example of what is working well for Akashic books with the publication of special edition of Ryan Adams’ recent volume of poetry.

Ms. Nadell answered that she has twenty-five years of experience selling books to the larger houses and she also agrees that smaller houses and boutique agencies are able to shape and support authors throughout their career.

Mr. Gibson believes that the big publishers can be at a disadvantage due to the broadness in its publications but that verticality matters because you get to know your colleagues from the top to the bottom. He comments that this is a very challenging time in publishing because we as a society don’t have time to buy books.

Ms. Amster then notes that the book Tinkers by Paul Harding was published by a small press and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. She asks what books/series surprised you?(panelists will be refered to by their initials from now on)

JT: Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno because he was dropped by two publishers before the publication of this book. He contributes the success of his third novel to the Barnes and Noble New Writers Selection which featured Meno.

BN: Good Indian Wife by Anne Cherian, also a Barnes and Noble New Writers pick.  David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest

GG: Longitude by Dava Sobel

The most informative question came at the end: What do you look for in an author or a project?

JT: First and foremost we focus on the quality of the book. We do screen author’s personalities to see if they fit in with our company. If we don’t mesh personality wise, how can we do so professionally?

BN: it’s about managing expectations between agent and client.

GG: It’s useful to have an agent. Really good query letters do get read.

Amster concluded the question section with a very helpful mention of great internet resources for aspiring authors, two of which I already follow: Publisher’s Marketplace and Shelf Awareness. The third resource, The Shatzkin Files, is one I haven’t heard of but if Betty Amster recommends it, you should take it seriously.

This was my favorite panel of all three that I attended. It was informal, friendly, informative. The panelists were a wealth of resources and helpful examples that erased the bitter disappointment and snobbery I felt after the first panel. I really hope that Ms. Amster returns next year as well as the panelists.

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LA Times Festival of Books Sunday Panel- Publishing: The Editors Speak Out

Of the three panels that I attended at the La Times Festival of Books, this was the first. I was a little worried about making the trek to UCLA and being parked in time for this early panel, but luckily the traffic and book gods were on our side! This panel was moderated by Sara Nelson, who has worked with O Magazine. The panelist were Sarah Crichton(formerly of Little Brown and Newsweek), Eli Horowitz(Mc Sweeney’s), and Jack Shoemaker(Editor, Counterpoint Press).

The panel started with formal introductions and a small talk by Ms. Nelson and then went straight into questioning.

The first question dealt with The Role of the Editor and how it has changed. I thought this was very pertinent considering not only the panel focus but the collective experience of the panelists themselves. Shoemaker likens the role to 1/3 as an author advocate, 2/3 as therapists, which cued laughter from the audience. He did also note this was a shifting time for publishing and that it is a terrible time for a first time book writer who wishes to publish a book. Crichton added that the editor should know the marketplace, niche and demographic for which the book will be targeted. In her opinion, the role of the editor has changed from trying to sell books via book reviews, to how to navigate marketing via new media with print media quickly disappearing.

A second question, much more subjective and slippery than the first was, How much is too much editing?

Crichton offers that her training at Newsweek offered her a great background for editing, but that the editor should be a coach, clear about expectations, and collaborate with the writer. She gave an example using J.K. Rowling that her editor may have been more involved in the earlier books but not so much in the later editions.

Shoemaker stresses that the idea of the editor is being lost due to quicker processing times and that results in longer books, meaning less editing occurs before publication dates.  He added that manuscripts should have editing at all stages of development.

Horowitz chimes in that it is imperative that the author and the editor trust each other. Ms. Nelson interjects that there is a sense of urgency about getting your book on certain lists and how many copies are being moved.

All stressed that technology is not the death of publishing and that it changes the publication, distribution, and selling of books. With this segue came the last question: How does technology affect what you buy/how books are marketed?

Horowitz open the question with the comment that the possibility for text on an e-reader like the iPad can be better than on a traditional printed book.

Crichton had a lot to say about this and projected that within five years 50% of sales will be e-books. She is confident in this projection due to the fact that we are increasing becoming more distracted and cannot focus for long periods of time. She concluded that complicated texts don’t allow themselves to be successful in an e format and that technology is speeding up publishing times.

Shoemaker commented on the fact that there are eight different e-book formats. He does note that for graphic novels and manga that the iPad would be great for that multi platform technology.

There was a queue formed for questioning. Many people had some very specific and individualized questions that would have been better suited for a private conversation. Some highlights from the question portion are:

All unanimously agreed that in order to get published you must have an agent and in order to research agents you need to look at the editors for books that you feel are similar to yours.

There was some discussion on authors and public relation platforms. Some said that a platform was not needed and your book should be your platform if it is a well written book. All emphasized that it takes time for a book to exist, usually around four years between researching, writing, editing and publication.

This was a great panel, very informative but very elitist. While there were many talented and experienced editors on this panel I felt very dismayed as an aspiring author. They painted a very dismal outlook to publishing as if it is so hard no one is projected to do so any time soon which I don’t believe is the case. Overall I am very glad this was my first panel…see other posts on my panels for comparison and why I think this way.