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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s