Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Interview with a Literary Agent

by Jocelyne Hudson-Brown

The purpose of this paper is twofold. It satisfies a class assignment to interview a leader in the communications industry and it is also my hope that it provides another MACOMM student with an interest in the literary field some insight into the profession. It seemed fitting that I do this in print form in opposition to a produced video piece because the “printed word” putting print to paper, is the truest from of the literary art form.
Part 1 of the following interview with Gina Panettieri was conducted on May 25, 2012 at the office of Talcott Notch Literary in Milford, CT.  Part 2 was conducted at 2012 BookExpo America at the Jacob Javits Convention in New York on June 5th 2012. 

Part 1
I met Gina Panettieri while satisfying a 200 hour internship as part of the MACOMM curriculum. I found her to be warm, available and just a wealth of information. The following excerpts are from an interview where she freely answered 

Gina Panettieri

Jocelyne Hudson-Brown - How did you get your start in the business?

Gina Panettieri – My start was not traditional. I was hosting a writers support group; soon writers began asking for help. I began advocating for writers, interviewing attorneys, editors, writing letters, just doing it to be supportive. People began saying “You are good.” I got no pay just satisfaction. Then someone suggested that I do this for profit. So in 1988 I said, “You’re right” and I have been going ever since. You must understand when I first started there were really no internships. People got a job and stayed for 20 years. Interns have the opportunity to learn a profession and practice it.

JHB - In these lean times (for your industry) how are you surviving?

GP – Good Question. There have been a number of failures. Borders, small bookstores…they failed to make the transition. This (economy/digital advances) has challenged everyone. The big change right now is the Amazon dominance. They are both a selling platform and a publishing platform now, stealing some of the biggest authors. They (Amazon) have unlimited resources. Publishers now have the double challenge of the economy and Amazon. Some agencies are now offering more. They are serving as publishers also publishing to “E” format, doing editing, providing cover art. Providing more services.

JHB - What adjustments have you made to adapt your work to the “ digital” way of doing things?

GP - There is money to be made in digital. Using their (Amazon’s) experience and knowledge. Joining them makes sense for agencies. An eBook now comes automatically with print.

JHB – Correct me if I’m wrong. I think no matter the advances occurring with digital publishing, people still want a real book.

GP - God yes! They still want to hold it in their hands. I know of one author who has had 5 books published. The first 4 were digital, the last one in print. She said the print one was the first one that felt “real”. There is something about getting that box of books, of seeing it on the shelf. Also, monetary commissions are greater when a book is taken to print. When a book gets printed it is a commitment to the author from the publisher. They (the author) get more support, a real push with regard to marketing and promoting.

JHB - What do you see for the future of your industry?

GP - Books will survive. Hardcover sales are up. People like books for collecting, and then there are the coffee table books. Books are beautiful. Also, some books do not translate well to digital. Picture/Art books, recipe books. Seeing them on Kindle does not have the same effect.

JHB - What might be considered the downside (negative) of your profession?

GP – Commission based income can be a downside. You have to sell (books). Any work based on sales can be scary. But, if your book just had a big hit you will be glad not to be on salary. It is not a 9-5 job; you will be reading on evenings and weekends. About 50-60 hours a week of reading. Clients will want your time. The hours can be demanding. Then there is travel for conferences. Most publishing events are held on weekends. If you are a person in demand the weekend is taken up with conferences, clients, making contacts. It is a commitment not a Monday-Friday, 9-5. You have to love books, talking about books, meeting people. It’s an art, it’s terrific.

JHB - Besides the usual “follow your dreams” is there any advise you could give?
You need to know your market, study it. Subscribing to industry magazines and journals enables you to make informed decisions. Within them is a ton a free content. Educate yourself. This is also a profession that requires “personality”.  It is definitely not for the risk adverse. You cannot be frightened by challenges and you must have drive and ambition. Know your genre and understand the rules. Study what successful people in you market have done. 

Part 2 BookExpo America, Jacob Javits Convention Center New York, NY

 BEA Publishers Exhibit

BookExpo America (BEA) is an annual industry event that features over 1350 exhibitors from all over the world. They include literary agents, publishers, book dealers, digital suppliers dealers. Most every major player in the industry is represented. Literary professionals from all over the world are featured. Included were representatives from Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Germany among others.
Individual elements include bloggers conferences, educational seminars, author interviews, photo ops and autograph sessions and galley giveaways.
The professionals that attend the event are book publishers, literary agents, teachers, book buyers for schools and universities, book sellers (store owners), librarians, anyone who may be responsible for recommending books to be acquired or purchased. It is not open to the general public.

Product categories exhibited are adult trade, art/photography/coffee table, body/mind/spirit, business books, children/young adult trade, cookbooks, drama, education/how to, environmental/natural world, erotic, foreign language, gay/lesbian, graphic novels, health medical, history, humor, large print, literature/poetry, multi-cultural, philosophy, professional educational, reference, religious, remainders/bargain books, science fiction/fantasy, scientific/technical/professional, self help/recovery, Spanish books, text books, travel outdoor recreation, university press, women’s studies/feminist, coloring books, journals, hobbies and crafts, bookmarks/bookplates, calendars, limited edition, and stationary.

Representing the digital domain are exhibits that featured the latest apps, devices/e-readers/tablets, digital marketing, digital services, eBook accessories/ eBooks, e-publishing solutions, mobile products and services, search engines, social media, software development, internet marketing and sales.

Support services featured included publicity/promotion, distribution, posters, inventory control, rights/permissions, retailer supplies/services, music and audio video.

The primary reason for highlighting so many components of BEA in this writing is that each one represents a specialty/niche within the literary profession. Seeing them all in one place at the same time was quite exciting. A book (any book from any genre) is a lot more that words on a page with a nice cover. Anyone with traditional experience in communications (audio/video, writing, production, internet/web specialists) will find their skills are easily transferable to the literary field where they are very much wanted, needed and appreciated. What is great about it is that one can easily find themselves as the biggest fish in a small pond particularly where production and digital expertise is concerned.

While at BEA the interview with Gina Panettieri continues:

JHB - How long have you been coming to BEA?

GP - This must be I think my tenth year.

JHB – This is my first time here. So much to see and do, I am very excited and a bit overwhelmed and over stimulated in a good way. (I consistently overheard this from other attendees as well.) As a literary agent with your experience what does the BEA mean to you? For me it is a total exposure to the industry. What does it do for the more experienced literary agent?

 Gina meets w/author at BEA

GP – It gives me an opportunity to see what publishers are excited about, what they are promoting, their big titles. It gives me a chance to speak with other publishing professionals and to interact with them. If I have a product that is appropriate I can take a one-on-one appointment with them and pitch certain projects.

It just gives me more of an opportunity to get an idea of what’s going on in publishing. There are workshops, panels and seminars that are going on that are very informative. It is both a selling venue and an educational forum. People can use it for a number of different purposes.

JHB – Thank you Gina for a wonderful opportunity. I appreciate seeing the literary arena like this. Indeed, one can never judge a book by its cover!