08/01/2010 01:13 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lit Agent Daniel Bial Says Publishing is Facing "A New Economic Reality"

Literary agent, Daniel Bial has nearly two decades of experience as an agent. He tells us in this interview, why he's not really excited about ebooks, but why they're probably here for good, and why the internet has changed the way that writers get paid for their material.

Can you tell us your official title and why you're the best agent in the universe? I don't have an official title. Literary agent is just a convenient way of saying what I do. I'm not the best agent/manager in the universe. I'm pretty good, though.

How should a writer contact you if they would like to work with you? Do you have any "pet peeves" about the way that people query you?
Email is fine. My pet peeve is when it takes an author paragraph after paragraph to get to what the book is. If it's a novel (which I'm not looking for), tell me in the first line, or better yet in the subject line, so I don't have to read through trying to figure it out. If it's nonfiction, tell me the category up front.

How has your agency prepared itself for publishing's current downturn? And what should writers be doing to get themselves through it?
No doubt, it's harder than ever to make a living in the publishing business, be it as a writer, journalist, agent, editor, or whatever else. There's a new economic reality that the internet has given us. More writing is done for free or little guaranteed money. And this writing makes it harder for other people -- even established authors -- to earn a living the way they had in the past. I have no great advice on what to do about it, other than keep it in mind as you try to write your next item.

This does sound tough. What kinds of books are likely to be successful with editors? Books by authors who already have created big audiences. Books that offer information you can't get online. Books that have an obvious raison d'etre from the moment you hear about them. That's what I'm looking for, and I can use more like that for sure.

What's your opinion on ebooks and digital publishing?
I used to think ebooks were ridiculous -- an inefficient, unpleasant substitute for something that worked well. But it's clear that today's youth are used to reading from screens and like portability. I'm now persuaded that the printed book is becoming more and more obsolete. On a personal level, I'm a slow-adaptor. I own no electronic book substitutes, and have no desire for one. But in the future, as fewer books get published using paper, I may have to give in.

Can you share a personal detail about yourself? Maybe something that not many people know about you?
Not many people realize that I'm the spitting image of Brad Pitt. If you want to know what I look like, you can go see a Brad Pitt movie.

Daniel Bial spent 10 years as an editor at HarperCollins, and 2 years each at Holt and Longmeadow Press, where he acquired several bestsellers and worked with several Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. He has been an agent for 17 years and represented several bestsellers. He is also a book doctor, a packager, and author, and has worked on several magazines.

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