Author Representative Robert Brown loves to take risks, and sees opportunities where many people worry about failure. In this interview, he tells us why the internet is actually standing in the way of digital publishing, and why the path to publication is not a smooth one, for any writer.
Do you consider yourself a literary agent or manager or what exactly?
I refer to myself as an Author Representative. I use this title to differentiate myself from other agents types like secret agents, FBI agents, or IRS agents.
How is the poor economic publishing environment treating you?
As far as the economic changes go, we aren't noticing much difference. Actually, last year (2009) was a bumper-crop year for us. If this is what happens in a bad economy, I can't wait for a good economy. Wow!
Writers might have to settle for Ramen noodles, especially if they expect to jump right in and make a living from writing. I'm sure that most who have been trying through peddling the written word will agree that writers are among the most poorly paid professionals in the United States, if not the world. With that said, we would strongly advise Word-Smiths to not quit their day jobs until they've at least made and invested their first million.
Do you think that digital publishing changes like ebooks are going to change publishing as-we-know-it? Or do you not buy into the hype?
They look like very nice toys, but until these machines completely disassociate themselves from the internet, if that's ever possible, I don't believe they will ever be taken seriously. You see, there's a built-in philosophy on the internet that any content placed there should be given away free. Publishing, on the other hand, is a business and not a free game or book. A requirement of all businesses, to stay in business, is that they make a profit--or fool investors into thinking they are. A great example of book sales on the internet is Amazon. Amazon advertizes itself as an internet bookstore, but has Amazon ever made a profit selling just books? I don't think so. You can buy any and everything on Amazon and that, not book sales, has made them successful. Some will say they are now, but my question to them is this: Is the Kindle a book? When these toys and their downloads are sold in brick and mortar bookstores, exclusively, they might move out the realm of gadget and possibly into the realm of necessary entertainment enrichment tool. People who enter a bookstore don't expect the content contained therein to be free. That is what's going to have to happen with ebook readers, and ebooks, before they will be taken seriously. When readers expect to pay to download books, the books they download will make a profit for their publisher. Until that happens, these devises will remain toys and their content will not be taken as a serious threat to conventional books.
What's genres are really "in" right now? And what are you always looking for more of?
That's a very good question. I've heard the term "New Adult" which is supposed to be what Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games type books would like to be called. It seems that most of what has sold for the last few years has had a vampire lurking somewhere between the pages. Although it's been said, time and again, that the vampire thing is dead, and that's true because those loveable bloodsuckers are dead, but isn't that what makes them so appealing. Maybe the vampire lore is like eggs. We never tire of eggs because they can be made so many different ways. Vampire lore reinvents itself repeatedly and that is possibly where its appeal lies. So what am I looking for? Anything that has universal appeal-and has a vampire in it.
How should a writer get in touch with you? Any "pet peeves" that they should avoid when they query you?
I think probably the best way to approach me is through a face-to-face meeting. This is why I love writer's conferences. I'm a people person, and so I find the usual query process very dry and boring. The second best way to approach me is through social networking. When I have a few moments, which has been rare lately, I'm on Twitter. I love the no-holds-barred interaction I find there. Twitter is a place where peeps aren't afraid to call you an ass if you say something inappropriate. I like that.
My biggest peeve is garnered from those who waste my time, mine and theirs, by believing that rushed, thrown together content is going to make any mark on a glutted publishing market. Another of my pet peeves are writers who believe the road to publishing goes like this: Spend many unhappy hours behind a computer keyboard throwing words on paper to reach a predetermined word count. When finished, search a marketing guide and query every agent in that book, beginning with those who have a NYC address. When that effort fails, spend the huge amounts of time on writer's boards telling everyone who will listen how awful, sinful and despicable agents are. Success begins with a sound plan that is happily executed and even then, as in any business, there may be failure.
Let's face the truth, people, writing is a novel or book is hard work and the path to publication, for everyone who attempts it, can be frustrating. It's especially frustrating when one realizes that not everyone is going to be dealt a winning hand. Many times in the publishing game, as with most games, luck instead of talent wins. So before striking out for the gold fields, the muse miner should understand the odds and know that frustration is going to show up in your pan more often than gold.
Before we finish, do you mind telling us something a little more personal about yourself?
Funny, but lately people have been calling me a renaissance man. I think that's funny and just a kind way of saying, Robert, you're older than dirt so you need to retire. The first time I was referred to in that way I blushed. Leonardo DaVinci was a renaissance man, for god's sake and I'm no Leonardo. But then, when I thought about it for a moment, it came to me that isn't anyone who tries to do something new during a time when others fear failure, aren't they creating a renaissance of sorts? I've never been happy sitting on the sidelines. I don't watch sports because I want to play; not watch others have fun. I love to participate. I love the challenge of the possibility of cheating failure. I love to take risks-and that's possibly something others don't know about me.