More Wise Words from Agents

News about the poor economy continues to rock the headlines, including more announcements from publishers about belt-tightening and cost-cutting. I think it’s important for writers to look at market realities and understand that this isn’t going to be an easy road. (But really, when was it ever easy?) To find success, we may need to step up our games—write better, market better, be more persistent.

Here are a few more agents’ answers to my question, “What’s the ONE thing you’d like to tell writers in these tough economic times?”

Jeff Dunn, Winters & King, Inc.

Let us drop every reliance we have on man, whether it be ourselves, our spouse, our employer, our publisher, our president. We are not citizens of this earth for long—as the late, great Larry Norman sang, we are only visiting this planet. There is a lot of shaking going on right now, and a lot more to come. Let go of what you are holding onto that is not eternal. Look to our Father for all—emphasize ALL—your needs, whether it is a story idea or money for tonight’s dinner. He is our all-in-all. Now is a really good time to learn that in a practical way.

Greg Daniel, Daniel Literary Group

Having been on the publisher’s side of the business for many years before starting my agency, I can tell you that the first thing publishers start slashing when times are tough is their marketing budget. Publishers realize that they can immediately impact their bottom line by cutting extra marketing expenses. Of course, that may be incredibly short-sighted and even counter-productive, but it’s just the way things are. What that means is that in tough times such as these you as an author bear a great portion of the burden of marketing yourself and your book. Your “platform” is more important than ever. I spoke with a wanna-be author recently, and he was turned off by the “self-promotion” that many authors seem to engage in. He wanted to just sit in his study, pipe in mouth, and write great books, and let the publisher worry about promoting him. Sorry, but that doesn’t fly. If you want to be an author, you HAVE to always be thinking about how to promote yourself and your books

Janet Grant, Books & Such Literary Agency

Publishers are risk averse; so you need to demonstrate to a publisher that contracting your book isn’t a big risk by building a platform that helps to get the word out about your book.The Internet is available to all of us—fiction and nonfiction writers—to build that platform, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Figure out as many innovative ways to build your brand online as you can and remember that readers want to make personal connections with authors rather than to receive ads.

Terry Whalin, Whalin Literary Agency

While the news spirals downward and there is much about our world you can’t change, keep focused on what you can do. Magazines and book publishers continue to look for excellent writers and fresh ideas. Perseverance, persistence and diversity are critical in these times as well as a commitment to craft. If you feel like no one is saying yes, gain encouragement from reading this foreword from Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Me again:
I understand it might be frustrating to hear agents saying, “Do it better!” “Be the best!” “Learn the craft”! You might be thinking, “AS IF I’m not already trying to do all that!”

But I think what we’re really saying is that if you’re striving for excellence and doing all you can to master the craft of writing, then we want to encourage you to keep going. Persistence is key. We don’t want good writers to hang up their laptops out of despair at the hopelessness of getting published. If this is what you do, and it’s what you love, keep going.

Bottom line: People are going to keep reading. Are you going to write the things people want to read?

What kind of impact do YOU think the economy will have on book buyers? Will people who love to read stop purchasing as many books? Or will they buy more because books are cheaper than some other entertainment options? Chime in with your opinions.

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. Mark on December 17, 2008 at 11:46 AM

    >Thanks to Jeff Dunn for his encouraging words. Relying on our Father for ALL our needs is exactly what I needed to hear right now.

  3. jess on December 12, 2008 at 12:38 AM

    >Libraries are going to thrive, and their Friends of the Library sales will be greater than ever. Also, will gain more and more members.

    I still buy a lot of books, but it gets very expensive when everyone in the family is a reader–but read different genres. We’re all getting pickier about who we purchase. The author will almost have to be a guaranteed keeper.

  4. Kim Kasch on December 11, 2008 at 10:26 PM

    >Sheila Lee: I think that’s the old idiom of “Misery loves company.”

  5. Sheila Lee on December 11, 2008 at 6:19 PM

    >A few of my friends are visiting the library for the first time in their adult lives (and they’ve been adults for a long time). The rest of us are still buying.

    If I were strapped and wanted a book of my own, I’d probably skip the light fair and go for a large epic (usually the same price).

    I’ve also noticed that when people are going through a rough patch, they are sometimes cheered by reading a story with people going through an even rougher patch. Maybe it helps people count their blessings.

  6. Gwen Stewart on December 11, 2008 at 5:15 PM

    >I wonder if the economy will have more impact on the types of books being purchased rather than the number of them.

    I think readers will want entertaining, “lighter” reading with a message of hope rather than a message of agony or darkness–something enjoyable to read without being vacuous.

    What do I know…but this might be a really good time to be writing CBA books.

    Love me those rose-colored glasses. 🙂

  7. Esther Jade on December 11, 2008 at 3:33 PM

    >As an economist by training, I would break it down into two elements. There’s the income effect and the substitution effect. The substitution effect is when people buy less of relatively more expensive goods and vice versa. This is good for books because they’re a relatively cheaper form of entertainment. The income effect is that (assuming books are “normal” goods) we buy less of everything when incomes go down.
    So, it comes down to which is stronger.

    I’d say generally the income effect would be stronger. But possibly between the holidays (and people having more leisure time) PLUS Christmas (people need to buy gifts), the substitution effect may be stronger at the moment. Certainly whenever I go down to the local bookstores to curl up with coffee and a book, there always seem to be far too many people in the bookstore! 😉

  8. Kelly H-Y on December 11, 2008 at 3:25 PM

    >Great post … thanks for the compilation of awesome information!

  9. Avily Jerome on December 11, 2008 at 3:14 PM

    >Thanks for all the tips from agents, Rachelle!

    I don’t think books are going anywhere anytime soon- I for one would rather curl up on the couch snuggled in a blanket with a good book than read from a screen, but to each his own.

    Either way, there will always be a market for books. And as long as words are being put out there- whether in print or on a screen- we can continue to write.

  10. Kathleen on December 11, 2008 at 11:51 AM

    >I think sales will fall. I mean… I think readers will read just as much, but the library will get more business, as will used book venues. I don’t see people dropping more expensive forms of entertainment for reading because most readers, I think, already do that just because they enjoy the book more than the movie!

    But God knows.

    And I love, love, LOVE what Greg Daniel said.

  11. Nicole on December 11, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    >Jeff Dunn nailed it.

    Times change. Books remain.

  12. Anne L.B. on December 11, 2008 at 11:25 AM

    >In good times people feed their lusts. In hard times people search out food for the soul.

    Books aren’t going anywhere. Along with music they’re one of the oldest and most enduring foods for the soul this world has known.

    Are you going to write the things people want to read? ~Rachelle, Dec 18

    …even if you’re writing toward the market, you also have to write your truth. ~Rachelle, Dec 1

    How ’bout one more thought, a favorite quote of Thomas Nelson editor Allen Arnold:

    “Don’t worry about what the world wants from you, worry about what makes you come more alive. What the world really needs are people who are more alive.” ~ Lawrence LeShan

  13. LurkerMonkey on December 11, 2008 at 11:00 AM

    >As much as I hate to say this, I suspect that reading will continue to move online … Sure, books will ALWAYS exist, but my guess is they will be like American cars. Rarer. Here’s my question: how can storytelling be accomplished on the Internet in a way that is satisfying for everybody and that also makes money? Is there a way to rethink storytelling to fit the Kindle-age, with its interactivity? I wish I knew.

    But in the short-term, I think the challenge is the same as it has ever been. Relentlessly write well.

  14. lynnrush on December 11, 2008 at 10:18 AM

    >I think people will continue to buy books. Especially for book clubs. It’s such an inexpensive way to socialize.

    But I also think that going to the internet/e-books/readers is going to change things as well, though. But, they still need publishers for that, right? It’s just a different kind of publishing….

    Everything is cyclical…things’ll come around. Have faith.

  15. Daniel F. Case on December 11, 2008 at 10:10 AM

    >I personally believe that books will continue to thrive. People who love to read will still read. I suspect that tighter belts will mean more book-swapping between avid readers, but that could be an opportunity for authors to access readers who might not buy their books in more prosperous times, but will give the borrowed book a chance to satisfy their hunger.

    While I personally favor good ol’ fashion paper books, challenging financial times may be just the kick-start the electronic book platforms need. Production costs are lower, it’s more “environmentally conscious” (a cool thing at the moment), and profit potential is strong. Just as online music stores like iTunes have made it possible to impulse-buy music and enjoy immediate gratification at a lower price, if electronic readers come down to a more realistic price point (including free reader applications for the computer, ala iTunes), e-books will become an important outlet in the future.

    Paper books will always exist, just as there are still CDs for those who prefer holding their music in their hands and reading the liner notes as they listen. As long as there is a market, there will be opportunities for authors both new and established. Keep growing in the craft and pursuing excellence!


  16. Rachelle on December 11, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    Don’t cringe about the digital readers! It’s the way of the future. I read a lot of books on my Kindle and I LOVE it. And trust me, I’m the ultimate “book” person. But when it comes right down to it, the words matter more than the weight and smell of the book, and the feel of turning pages. Don’t fret, “real books” aren’t going away anytime soon.

    Television is certainly huge competition for books, especially as the number of options continues to increase. But we have to realize that the Internet is becoming another primary entertainment option, in direct competition with books. And computer games, including Nintendo, x-Box, Wii, etc., are also competing for people’s entertainment time and dollars.

    The reality is that people have never had as many “at home” entertainment options as they do now, so every single form of media has much more competition than ever.

  17. Kat Harris on December 11, 2008 at 9:28 AM

    >As a writer and reader my opinion may be tainted by bias, but I believe books will continue to sell.

    People may put off the purchase of their Sony Readers or Kindles because they’re pretty spendy buys considering the economy, but a book is still a book. It’s still a form of entertainment — cheaper than the movies, concerts and sporting events.

    Television seems to pose the biggest competition to books as far as entertainment.

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but out of the 120 channels on my TV, only two of them are worth watching half the time.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    Keep writing! 🙂

  18. Monica on December 11, 2008 at 8:44 AM

    >This is my first time to comment, but I love this blog.

    I agree with everyone else. Book sales might drop a little as people buy used or go to libraries. I can’t imagine them dropping as much as other venues of entertainment, though. In these times, it seems that people will be looking for an escape of some kind.

  19. Kristi Holl on December 11, 2008 at 8:42 AM

    >The biggest challenge for me is finding the right balance. I think Jeff Dunn’s comments were excellent. Writers who are Christians DO need to keep their eternal perspective, relying on God to meet their needs (for money, book and marketing ideas, contacts, sales, etc.) Balancing that with what MY part is can be tricky. I have websites and blogs and do public speaking and Twitter and attend conferences. But I know that every marketing bandwagon can’t be God either. For some, it’s become the newest idol to bow down to. Now that I think about it, finding this “God’s part, my part” balance is the key, regardless of the economic climate.
    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog

  20. Melinda Walker on December 11, 2008 at 8:25 AM

    >I so appreciate today’s post as well as Monday’s, which has been on my mind all week. I find it encouraging in a when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-get-going way.
    And I’m impressed with the spirit of cooperation among these agents who are, in a business sense, each other’s competition, but are willing to offer their thoughts for the good of the Christian publishing market.

    I’m blessed with many opportunities in my life to trust God’s plans and purposes, as are all of us. And it holds me in good stead as someone striving to break in. I do believe that traditional books will hold their own. I know so many people who love to read. Of course, it’s a passion of mine, but there’s nothing that compares with the entertainment value of books.

    Thanks for all the food for thought on your blog, Rachelle. It’s immensely helpful.

  21. Inspire on December 11, 2008 at 8:13 AM

    >I think as people tighten their belts, we may see more used book sales on Amazon and library check outs. I know from personal experience that libraries love authors. This is a marketing venue we should take into consideration. My local system has had me in for book talks, holiday events, a festival for the arts, and to meet with their book clubs. You may not sell a ton of copies all at once, but it adds up. And like Janet Grant said, readers want to connect with writers. Library events are a great way to do this.

    ‘Commit your works unto the Lord, and your thoughts shall be established.’ Proverbs 16:3

  22. Laurie Pace on December 11, 2008 at 7:48 AM

    >Agreement here on reading being number one. I think we will see more activity on Amazon and in bookstores and libraries. I do believe if educated correctly and campaigned correctly, the younger generations can learn what a delight a book is. Saves money on entertainment, electricity, and gas. Stay home, Read a book. Encourage family reading as well. I cringed when my daughter asked me if I wanted one of the new book readers where you read from a screen. I will be the hold out with the book in my hand, physically turning the pages and drinking in every word on the printed page.

  23. Karen on December 11, 2008 at 6:57 AM

    >Reading is also cheaper than going to the movies–although now with all the inexpensive ways to rent video, you can bring the movies home. Still, I think people’s reading habits will not change drastically and they’ll find a way to purchase a good book.

  24. Rachel on December 11, 2008 at 2:11 AM

    >Reading is cheaper than vacation! Hopefully, more people will develop an appetite for redemptive stories that honor the Lord when they find they can’t lean against the pitiful economy. Also, I tell my kids that “a little suffering lubricates the mind.” So maybe we will all step it up a notch as we wait.