The book publishing industry has always fascinated me. So, when I happen to run across Jessica Faust‘s writing at the BookEnds LLC‘s blog, I decided to contact her for an email interview. As detailed at the site: “BookEnds, LLC, is a literary agency cofounded by Jessica Faust and Jacky Sach. Originally started in 1999 as a book packaging company, BookEnds now operates primarily as a literary agency focusing on fiction and nonfiction books for adult audiences.
As a literary agent and cofounder of BookEnds, LLC, Jessica Faust prides herself on working closely with her authors to make their goals come to fruition. Her areas of expertise include historical, contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, and erotic romance, urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mysteries, suspense, and thrillers. In nonfiction, Jessica specializes in current affairs, business, finance, career, parenting, psychology, women’s issues, self-help, health, sex, and general nonfiction. While open to anything, Jessica is most actively seeking unique fiction with a strong hook, and nonfiction with creative ideas and large author platforms.“
My thanks to Faust for sharing her take on the publishing world. (And my apologies to her for using the term “trashy novels” in that one question–it won’t happen again, I promise!)
Tim O’Shea: You’ve been in the publishing industry since the mid-1990s and have a great perspective on how the Internet has helped redefine your industry. First off, have you seen an increase in submissions from people that think they should be published (and have no chance) or has the rate and quality of unpublishable manuscripts stayed about the same in your experience?
Jessica Faust: I think there is a huge change. Granted what an agent sees is different from what editors see, but with the Internet and computers it is so much easier for everyone to write a book. When I started in publishing in 1994 typewriters were still the norm. Computers were new and many within the industry still didn’t one at their desks and certainly few had Internet access or email accounts. Now anyone can throw words on the page and easily find information on who to submit to. So yes, I see a huge amount of material from people who probably should not be considering publication. From an agent’s perspective though I think it can also make our lives a lot easier. We now email all our submissions to editors and can easily update them on anything that’s happening to those submissions.
O’Shea: Also, in terms of the changes in the publishing industry–thanks to technology/Internet/eBooks and the like–what have you viewed to be the most distinctive changes in the industry–for the better and for the worse?
Faust: Honestly, other then the ease of submissions, I’m not sure publishing has taken advantage of technology as much as they should to make distinctive changes. At this point a number of publishers still do the bulk of their editing on paper and while that’s actively changing now, it’s amazing to me that it has taken so long to make those changes.The same holds true for submitting manuscripts and proposals. Up until 2008 most of the submissions I was making were still paper via US mail. Now thank goodness, many publishers are supplying their editors with ereaders to make submissions easier to send via email.
O’Shea: As an agent for works of both fiction and non-fiction, have you ever had a writer who wanted to write fiction that you successfully convinced they should pursue non-fiction (or vice versa)?
Faust: I’m not sure I have ever convinced an author to switch from fiction to nonfiction or vice versa. I find that typically nonfiction authors want to write fiction later in their careers and rarely have I encouraged it. Writing a book successfully does not mean you can simply write any book.
O’Shea: Looking at your bio, I’m intrigued by the term “urban fantasy”. According to some sources (the always questionable Wikipedia, for example), the term applies to work as far back as from the 1920s, but really became popular in the 1980s. When did you first become aware of urban fantasy writers and how did it become an area of interest for BookEnds?
Faust: While I don’t think I used the term until recently, I first became aware of what’s now called Urban Fantasy back in my early days of publishing in the early 1990’s when I was introduced to Laurel K Hamilton. As you might know, I didn’t add Urban Fantasy to my area of interest until very recently and primarily that came about because I received a submission that I absolutely fell in love with and offered to represent. Well I wasn’t alone since the author had a number of terrific agents vying for her business. In the end she chose to go with someone else, but since her book was a cross between Fantasy and Romance (and while sold as a romance, eventually published as fantasy) I realized I was missing out on a whole segment of the market by not asking for fantasy and urban fantasy submissions. I’m also reading a lot more urban fantasy now then I ever did which just goes to show how an agent’s tastes, like those of a reader, can change. The irony of all of this is that I was actually the assistant to a SF/Fantasy editor for years. It just took me this long to catch up.
O’Shea: Do you continue to teach at New York University’s Continuing Education Program? Have you ever represented someone that you taught?
Faust: I will actually be starting my first class in the Spring 2009 semester. I’m really looking forward to the challenge of teaching and yes, I’m always hoping to find some fresh new talent.
O’Shea: Do you think the BookEnds blog helps to dispel some aspiring writers’ delusions of grandeur?
Faust: Well I might put it more kindly, but I hope so. What I really hope though is that it helps dispel the myths of publishing. There is so much misinformation out there that my goal is really to give people an inside peek behind closed doors and hopefully teach people to relax and write great books.
O’Shea: As a writer and agent, when you first started writing for blogs–did you find yourself revising posts too much (upon reflection)? Or is it actually that looking back at your early posts you wished you had revised some pieces more?
Faust: I think that for me I always wish I had revised more, in interviews and in blogs. I don’t have a lot of time for either so in most cases I shoot out what first comes to mind so that I can move on to my next pressing project.
O’Shea: A number of BookEnds’ clients also have blogs, do you think an author that effectively maintains a blog helps market his or her work through it? Do you ever see a situation where an author’s opinion on a blog might negatively impact potential new readership?
Faust: Honestly, I’m not sure. I think with nonfiction it can definitely be a help. Readers regularly seeking advice from a nonfiction blog, might follow-up by buying a book. Fiction however is a very different story. Do readers go to the blog first and then buy the book or are the blog readers fans who go to the blog for more on the author? I think one of the more effective marketing tools is guest blogging. While readers might not regularly visit your blog, they might have other blogs they are regular visitors to and reading a guest post from you might get you a few new readers.
I think that if done well, and if you have the time and energy to do it, a blog can’t hurt. However I think your second question is a good point. If an author isn’t conscious of her brand and expresses unfavorable views on the blog or, for example becomes too political, I do think that could have a negative impact on sales. Like any good brand CEO you need to be conscious of how you express yourself when in public.
O’Shea: At what point do you think the term “trashy novels” went from being a derisive term to a term of endearment/positive? Or has it always been positive in most publishing circles?
Faust: I’m not sure it’s an endearment or positive now, at least to me it never is. I have a personal resentment toward the term I guess because the people I hear use most often use it in a derogatory manor. To me it’s like calling a woman a “chick”, people might do it, but that doesn’t make it right. I’ve never heard a publishing professional, an agent or editor, use the term “trashy novel.”
O’Shea: Has there ever been a genre of fiction that BookEnds represented, that overtime you realized you could not stand to work in that genre anymore?
Faust: LOL. No, I haven’t dumped any genres and don’t see myself doing so anytime soon. If there are genres that we at one time represented and now don’t it’s usually because of the difficulties of that genre and not because we couldn’t stand to read it anymore. Typically it’s been a genre that we didn’t feel we had a handle on or found too difficult to sell. Horror is a good example. Both Jacky and Kim represented horror early on, but realized that it’s so difficult to find a publisher interested in the genre that they have moved away from it.
O’Shea: Do you think reading for a living makes the time you read for fun even more enjoyable, or do you even make distinctions like that (work reading versus reading for fun)?
Faust: I love to read and anytime I can read without having to critique or think about the book it’s pleasure reading for me. That being said, it’s rare that I read any book without turning on my business side at one point or another. It doesn’t mean I enjoy the book less, it just means that every book I read is always going to be a little bit of research. My one regret though is that I don’t have the time to just sit and read like I used to. I’ll get it back eventually though.
O’Shea: In a recent post, you wrote: “Downtime is important for our mental health and for our personal lives, but it’s equally important to our careers, so if you were planning on working all weekend, don’t. Let’s all promise ourselves to take a little time off and simply enjoy the day.” How often do you have a client who has written themselves into a corner, or are struggling in some way at the keyboard–and you’ve had to offer them that advice?
Faust: I would say I offer that advice to at least one or two clients a year. Sometimes we just need to step away to gain perspective. I think it happens to all writers. You focus on a book or an idea so much that you stop seeing it, you stop seeing what’s working or not working. Many times I will tell a writer to just send me the book, send it to me and take a break.
O’Shea: Rather than asking you to single out favorite works of your clients (unless you’re comfortable doing that)–what books do you think will create a lot of buzz (from your clients) in 2009?
Faust: I’m really looking forward to the release of Sharon Page’s The Club, her first work of historical romance and Bella Andre’s Wild Heat, her first work of romantic suspense. Both authors come from erotic romance backgrounds and in many ways these are going to be breakout books for them.
O’Shea: You tackled the economy and its impact on publishing in a recent post: “In plain English, it’s going to get a whole heck of a lot harder to get and stay published. Agents are going to take fewer chances. We’ll only be looking at authors who we feel are an almost sure thing and we’ll be carefully watching the careers of our clients, prepared to make quick adjustments as necessary.” I’m curious, how many economic downturns have you endured as an agent. In a way, I think that would be a heck of an ego boost–to be one of those agents that can say: “I’ve weathered a few of these.”
Faust: Fortunately this is my first. BookEnds opened our doors in 1999 and times have been fairly stable until now. I have to say though that I’m not overly concerned. We have an incredibly strong list of talented and successful authors.