On May 2, 2009, the DFW Writers Conference (sponsored by the DFW Writers’ Workshop) hosted a Question and Answer Session with a panel of literary agents. Agents on the panel were Doris Booth, Sally Harding, Al Longden and Dr. Uwe Stender. The following are highlights from my notes during the session. It is by no means a complete transcription of the session but there were a number of interesting points brought up that indicated some of the focus of subsequent workshops. I’ve added a few of my own personal comments and observations.
Harding: YA (Young Adult) is over bought. She’s looking for classic epic fantasy with a fresh take for the U.S. and U.K. markets.
Stender: Selling non-fiction today requires “a big platform.” He went on to explain an author needs to be a celebrity, preferrably with his or her own show; a popular blogger; or have a degree from a major university to get his interest in a non-fiction manuscript.
[editorial note: Having an established “social network” or marketing network was mentioned frequently during the various workshops. One new soon-to-be-published author explained how he got a book contract from and outline and sample chapter based on building a Twitter following of over 2,000 people in less than 9 months. Of course, his non-fiction title is aimed at a niche market which is composed of the people who are following his tweets.]
Booth: She’s looking for “smart women’s fiction;” she pointed out that 40% of the fiction market is romance novels at the moment.
Longden: He’s looking for a “strong female protagonist” in the manuscripts he reads. He added, “Keep in mind that editors are usually 20+ females from Ivy League schools.”
When asked how long after an historic event was it likely to have a book published about it, Harding stated, “It seems to take 5-6 years after a major event, such as a war, before you see really good things coming out.” She also noted that even if someone were to write a book immediately after the event, it would take at least 1-2 years for the title to be on the bookshelves.
There was a lot of concern among the conference attendees and some of the panelist about Google’s clout. Doris Booth in particular is very involved in following the Google Booksearch settlement and Google’s efforts in indexing titles. There was considerable concern that in the future books will have to be in the Google Booksearch to be found by readers.
Booth no longer takes paper submissions. Several other panelist admitted they prefer digital submissions to paper.
Harding stated that “the question is not oftened asked ‘What do you think?’ People submit but don’t ask for feedback.”
Longden pointed out that “it’s everybodies job to screen you (the writer) out — agents, editors, first readers, marketing, etc.”
Stender advised that first books should be around 80,000 words, although Harding pointed out that while that was generally true, she did handle an exception recently that came in at nearly twice that length.
Booth pointed out that the number of electronic books sold has been increasing from a 119% increase in 2008 with over 17 million sold to a 170% increase so far in 2009. She is expecting a major shift to electronic books dominating the market in the next 2 years.
The good news was that there is a 7% increase in adults reading literature; the first big jump in 20 years recorded by the NEA. The biggest increase came in the 18-24 year old audience.