With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with April Eberhardt
April Eberhardt is a self-described “literary change agent” and author advocate who founded her own agency to assist and advise authors as they navigate the increasingly complex world of publishing. Her agency specializes in building long-term strategies with authors, which often include a blend of traditional and independent (formerly known as “self-“) publishing. April works with serious authors who recognize the need for professional support, and the importance of publishing in the highest-quality way regardless of route. She holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing and a CPLF from the University of Paris. The agency’s website is www.aprileberhardt.com.
Is it tough to do both? Not at all—in fact, the two sides are complementary. Most of us have active, well-developed left and right brains, and the greatest satisfaction often lies in using both. I personally enjoy toggling between very cerebral tasks and more free-form ones. If one side of my brain gets tired, I exercise the other for awhile!
Do you feel you’re a better literary agent because of your background in marketing and business?
Yes, I do. Ultimately publishing is a business, and knowing how to run a business, and work within the structure of other business entities, is critical to success. The addition of marketing to the mix feels fortuitous – I enjoy the activities involved in that, and think I’ve developed some useful skills that help me help authors on many levels.
What do you see as the biggest upcoming trends in the publishing industry?
The single biggest trend I see is authors moving en masse to independent publishing very soon. While traditional publishing has served us well in the past, I don’t see Big Pub serving authors well now, either creatively or financially, nor do I think the big guys can change fast enough or evolve far enough to be competitive with what indie offers. Authors are feeling empowered to find their own road.
What trends are you seeing in the self-publishing world?
More authors are turning to self-publishing as a respectable choice, some in lieu of seeking traditional publication first. Second, very importantly, many are recognizing the need to enlist the help of experts in areas in which they (the authors) don’t have the skills, experience or patience. If you want a good book, you’ll likely need help in creating it. Focus on the things you’re good at and enjoy, and outsource the rest.
As an agent for change, are you still taking query letters from authors looking for a traditional agent?
Yes, I am –for some authors traditional publishing is their preferred route, at least as a first choice, and I’m eager to continue to serve that market. Plus it’s interesting to play in the legacy world to some extent, since there’s much to be learned from seeing how traditional publishing works, and from watching what it does (and doesn’t) do well. It informs what we need to be doing better in indie publishing.
What genres are you most interested in representing or working with?
I’m very focused on women’s book club fiction these days—loosely defined as books by, for and about women, suitable for thoughtful group discussion (preferably over a glass of wine.) I also am interested in YA crossover fiction, which enables mothers and daughters to read the same book and discuss weighty issues within it.
What is the best way for an author to approach you to discuss working with you?
Either come meet me at a conference at which I’m speaking, or email me. One of my favorite things is meeting new authors and hearing their stories!
Do you find that major publishers seem to be wary of signing new authors in these changing times?
Of course—it’s a big risk for them financially, especially since there’s no reliable means of predicting any particular book’s success. Paying an advance and putting money behind a book is essentially a bet, one that publishers are increasingly leery of, since they “earn out” on so few deals.
Is self-publishing becoming the preferred route versus traditional publishing? Why or why not?
For many enlightened and forward-thinking authors, indie publishing is becoming the preferred route. They see the writing on the wall—traditional publishing cannot and will not support them, financially or creatively, so in order to give their writing a chance to be discovered and thrive, they’ll need to do it themselves. Very excitingly, I see a robust indie publishing community building, which suggests that as indie authors support and help other indie authors, indie will become the “new normal.” Up with Indie– the new Plan A !
Could you name a couple of self-publishing successes and tell us what those authors did right?
Yes—Mary Driver Thiel, author of The World Undone, decided to self-publish, and enlisted the help of a team of us to do it right. The result is a beautiful, engaging book, one that we’re all proud to recommend. Another example is Jessica Levine, author of The Geometry of Love. Jessica chose to work with SheWrites Press, an assisted self-publishing entity that works exclusively with women authors. Jessica made a conscious choice to devote her time to writing rather than to learning the business of publishing, and after evaluating several alternate publishing models, she chose SheWrites Press as the best publishing partner for her. She has a gorgeous book in process.
Do you encourage authors to work with a professional editor before self-publishing, as a way of polishing their manuscript?
Always. If so, how do you recommend they find a qualified editor with the skills to help them make their book the best it can be? A referral is best—either from an agent, another publishing professional, or an author–someone who has seen the editor’s work firsthand and can recommend them.
The saying goes, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” yet authors are told to find fresh ways to tell their stories. How does an author bring an exciting new voice to topics such as divorce, loss, crime thrillers, or romance?
That’s always the magic question! I can’t tell you where authors find the exciting, utterly unique voices that emerge every so often, but that they do. In fact I just discovered a wonderful new writer this week, one with an astonishing voice, and signed her immediately!
Can you explain what agent-assisted self-publishing is and how it can benefit an author to work within that framework? What are the biggest mistakes you see self-published authors make?
The single biggest mistake I see indie authors making is trying to do it all themselves. As Holly Payne, author of indie-published Kingdom of Simplicity says, “Self-publishing is anything but self.” In virtually all cases, authors need a team to do it well. Poorly edited manuscripts, along with ill-designed covers, drag down the perception of self-published books. We need to work together to help all authors publish in the best possible way.
How much time should an author be devoting to “non-writing time” chores, such as social media, marketing, and research?
Well, first, I hope those don’t feel like chores to authors—I prefer to call them “alternate activities”! That said, I often work with authors to identify the entire panoply of writing-related activities they need to attend to. I call it the Publishing Pie. Then we figure out a schedule that enables them to devote slices of time to each activity so that there’s a balance. It’s important to build in some down time, too, of course, just to let things simmer.
What resources exist for self-published authors to find editors, book cover designers, page layout professionals, etc.?
Again, referrals from industry insiders and other authors are best. There’s a staggering number of self-publishing services organizations out there, some high-quality and others not so much. If in doubt, ask for references. I’m hopeful that a few strong contenders will emerge that authors will be able to turn to for reliable, high-quality and affordable services.
Do you have any agented projects coming out soon that we should be on the lookout for?
Yes, in fact two very different books by authors I represent are due out in the next week—the first, Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel, is the story of a girl growing up on an Indian tea plantation in the 1940s. It has received enormous advance acclaim and we and its publisher, Mira, have high hopes for it! Close on the heels of that, A Medical Affair by Anne McCarthy Strauss will hit the shelves. Published by Booktrope, a new-model partner publisher, it’s the story of a young woman who falls into an affair with her physician, with serious psychological results. Endorsed by industry experts, including a prominent doctor who helped draft AMA legislation addressing this frequent but little-discussed phenomenon, it’s a real revelation of a book, both from a content perspective and because of its publication by a remarkable team publishing entity. I hope your readers will buy, read and enjoy both!
Thanks so much for interviewing with us, April!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is an English/Marketing major at Whitworth University. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.