Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Interview With Literary Agent John Campbell

1.      John, what are the rewards of being a literary agent today? Being a literary agent is a dream come true, regardless of the seismic shifts occurring at present with the digital revolution. Agents get to work at a desk in an office.....or on a bar stool in a tavern. Some of my most successful projects have come to me from total strangers whom I've met at Starbucks....or the Met! My ears and heart are always open to new authors; it's the talent that I care about, and whenever I hear fresh voices it's really like an afternoon at Coney Island.

2.      What do you look for in the authors and books that you agree to represent? I look for two things only: A talent and/or gift for writing strong narratives, and an educated mind that knows how to write complete sentences in correct grammar. Nothing is more of a turnoff than badly written prose (except maybe badly written poetry).

3.      Where do you see the book publishing industry heading? The book publishing industry is heading deliriously in its own direction, by which I mean: It is exploring new pathways without the need of any guidance or direction from publishers, editors, heads of houses, etc. We're enthralled at present with the digital world, but in five years we may already have grown beyond tablets in favor of a new, more thrilling technology that we've not yet heard of. The good news is that publishing will always be about telling stories, both in fiction and in nonfiction. And illustrated, coffee-table books will always have their place in people's homes as art objects in & of themselves, with little need to digitize them.

4.      Any advice for a struggling writer?  Struggling writers should get part-time jobs to pay the bills and should let their books write themselves, with little intervention from the writers. The most creative authors will tell you that the story jumps from their mind onto the page with almost no warning. It's the shaping, styling, and polishing that can be vexing. But the story must be present or the struggling writer will merely continue to struggle.

5.      Which genres do you see as having growth potential?  The largest growth potential in genres will mirror the largest growth potential in all of pop culture. Everything is evolving in the same direction, sometimes sooner or later than other creative forms. Lucrative categories into which I have always had great success include thrillers, superbly crafted narrative nonfiction, cookbooks, YA, and anything published by branded authors.

6.      What can publishers do to support their authors?  In the past, publishers played the role of police officer, grammar-school principal, and stern parent: They dictated what would be published and by whom. Today, publishers (especially the Big Six) are slower than they ought to be in adapting to lightning-fast changes in the business---not just with digital, but also with author-built web sites, internet marketing, and effective social-media publicity. It's not enough merely to list book titles and/or descriptions on Facebook, Twitter, Buzznet, or Xanga. The key is to use these sites as part of a much larger puzzle that unravels the mysteries and rewards of reading your book.

7.     How are publishers embracing technology? Publishers are embracing technology as sheep being driven out of the barn and into the field. The internet terrain is so vast that it frightens most publishers and they don't know how to "ride the wave" of the exciting new platforms available to them. They are reluctant to give up the old model of publishing (advance, tiny royalties, etc.) but they are smart enough to see that others are pulling ahead of them (e.g., Open Road) and that they need to school themselves quickly in order to survive. The Big Six publishers are doing as much as they can for their own houses---some more intelligently than others---and are trying to compete in a kind of trial-and-error manner. The top three publishers who are ahead of their competitors are Simon & Schuster, Random House, and HarperCollins. The most senior members of each management team must show the energy and drive to excel in today's marketplace and open their ears & eyes to contributions from entry-level editors, all the way up the ladder, since younger editors often have more experience and finer instincts about new technology than their senior bosses.

Amazon Downloads A Bookstore

Rumors swirl that Amazon will open its first store soon.  That could be a good idea for the industry, depending on its intentions.

Just the idea of the making a physical space is good, as it teaches them what it feels like to be a brick-and-mortar operation.  Further , it’ll be another bookstore that will promote the creation of a physical reading community.  But if all Amazon wants to do is sell Kindles and only promote its own line of books it will potentially hurt B&N and independents and that won’t help the industry so much.

Will they hold book signings and cultural events at these stores?  Will they push e-books over printed books?  Will they look to buy up other publishers or sign deals to create imprints for them?  Will they take over such a huge share of the book market that they’ll dictate everything, from price to author royalty terms?  So many questions, so few answers.

Interview With Fiction Author Luke Andreski  

  1. Luke, you have written fiction, short stories and poetry. How is writing in each of these forms a challenge to you? There is a commonality between most forms of creative writing. Whether you are writing novels, short stories, poetry, plays or even television scripts you are seeking to bridge the fundamentally unbridgeable space between your thoughts and those of others; to share understandings and perceptions; to stir within your fellow human beings emotions and feelings which you yourself have felt; to communicate new or re-worked ideas – yet never knowing for sure whether you are succeeding in your aims…

So, for me, every form of writing is a challenge. How successful will I be in externalising my subjective inner voice? How will this poem sound to you? What impression will this story make? What emotion will these words inspire? Will I engage my audience – or will my readers turn away in favour of an easier and more appealing voice?

When writing short stories my personal challenge is not to turn my stories into extended poems. I am infatuated with the articulation of the written word – the lovely sentence, the series of lovely sentences, the perfect paragraph – and then, when I am done with all this enjoyable word play, my story sometimes isn’t a story at all… just a painting in words.

There is an element of this in ‘Man of Iron, Man of Wood’ (http://www.lukeandreski.com/stories.aspx), which is peppered with paragraphs like this one:

He’s not metal now. Not stone. Not wood. He’s plastic now. His mind is laminated: polymer sheet. His eyes are gyroscopes, sensing spatial distortion, not light.”

Well, fine – I love the sound of the words, but do they successfully engage the reader in the story or do they leave him or her trailing far behind?

The biggest challenge for me when writing novels is the balancing act between characterisation and plot, between narrative and observation. My novel Swog is full of plot, but the characters are just for fun. Now We Are Green is full of philosophy and ideas but the plot takes a back seat. To The Bridge (www.tothebridge.info) is probably my most successful book, in having characters who come alive in a story that has some transformational impact and narrative thrust but this is also my shortest novel.

My long-term ambition is to write a novel that has the excitement of a thriller whilst retaining poetic resonance and psychological depth. Whether Green Messiah, my current project, will be able to achieve this, we have yet to see…

  1. What are some of the themes or topics you enjoy writing on? In my poetry I tend to write about powerful or even painful emotions. My collection Being Left Behind (www.beingleftbehind.com) is all about emotions of loss, loneliness and the sense of being abandoned. In ‘Orphan’ (http://soundcloud.com/luke-andreski) I write, “I was not ready to be orphaned / Not from the moment I was born / Not in my tenth year or my twentieth / Not in my thirtieth or my fortieth year”. In ‘Unpleasing/Displeased’ I write “I cannot please you / I see that now / What you thought was in me / What you thought was pleasing / Is all forgotten / Is long since gone”… My collection Speaking in a Monotone, meanwhile, veers in the direction of fear and rage…

While some of this carries through to my fiction (To The Bridge and Hunch deal in intense personal dilemmas; Now We Are Green ends with the story of how William Tarkovsky’s wife rebels against her husband’s religion; and a theme of incest is found in my work-in-progress Green Messiah) my more immediate interest is in exploring how we are to cope with and perhaps mitigate against the eco-apocalypse with which humanity may be faced. What theme, I wonder, could be more worthy of our urgent attention?

  1. What do you make of the book publishing industry these days? An interesting question… There can be little doubt that the world of hardcopy publishing is in a state of meltdown. This meltdown, with its multiple causes (superstar authors dominating a global market; share-owned publishers prioritising profit; eBook technology; the explosion in entertainment media) is nevertheless a wonderful opportunity for writers of all kinds. Authors of non-niche works, writers like myself who are not overtly commercial, poets for whom publishers barely exist, and academics who wish to access a small but significant global audience, are now in a position to seek out their readership without recourse to traditional publishers or distributors. eBooks are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of hardcopy publishing – and that is a rebirth in which I hope to participate!

  1. What do you like most about writing? I quite simply love writing. I love putting words together. I love putting paragraphs together. I love assembling the pages that make up a book.  I love everything about writing. I love the first creative flush as I unleash words upon the page, words that rampage one after the other in an overpowering need to portray and express. I love editing poetry or prose that on re-reading was not quite what I’d hoped but which perhaps, with another edit (or ten), may finally say the thing that needed saying. I love to work on the story line, the characterisation, the detailed descriptions within novels. I love sharing my writing with others. And I love to hear what other people think of what I’ve written.

  1. Any advice for struggling writers? Keep on writing. Keep trying to get better. Don’t obsess about getting published.  Let people know what you’re working on. Create your own outlets for your work (via the web/with local book groups/in local papers or magazines) – but make sure writing is just one strand of your life. Try to make a living doing something else…
Got more information, consult: http://lukeandreski.wordpress.com/

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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