These days whenever I meet an author for the first time, they’ve always met me before. Not the real me, but the versions of me which exist online. I suspect I’m taller than they expected.
It isn’t always comfortable or sensible to embrace the half version of ourselves that Twitter generates; indeed lots of great agents and editors are absent from the shadow publishing world which exists online. I used to be so wary of the hall of mirrors that is social media, I too chose to lurk silently rather than to show my face. But my authors live half their lives online now and I missed them and they me. And I understand that prospective clients want to be able to discover their agent or some trace of him or her on a Google search.
And so let’s make these online versions of ourselves as lifelike as possible. One of the things I love about the publishing industry is that everything we do is about people, and our everyday work is to have a conversation. There is nothing more human than the urge to tell and share stories. Every sales rep who pitches a book to a bookshop, every publicist who raves about a novel to a magazine, every editor who holds an author’s hand through an edit or writes a book blurb, every agent who draws a writer and a publisher together, is using their experience of humanity – of what we need, what we love – to keep the wheels of publishing turning and to ensure that good books are read. In my quest to become a better agent there is no doubt I’ve had to become better at being a fellow human being.
That’s the publishing story I think I’d like this blog to tell. Twitter is good for shout-outs, for chatter and for buzz. Instagram pictures paper my world. But the real work happens when two people get together on the phone or in a room and talk.
Agents are in a great position to survey the industry, because we work with all publishers, across multiple authors’ careers. We protect the individual author’s interest above all else but in order to do that, we’re working and thinking collaboratively with publishers about new technologies and the shifting retail environment. We don’t need to do all that behind closed doors.
There is no School of Agenting, no professional qualification to which an agent can aspire. We learn by watching, and listening to, the people around us. I’ll be writing about some of those experiences. Because, even when I am at my most nerdish about this industry, my author-centric take on publishing is about connection and conversation. It’s what I seem to have called Publishing for Humans.