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Interview with Jane Dystel

Jane Dystel, of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, talks to us about her views on the changing publishing industry - and what the rise and rise of self-publishing means for literary agents.

Firstly, can you tell us more about your job (what you tend to do on a day-to-day basis etc) and your agency?

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management has been in business since 1994. We are a medium sized agency with eight agents and three in support. We represent books in all categories although we don’t encourage collections of fiction, non-fiction or poetry. We also actively sell our books to TV/film, most of the time working with co-agents. We have a digital publishing division where we help several of our clients self-publish their work. Our website includes our client list and much more information about the agency.

The publishing industry is changing dramatically. In what ways has this affected you as an agent? Do you feel the changes are positive ones?

I have found the last several years both exhilarating and challenging. But I absolutely love challenges and so our business has responded well to the changes in publishing. The bad news is that in general, advances are down and pay outs are broken up more than they have been in the past so that it takes longer for the author to be paid his or her full advance. And, because there are fewer books being bought, selling is more difficult. Still, we as an agency place around 150 books annually and that number has remained consistent for the past several years. The major change in my business is that I now represent several indie authors, the self-published authors you refer to below. That has allowed me to do something I have longed to do for years and that is to represent a lot more fiction. In addition, I have learned an enormous amount from these indie published writers and met some really terrific people to boot.

And yes, I think these changes are positive ones as I strongly believe the influx of the indie published books has increased reading - and anything that increases reading is good for our business.

You represent several successful self-published authors; why did you first start seriously considering taking on writers who were already self-published?

That’s easy. I saw that these authors were super savvy about marketing and that they had large, sometimes huge fan bases. I decided to reach out to see if I could help them to expand their followings in any way.

Can you explain a little more about the actual process of taking on a self-published author?

Because these writers are already published, I initially offer them our services to sell British and translation, audio and movie rights and if they decide that they would like to approach a domestic traditional publisher; they then agree that they will use us to help them do this. Sometimes all we end up doing is the subsidiary rights, which can be lucrative depending upon how many of these we can place; often we then go on to sell these books to traditional U.S. publishers.

Do you still receive most of your submissions the traditional way (email or snail mail queries)?

I certainly receive many of my submissions this way, but I also receive recommendations from others – either clients or other people in the industry. And because my goal is to work with each author on all of their future work, many of my projects are second, third and fourth books by current clients. 

Who would you say is more wary – the publishing house of the indie author or the indie author of the publishing house?

I believe the indie author is more wary of the publishing house simply because they have heard nightmare stories from friends and colleagues (most of whom haven’t, in my opinion, had adequate representation). Once the client is signed with a publisher, I think both parties learn a great deal from each other. My job is to make that process easier. 

Is this changing at all?

Not yet, although as time goes on and publishers learn more about how to market these books successfully, I hope it will.

What do you look for when considering taking on a self-published author?

I look first and foremost for good writing and a good story. I am also interested in the author’s current sales track which is very important and then to what they are planning to do in the future. 

Is there a self-published author you’ve represented recently where you’ve been particularly proud of the result of your partnership?

Actually there are many. I am proud to say that I represent some of the best in the business.

Is there a specific type of self-published book or genre that you feel tends to do particularly well?

Contemporary women’s romance; erotica, young/adult and new adult are all categories that are doing very well.

Or, for that matter, is there something that authors do themselves (aside from their actual book) that increases their chances of success when going down the self-publishing route?

Networking is critically important to this group of authors as it is very creative marketing they do. Getting well reviewed and on the important, influential blogs is also essential.

Can you see the self-publishing industry continuing to grow?

I absolutely can. As more writers see the opportunities and advantages, they will enter this market. The question is whether the publishing of these books by traditional publishers will be successful and help the indie authors expand their markets.

What are your predictions for the future of the bestseller lists?

Bestseller lists are predicated on sales and as more and more self-published books sell more and more copies, the lists will be filled with them. This doesn’t mean traditionally published authors will fall off if they and their publishers learn from the indie authors the different and very effective ways of marketing in this new, exciting digital world.

Is there any advice you can give to authors thinking of self-publishing their work?

Yes, they need to study what their peers are doing, network even before they self-publish to learn what works and what doesn’t and most importantly, they need to concentrate on their craft and look to write books that have original and creative plotlines and characters the readers like and can relate to. They need to be prepared to work hard on their promotion and marketing – the life of the indie published author isn’t easy, especially at the beginning. Most importantly, they should never give up. If they do all of these things though, they have a very good shot at being successful.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our series on self-publishing author interviews - including Hugh Howey, Paige Weaver and Mel Sharratt.