Authors Among Us: The Problem Writ Larger

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The London-based literary agent Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown on Friday posted An Agent’s Manifesto at TheBookseller site in the UK.

From his post:

We publishing professionals are the ones who bear the risk—agents with time; publishers with investment; retailers with space. Authors risk only their whole life, self-esteem and their babies.

In addition to work with clients including John le Carré and Nelson Mandela, Geller is the agent handling the Fleming estate’s new deal with Vintage for the James Bond titles across all platforms, including digital — ahead of a new Daniel Craig Bond film, Skyfall, for an October-UK/November-USA release.

More from his post:

The author is the expert. Why assume that the one person who has spent the past 12-18 months on the subject, the story and the world of their work, knows least about how they should be represented to the trade and to the reader?

What makes this “manifesto” from Geller such a signal post, of course, is that it comes from someone deep in the “publishing core,” as I called it in my own recent piece on the subject of author-publishing relations here at DBW: Open Sorcery: Letting the Authors In.

The author loves bookshops. Bookshops need to learn how to love authors again. We need to bring them back together.

When I moved my own post on the last day of February, I heard from one gracious publisher, a private communication of real concern and agreement. The message was honest. It also proved unique. Geller again:

Authors who are valued, understood, appreciated, included, nurtured and spoken to like an adult will experience a phenomenon called Trust. Trust breeds loyalty; loyalty means longevity; longevity means sales.

Update: Since publishing this write, I’ve heard from several genuinely worried folks in the industry (thank you) — although again in private comments. This is fine, of course, I’m glad to hear even from someone who feels he or she needs to stay off the record.

But eventually, we need to find the ways to speak openly, as Geller is doing. His call for dialog about overall publisher-author relations (both real and perceived) isn’t an opportunity to miss. Why does the subject seem to send folks staring at their shoes, checking their watches? … good heavens, look at the time.

Yes, look at the time. Look at the times. Can you hum “they are a-changin'”?

It feels like a perfect storm is brewing; publishers battening down the hatches, retailers at war with one another, e-tailers deactivating “buy” buttons as if it’s a game of Call of Duty. One person has been forgotten in this unholy maelstrom: the author.

Here’s what to know and do:

  1. When an industry figure of Geller’s cut comes to the center of the room with this self-styled manifesto? The message has escalated.
  2. Read Geller’s piece. I’m just the messenger here, and no, you haven’t heard it all before. Not in the sunlight.
  3. Respond. If you’re in the industry, we need your input.

As Geller puts it with characteristic finesse: “I’m sure none of the above applies to you, but if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, do pass it on.”

The book industry needs to listen to authors and readers more so we can win back the argument that publishing is filled with skilled professionals seeking excellence in their fields, determined to publish works of commercial and cultural significance.


Graffiti image via Shutterstock

One thought on “Authors Among Us: The Problem Writ Larger

  1. Victoria Noe

    Wow, Porter, just…wow…I think I’m in love with Jonny Geller. 🙂
    Seriously, he hit every point with such passion and reason that I have nothing to add – other than to hope he’s not the only one out there who feels this way.



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