Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Literary Agent Mitchell Waters, FDU Graduate, Talks About Publishing


Even though I've gone digital in almost every area of my life, there are two magazines I still read in hard copy: Architectural Digest and my university alumni magazine. You can't get a real feeling for the photos in AD unless you read them in print and my brother is one of their biggest advertisers. And reading my alumni magazine takes me back to great memories when life was simpler for all of us. I'm not ready to go digital there yet.

I never know what I'm going to see in the alumni magazine. But I always find something that connects me back to my days on the Florham Madison Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. This time, in the most recent issue, I read a piece about two people who graduated about ten years before me. One is Curtis Brown literary agent, Mitchell Waters, and the other is an author, Jon Reiner, who wrote The Man who Couldn't Eat. The book title caught my eye first. I'm going to read it because it looks interesting and I like to support fellow alumni. And then I read that his agent, Mitchell Waters, also went to the Florham Madison Campus at FDU.

I didn't know either of them personally, but they both were in the English department and Theater department, which tends to be a closely knit group. I majored in English and spent most of my free time in the Theater department. I'm sure we know the same people (profs at private universities never leave), especially Harvey Flaxman who will always be infamous for this Hollywood classic. I took a fascinating history of film course with Flaxman once and loved every minute of it.

I was curious and did a quick search about both Reiner and Waters. And I found a great interview that agent Mitchell Waters did where he talks about various aspects of publishing and how it's changing. The other day I wrote about about Joe Konrath and he had some pretty harsh words for agents and publishers. I agree with him to a certain extent, but Konrath's big pushy Internet mouth turns me off sometimes. So today I'd like to balance that post with this wonderful interview by Lit Agent, Mitchell Waters. Speaking from my own experience, as an author who is always on guard with publishers because he doesn't have an agent, I firmly believe authors will need agents in the future more than they ever have. Even authors published by small digital presses will need agents. And that's because ALL publishers think in terms of their own best interests, which isn't always in the best interest of the author.

Here's one question from the interview, with Dell Smith. And you can read more here.
I highly recommend reading it in full.

BTM: How has the publishing industry changed since you started working as an agent?

MW: Everything is harder. Somehow I manage to continue to be surprised at how hard it is for editors to acquire books they love. The amount of support they have to gather from amongst their colleagues is daunting and discouraging. An editor can get support from fellow editors, established editors who are legends in their fields, publicity and marketing, and still not be able to convince the publisher to take something on. Of course, that makes our job more frustrating and challenging, but I certainly don’t envy the acquiring editors.

There is a greater divide between the haves and have-nots, which new technology goes some way to ameliorate, but it remains a fact. On the fiction side, there is an intense pressure to be high-concept and/or try one’s hand at a commercial genre. In certain kinds of non-fiction, you seem to need to be a celebrity, or at least have a significant television or Internet presence. While it still helps to be an expert in a field who has an interesting idea, these other factors appear to carry more weight than ever.

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