pubQ&A with Literary Agent Jeff Kleinman
Interview Cunducted By Maria Schneider
Jeff Kleinman is a literary agent with Folio Literary Management who represents both fiction and nonfiction authors.
I asked Jeff what he’d most like to see in his inbox right now: “I’d love to see a splendidly written novel with a premise that’s very cool, very original, and that I can talk about at lunch with an editor and have the editor say, ‘Wow, that sounds amazing!’ ” As for nonfiction: “An amazingly written, never-before-known story, probably with a historical and/or science twist, that changes how I think about whatever the events are surrounding the story.”
Here, Jeff answers five questions, including whether or not publishers are buying now and his predictions about what they might be looking for in the next few years.
So read on, and make sure you check out the announcement at the end of the interview about Jeff’s upcoming visit to the Editor Unleashed forum.
1. Are publishers actively buying or have acquisitions slowed down with the economy?
I wish I knew. Oddly, I managed to sell five books last week, and one of my business partners sold even more, but I think that was very much the exception to the rule. I think acquisitions are slowing down—I think editors will be even more exceedingly careful before they take a chance on a new, untried writer.
2. What should a writer look for in an agent. Is AAR membership a credential writers should be concerned with?
I think AAR membership is helpful, but not critical. In this kind of an economy, though, having an established agent, or an agent at a very reputable firm, seems more important than ever—the agent’s clout can help tip the balance, I think. AAR membership means at least the agent has sold a certain number of projects, and abides by their canon of ethics. That said, a lot of incredible agents don’t belong to the AAR, so that shouldn’t be the deciding factor if the agent is highly reputable and with a very solid client list.
3. Folio offers some services that aren’t typically available at agencies, like marketing and PR services. How does that work from the writer’s perspective?
The marketing and PR services are examples of two ways that Folio tries to support its authors. We realize that publishers are often overextended and underfunded: so if we can help support the publisher’s (and author’s) efforts, we want to do so. All of the services that Folio supplies are elective —some of our authors decide to use them; others don’t. Either way is fine by us—we want to at least make the tools available, and if the author decides not to avail herself of those tools, at least we can sleep at night, knowing that we tried.
4. Are there any acquisition trends you see on the near horizon?
• Escape stories. Stories that take us totally out of our world and into another. Maybe another Harry Potter? Certainly these types of alternative worlds seem a lot more palatable right now than the grim one we’re presently living in. But they don’t have to be Science Fiction and Fantasy. It can be any story that transports us into a worldview different than our own.
• Brand authors. Authors with established track records and an established fan base—these will be “safe” for the publishing house and bookstore.
• Happy subjects. I think a lot of misery memoirs, difficult situations, and post-apocalyptic disasters are going to be difficult. Anything that isn’t upbeat will be a struggle for even me to read.
• Inspirational stories. Books that celebrate some aspect of life, or inspire people to try harder and work more. This doesn’t mean really saccharine stuff—I think well-written, solid stories that inspire and charm are definitely what I’ll be on the lookout for.
5. How important is it for writers to be social networking, blogging, etc? Does having a strong blog readership influence your decision to accept a client?
I think anything that builds the author’s platform is incredibly helpful. Strong blog readership, or a dazzling writing style, is certainly very helpful. I’m working with a writer now, Quinn Cummings, who writes The QC Report, is an absolutely laugh-out-loud writer; I sold her memoir, Notes from the Underwire, on exclusive to Hyperion, and I’ve just seen the final manuscript and it’s unbelievably funny. Quinn has a following, certainly, but more important her writing style is just so wry and witty that the editor and I both fell head-over-heels for her.