Q&A:
BIZZ BUZZ

A discussion about the publishing industry.

A PROFILE OF
a Manhattan Literary Agent

Katharine
Sands

In this exclusive interview, we ask Katharine Sands about her philosophy as an agent and her recommendations for authors. She tells us what makes an author successful and, moreover, successfully published in today's fast-paced business sector. She also gives us the scoop on her soon-to-be-published book about the craft of the Pitch.

Let writers understand
the business of writing.

In examining what a writer encounters, she says, "Writing is solitary, but publishing is collaborative. Writing commercially has probably been a bane to writers since Pliny plied the trade, but, the truth is, today writers could have the universal wisdom of Frank McCourt, the magical imagination of J.K. Rowling, the perfect economy of Hemingway and the ageless brilliance of whoever really wrote Shakespeare, and they still need to pitch, query and propose before they can be published."

Finishing a book, while difficult, opens up the next critical segment of the
publishing journey.

Katharine Sands understands this--more than most agents--and while a significant portion of her time is spent representing writers, she is unusually generous with her time. She assists writers' careers by conducting seminars filled with insider tips.

Insider Tips.
Sonar that guides new writers.

She presents information: candid, correct, elusive. She tells writers what they may not have heard in a way they are, perhaps, not used
to hearing.

 

"Writers need to come out of their heads and into the world of
business practices."

In a recent newsletter about the writing craft from the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc.) the headline stated "Guerrilla Marketing: Making Writing Pay Better" and the first paragraph states:
"Sometimes I feel that writers intentionally make an effort to fail as business people."

It is a business. A creative business, nonetheless. Does the right-brain work always need to renounce the left-brain causes and requirements? Are the two concepts so split? Katharine Sands believes the split can be healed.

Challenges for emerging authors:
The Great Disconnect
"I love the opportunity to heal the publishing disconnect between writers and the industry." When working with writers, Katharine is quick to point out the process, the methodology of publishing, to allow writers to understand the mechanics.

If a writer is lucky enough to participate in workshops taught by Katharine Sands, that writer discovers a strategic and well-planned process. It's the important process of publishing.

In classes that she teaches throughout the Atlantic Coast (Washington, D.C., upstate New York, across the country at major workshops and conferences) she provides information on a variety of topics. Popular seminars include Practicing PitchCraft, First Writes, How to Succeed as a New Writer, Copyright: To © or Not to © and she teaches a systematic method for getting an agent to discover the writer.

A course she has taught for the Boston Center for Adult Education includes these publishing topics:

  • The benefits of being a new author
  • Common mistakes and how to avoid them
  • Ways to face your creative challenges
  • The best ways of selling wordsmithery to publishers
  • Expert advice on what would really make them want to publish you

If you ask her, she will tell you to do whatever it takes to get read by an agent, or by an editor. And she will also tell you to obtain the Golden Word. The word REQUESTED. "If you have been brave enough to call, or if anyone you meet at a conference says 'send it' then you have the right to use that Golden Word, to put Requested on the manuscript." Katharine emphasizes the word again. "Requested," she comments, "it's that word separates you from the other manuscripts-the slush piles sent by the guys from prison and the ones who think they are The Messiah, and who're looking for an agent."

As for finding an agent, she disregards the maxim of looking for representation from someone who has succeeded in your specific category. . Why not? Pitch to whom then? Although it is a valid concept, because often, and predictably, like does beget like, Katharine Sands has an interesting hypothesis, "You can't target properly that way because the Chaos theory is in play." She illustrates the idea with this thought. If a science fiction author sends the book to an existing agent-one who is well known for representing science fiction-how does that author know if the agent is over-stocked in the category, or even worse, reaching a burnout phase.

Her point is not to overlook any avenue, any agent. Even if a written description of the agency states it only accepts non-fiction, a new agent who just joined the agency may focus on a completely different category than the one that is listed. Attitudes change. People change.

Trends reverse themselves.
The tides in publishing are well known, and what may wash up from the sea this week could be thought of as flotsam, yet the following week the same book would be considered a treasure from the deep.

Contemporary publishing is a business, no longer an altruistic federation of Maxwell Perkins types from the Hemingway and Fitzgerald era. As with any business, new replaces old, old becomes new again. She believes in talent--and that there is always a place for talent--and there will be an editor who will recognize that talent. "I became and agent quite by accident, and I now find that I love the excitement of authors-to-be, and of new books and ideas." And she tries to make people aware that "changes in publishing are not always listed in the directories."

Walking across The Platform into the spotlight.
Katharine analyzes contemporary publishing trends. Current situations resulting from mega-mergers and the conglomerate atmosphere create instances in which a truly gifted but perhaps not mainstream blockbuster book may be overlooked. A publishing concept-the insider term is platform--emerged recently, in which publishers look for writers who have an outlet for their credentials, for publicity, in an area other than the book they've just written.

"A platform, in publishing, is considered to be the proactive way in which authors appear in their own non-writing world, in business, in their connections to their community, if they have a Web site, a newsletter, a platform to greater visibility."

This concept of "platform" is separate from another buzzword-the designation synergy -which has to do more with layered licensing, multiple channels for a book, and the book's marketing concepts. Platform is a concept that links directly to the author's ability to self-promote, to distinguish themselves from existing crowds of authors. It's publishing's new tool and one that seems to add another mystifying stratum to isolate the writer from a goal of getting published. Fully aware of this disconnection, Katharine writes about it, teaches about it, and tries to narrow the great divide.

In another workshop titled, How to Write a Best Seller, she lectures on key components: how best-seller potential is evaluated by publishers, how to enhance your chances for (writing) a best-selling book, and how to write a proposal that will produce results.

For most writers, the last topic (along with writing the synopsis) are the most harrowing and intimidating.

Many authors realize their book is good, but taking it to the next level, describing Why-It-Is-Good, in synopsis form or within a well-crafted proposal-it's often the most daunting task for them.

The dreaded proposal. This procedural point (or lack of) lengthens and enlarges the Great Disconnect. But, it's why Katharine teaches the finer points of this phase in her pre-publishing workshops. It's vital to the success of an author.

In her career, she has represented authors of fiction, non-fiction, and niche books that have become wildly successful. One of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency's publishing victories includes a book by Jocelyn Fujii, "Under the Hula Moon," which when originally published by Crown was selling at standard pricing for a category book. Now, if you can find it, it will cost more than $375.00 in the secondary marketplace. (Amazon lists used copies of "Under the Hula Moon" at $375.00 median price as of May 2002). The unfortunate part of this "secondary market" success is that the author does not reap the benefit from the sale. That's another topic for another time.

What is timely is Katharine Sand's ability to recognize emerging trends in the publishing industry, to keep a watchful eye for new talent, and to provide the guidance-the innate sonar-to bring creative products to into the spotlight. Currently, she brings all this knowledge and experience into a book that, when finished, will provide any author's creative force a stairway to getting published.

In an excerpt from her forthcoming book on how to pitch, she provides her mission statement for new writers:

"Few writers know how to pitch. Showcasing the art and craft of pitching, this book is needed for those who would succeed in leading the writing life. Here novice and experienced writers develop the pitching skills that are now crucial to the business of writing."

For many authors, learning the art of the pitch is difficult. The hands-on guide to the nitty-gritty of crafting a pitch takes reluctant writers by the hand, modifies the fear by giving details, and de-mystifies the entire process of contacting agents, editors, and working with all the human sprockets in major publishing houses who "make the deal work" and without whom no book will ever be published.

To summarize, if a writer is not aware that publishing houses contain individuals beyond the editors' offices, e.g., marketing, distribution, sales, not to mention senior executives and being awash in corporate shareholders whose only raison d'Ítre is the all-holy bottom line, then that writer needs a savvy agent in the form of Katharine Sands to part the sea.


Katharine Sands, like most writers, responds to the demands of her creative muse. Requests for more information in the form of a book-from students who have participated in her seminars-and others-will soon be answered. A compilation of material taught in her classes, added to current material she writes this spring, appears this year. Writer's Digest Books will publish her new book, based upon her PitchCraft workshops. A working title, which may change, is PitchCraft. Contact Writer's Digest for more information. For more information about Katharine Sands, link to this Word Smitten page: www.wordsmitten.com/agencylist.html where you'll find a list of book titles.

For details about the publishing date contact, Donya Dickerson, Editor through e-mail: donya.dickerson@fwpubs.com for release dates.

 

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