Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

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September 28, 2013

Robert Mackwood at Word Vancouver: A literary agent’s take on publishing today

Today I was at a Word Vancouver talk by Robert Mackwood: A Literary Agent’s Take on Publishing Today, presented by the Canadian Authors Association. Robert Mackwood is the director and principal agent at Seventh Avenue Literary Agency. He works with non-fiction books.

Literary agents in Canada

There are only about twenty agents in Canada: five in Vancouver, one in Halifax, and the rest in Toronto. New York City probably has about 150.

Dealing with a literary agent

Robert gets about thirty to forty queries per week (about the same as ten years ago). He can see quite quickly whether he thinks the project is something he can sell. He charges 15%, and of course, only gets paid when he makes a deal. Most agents don’t have a lot of clients. He tries to keep his client list to under forty.

Write, don’t call.

What about the proposal? He didn’t get into too much detail about the format and nuts and bolts of the proposal. Just put together a short description of your project and yourself. Describe what you’ve done so far to promote your writing, and include the trail of yeses: writing contests, magazine articles, previous publications, and any other time someone said yes to your writing. What he doesn’t really like to hear: “I can finish the manuscript in three weeks.” “We’re going to make so much money on this!” “Oprah’s going to love this!” and, worst of all, “I’ve decided I’d like to be a writer!”

Should you self-publish?

Deciding on the best publishing route is too big a topic to go into here, but here are a few points:
Advantages to self-publishingAdvantages of conventional publishing
you keep all the profitsno up-front expenditures
you have total controlthe publisher does the marketing
it’s fastyou get the credibility of the publisher’s brand
 you benefit from the publisher’s professional expertise
If you self-publish, you have to be the publisher. Don’t rush, and make sure you get a good editor, designer, and printer. Robert estimated that you’ll have to spend at least a couple of thousand dollars to make a book that you’ll be proud of.

An important point is that a self-published book that gets decent sales and some good reviews may be picked up and re-published by a conventional publisher.

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