With the almost daily news about signifcant changes to the publishing industry, we reached out to veteran literary agent Anne Edelstein for some perspective on how things have changed and what it means. Edelstein has been an independent agent for over twenty years. Some of her clients include Mark Epstein, Jody Shields, and Russell Shorto.
POETS & WRITERS: You spent time at Harold Ober Associates, a storied agency that represented F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, the estate of Langston Hughes, etc., and has a reputation of being steeped in the past, in an older way of doing things. Tell me about your earliest days there, and as an agent. What is the most remarkable difference between then and now?
ANNE EDELSTEIN: It was probably fifteen years ago that I worked briefly at Harold Ober, really only for the matter of a few months. Yes, it was even an old way of doing business back then. I remember bringing my own computer to the office in order to have one to work on. After having already spent a few years running my own agency, mostly representing writers who were starting out, rather than estates, my pace and organizational structure was very different from that of Ober. After a few months, I realized that I preferred my own approach, and went back to my own office where I could represent foreign rights directly, keep my own files and do the bookkeeping on a computerized system, which I immediately streamlined further.
P&W: The publishing industry is in a state of flux. For some, it's an exciting time, for others it's gloom and doom. Is right now the worst it's ever been? Or is the worst behind us? Are you hopeful? Wary?
AE: The business is indeed in a state of flux unlike ever before. There have always been phases of gloom and doom that seem to pass and then return. But this doesn't seem like a phase so much as a major shift of technology and sensibility.
P&W: In light of evolving publishing models, do you see new roles agents must play?
AE: Like many agents, I find myself working much harder on the development of manuscripts and proposals before allowing them out into the world, and encouraging authors to be more astute than ever about aspects of publicity and promotion, and of course dealing with authors' electronic backlist. The biggest issue is that authors need to be paid enough to allow them to continue what they do best, and therefore an openness to new venues of publishing and publicizing is essential. The bright side is that new opportunities should continue to unfold, and that people so far still seem to appreciate a good, well-written book.