Friday, June 26, 2009

Paige Wheeler on What's Happening in Publishing

ROBERTA: Today Jungle Red Writers is delighted to welcome literary agent Paige Wheeler, a partner in Folio Literary Management. I was lucky to sign on with Paige almost ten years ago, and since then she’s sold eight of my mysteries, five in the golf lover’s mystery series and three advice column mysteries.

Paige, if you don’t mind, let’s start with the big question on all of our minds. What do you see happening in the publishing business right now?

PAIGE: It's been a crazy year. Due to the economy, we saw a number of publishers tighten their belts in October and December of 08 and again in the early part of 09. The belt tightening included some layoffs, book cancellations, decreased advances, as well as a few publishers going out of business--Arcade being the most recent. That said, I can say after so many years in the business that the only constant seems to be change. So, it's imperative to be able to adapt to the shifting publishing landscape. Editors are still buying, but I have seen promotion budgets shrink tremendously and some editors have been avoiding making risky buying decisions.

ROBERTA: What tips do you have for authors to adjust to changes in the climate, both newcomers and writers who’ve been around the block a few times?

PAIGE: I'd say you have to be adaptable to change. Even long term, it's vital that an author be able to roll with the punches. Ultimately, it's about perseverence and patience, for both newcomers and established writers. Thinking out of the box in terms of marketing is also helpful. With the shrinking promotional budgets, authors are more and more responsible for getting the word out about their upcoming book. For newcomers, I think the ability to write a terrific, commercially viable novel is still key. That hasn't changed at all.

ROBERTA: You moved from being a solo agent in New York City to a multi-agent business. Tell us a little about Folio and what you do differently from other agencies?

PAIGE: I formed FOLIO with the intention of really being a full service agency. Although our core business is selling books, we really try to manage and author's intellectual property-and grow his/her career. To that end, we've had Kate Travers on board--she's our marketing director. She provides guidance to our authors about marketing their upcoming titles. We've had a speakers bureau that we've been trying to build, but that's on hold for the moment as we reconfigure the structure of the department. We also have a terrific foreign rights department, headed up by Celeste Fine, as well as an association with a major licensing company. And, of course, we have ties to major Hollywood film agents. Ultimately, I think we are really trying to be proactive in building an author's career.

ROBERTA: Before we open the floor to questions, what kind of book or proposal might come across your desk today that would really excite you?

PAIGE: I'm looking for fresh ideas driven by a powerful voice. It's that simple. As most of you know, I handle commercial and upscale fiction as well as narrative and prescriptive nonfiction. The writing should be strong and vibrant, I like to be transported by the story and unable to put it down. If I read well into the night, it's a good sign. I'm often surprised at how I respond to material. I recently read a gripping submission of historical fiction (1700s) that I couldn't put down. Another project was a contemporary piece that was lively and fun. Since I read so much, I really want the story to stick with me days and even weeks later.

ROBERTA: Thanks so much for your visit! Questions anyone?


  1. Hey Paige!
    Great to see you here...

    When you get a quickly can you tell if it's wonderful? (In judging various contests, I've decided--although I read the whole thing--that you can often tell almost immediately. Of course--it may not hold up..but often it does.)

    What do you think?

  2. Welcome, Paige.

    The buzz is that series mysteries are not doing well in this economy.
    I would have thought the opposite--that people want to stick to the tried and true old friends during stressful times. And my numbers are healthy. What do you think?

  3. Hi Paige. I do a lot of editing for authors. Quite a few are with small presses - I can tell which ones are going to be successful by how they get out there and do marketing. They put themselves out on the web, set up speaking engagements, travel to stores and make appearances, teach classes, etc. They put in a lot of work, and still find time to continue writing the next book.

    Straight From Hel

  4. Thanks. I seem to have started reading a few new series mysteries recently. But that's just me, not a trend. Enjoyed the interview, and appreciated the answers.

  5. Hi Hank-

    Thanks so much for the warm welcome. In general, I can tell pretty quickly if the writing is decent. I ask for the first 5 pages of text just to gauge the author's writing style. If I'm intrigued, then I ask for more material. Good question!

  6. Hi Rhys-

    Thanks for the welcome. I'm so pleased to hear that your numbers are healthy. The majority of my clients are doing well--however, some of them have had a decrease in their numbers due to the Anderson debacle. Also, in this economy, I think some stores are ordering a smaller number of books but the tried and true series are continuing to perform well. If a book performs well, then the store is going back for more.

  7. Helen-

    I'm so glad you mentioned how important it is for an author to promote him/herself. I find that the author who is career-driven and professional understands the need to get fabulous blurbs before the cover is put into production, work hard at making contacts to get the word out about the upcoming book, and generally think outside the box in terms of promoting the title. That is no guarantee for success--especially if the publisher isn't able to sell it into the stores or doesn't print a lot of copies. However, with so many titles readily available, it's important for an author to have readers recognize their name. Again, thanks for bringing up an excellent point.

  8. Thanks, Sheila. Keep reading those new series! And spread the word of the ones you like!

  9. I'm a series mystery addict -- IF I love the character. I was late in discovering Lee Child and John Sandford, but I've caught up with their entire back lists. It's disheartening to think they might not be doing well.

    (On a similar note, I've read some mega-best-selling authors who seem to be phoning in their books, but their name will sell the book. For a new author, it's frustrating.)

    I suppose there's a question in here somewhere -- do you think publishers are avoiding new authors to the point of reissuing books by authors whose names are enough to guarantee sales?

  10. Hi Terry-

    Good question. I think if an author has an established readership with built-in sales, that is an attractive package to the publisher. It's less risky for them to put out a new book by an established author. That said, the excitement generated from discovering new talent is huge, and publishers love to see a debut novelist become a bestseller--especially if they can get that novelist for a reasonable advance and tie them up in a multi-book deal. So the answer to your question is NO, I don't think they are avoiding new authors, but I think the shelves are pretty crowded with the old standbys of established authors.