What my agent says

Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli, with her then-husband Jim Trupin founded JET Literary Associates in 1975. Together, they have a substantial client list and recent publications, as well as films and current options on film rights. She has been in the industry for thirty-seven years, beginning in the contracts department of the New American Library. From there, she moved to Fawcett Books’ school division, Premier Books. From there, she worked with an established agent who needed expertise in the paperback market. Today, she is co-owner of JET Literary.

I met Liz over email with a query letter and sample chapters.  Since then, she has patiently and enthusiastically shopped my novel around to big and little publishing houses. So far, I’ve received several rejection letters that continue to offer hope. The letters never say no. They usually offer encouragement, suggestions for minor tweaks and offers of regret that it’s not the right fit.  While we haven’t found a home for the mystery series, the rejection letters prove that her submissions are respected and read by editors with influence – exactly why having an agent is so important.

Liz continues her search.  Somewhere in the process she happened upon a ghost writing opportunity for me that eventually led to the publication of, I’m Still Standing, From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen – My Journey Home. That project published by Touchstone, and her continued support as I work on another memoir, are why I feel privileged that I have an agent who has faith in my talent and is looking out for my interests.   

I asked Liz a few questions about the current publishing market for new writers.

Q: As a literary agent, what types of authors do you represent and why?

A: I represent all fiction except sci-fi and fantasy. I also will take on narrative non-fiction, memoir/biography, parenting, some reference, some business.  Basically, I represent books that I would like to read and therefore can evaluate properly from the perspective of reader appeal.  I then couple that with my understanding of the market. 

Q: As an agent in today’s publishing market place, have you changed the way you
approach editors with a new author?

A: I don’t honestly think I have changed the way I approach editors with new authors. When I agree to take on a new author it is because I have fallen in love with the project and I am therefore approaching each submission with a high level of enthusiasm.  So just like in the good old days, I prepare a pitch that will also convey my enthusiasm.  I generally tell new clients that as an agent, I am a matchmaker: I must find the right lover for his/her work in order for it to get published.

Q: How much more difficult is it to sell a new writer to a major publishing house?

A: It’s very difficult to sell new writers right now to the major commercial houses because of the heavy emphasis on platform and crunching the numbers to show a favorable sell-through, even though the projected sell-through numbers are pie-in-the-sky until the book hits the shelves! The pressure on each and every editor is to find the next big bestseller.  That’s a daunting burden and explains why some very good books slip through the cracks, while other copy-cat stuff gets published, and then bombs.

Q: What is your opinion of publish on demand (POD) and ebook publishing and how have those types of publishing options changed the industry?

A: The new platforms have really shaken up the industry.  But ultimately, I think they will be what save the industry, particularly ebooks.

Q: Considering the major changes going on, is this a good time or a bad time to be
a new, unpublished author?

A: I don’t think we should assign good or bad to this time.  It has never been easy to be a writer trying to get published for the first time.  But if you want to consider the “bad” side of this time, then I would point to what I said about some very good books slipping through the cracks.  On the other “good” side is the emergence of electronic publishing and the opportunities it is now providing for writers who have run through the gauntlet of commercial houses and come up with near misses but no contracts.  Those writers now have more options to consider and are sometimes able to establish a reader base that the publishing houses take note of and then viola! – the tables are turned.

Q: What advice would you give to the new author?

A: When I attend conferences, I generally ask how many of you can imagine a day without writing?  Yes, getting published is what everyone is aiming for, but the bottomline is that you will keep writing, no matter what happens.  It’s who you are.  Pay attention to what the market is all about and how your work fits in.  Attend conferences and try to meet the professionals in the industry – workshops and critique groups are also helpful for a lot of writers.  Establish a presence, if possible, online.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: Yes, I must tell you that I have definitely changed the way I prepare new authors for the reality of the current submission process. The average turn-around time in the good old days used to be 4 to 6 weeks – agents could pretty much depend on that.  Things are more complicated now and that timeframe has gone out the window.  I don’t want to get too tangled up in this explanation, but here is what typically happens:  I send a pitch letter and an attachment of the manuscript or proposal out to a carefully selected list of editors.  Within a few days/weeks I may receive a rejection or two based on the fact that the project doesn’t “grab” the editor, i.e. s/he has read the first chunk of the manuscript or perhaps the whole proposal (for a non-fiction book) and did not feel compelled to proceed (to either read the full manuscript or pursue the proposal).  Editors who have read the opening chunk of a full manuscript sometimes email to say they look forward to reading the submission and then it can take a while to hear back from them because of the avalanche of submissions they are facing, even as they go forward with the manuscripts they have already bought!  So extra time must be factored into the waiting period.  Writers need to know that the length of time does not indicate indifference toward either the writer or the agent – it’s just a fact of life.  Let’s say the editor reads the manuscript and now contacts me to say s/he wants to pursue it.  Now the editor has to get a back-up positive reading from another editor and probably will also give a chunk to a marketing person in the hopes of support – all of this takes more time, but is moving the process closer to the final point: presenting the book to the pub board for the definitive yes or no.

I think if writers become aware of the reality of the submission process they can avoid a lot of negativity that might seep into their heads…and hearts!

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