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Perspectives from Literary Agent, Sheree Bykofsky, in business for over 20 years in New York publishing.

by Beth Bruno

Sheree Bykofsky is the founder and President of Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc. As a literary agent since 1991, Sheree describes herself as a generalist with eclectic and sometimes eccentric tastes. She represents all areas of non-fiction and commercial and literary fiction.

Recently, as a writer and book editor herself, Beth Bruno asked Sheree Bykofsky to comment about some of the changes taking place in book publishing.

Beth: Now that digital publishing has taken hold in the book publishing business, such that virtually anyone with a manuscript and $1000 can publish a book, how has this affected your business as a literary agent?

Sheree: Even though I don’t get the yearly six-figure advances any more, my business is flourishing and actually growing–especially in the area of foreign rights. Now that the dust has settled and publishers realize they can do well with hard copies and electronic books, authors are getting published in multiple arenas and their books are getting promoted more electronically.

Beth: Are fiction agents shifting to representing nonfiction because the profit margins in fiction have been squeezed too tightly?

Sheree: The advances are not what they used to be, but every agent who represents fiction would love to find the new J.K. Rowling. When a novelist hits it big, they hit it bigger than most non-fiction writers. Talented novelists are also dependable about publishing many books, and with each new book their platform grows larger.

Beth: I’ve heard that publishers expect authors to do most of the marketing of their books. They see their responsibility as listing books for sale on Amazon and other websites, distribution in bookstores, obtaining reviews, and listing new titles in trade publications.

Sheree: Because publishers rarely commit publicity dollars to the books they publish and they expect a lot from the authors, many authors mistakenly believe that they can do better publishing on their own. I have found those authors have become quickly disillusioned with the self-publishing experience. Publishers still do a far better job than authors at distribution, and that cannot be underestimated. Also agents are necessary for contract negotiation, publishing contacts, negotiating good deals money-wise, guidance and placing subrights.

Beth: Is self-publishing still looked down on as the newest form of vanity publishing? The quality of the vast majority of independently published books is mediocre at best.

Sheree: That is not completely true, but it is not completely false either. If an author wants to find an established big publisher, they should not first self-publish and hope then to find a publisher. They should choose one avenue or the other. There are definitely good books being self-published; unfortunately, most of the books that are self-published are not as professionally edited or packaged as the ones that come from the major houses.

Beth: It’s my impression that first-time authors are having an increasingly difficult time finding representation because the risks are too high for agents and mainstream publishers. Instead, they stick with their stable of authors who are turning out a book a year or authors who are referred to them by other agents. Fiction manuscripts are especially difficult to place.

Sheree: Nonsense! Agents and publishers need good authors as much as authors need agents and publishers–more, actually. I’m always on the lookout for new talent. My list has way more than 50% first-time authors. It’s very exciting to launch and develop new talent.

“I don’t limit myself to particular genres,” Sheree says, “because I’m always surprised by what appeals to me. If I love it, then I’ll take it on. The only way to know is to try me. If it needs work and I want to represent it, I’ll tell you. If I choose not to agent you, you should know that I’m not judging you or your writing, or even your idea. I am saying that it’s just not right for me.”

“There are a few areas I particularly like in nonfiction: popular reference, business, health, self-help/psychology, humor, biography and current affairs, women’s interest, cookbooks, spiritual, multicultural, parenting, anything to do with games, movies, chronologies.”

“In fiction, I particularly like commercial fiction with literary appeal and mysteries. I’m always looking for a bestseller in any category.

“Some of the genres I generally will not represent include horror, westerns, occult, picture books, and fantasy.”

A long-standing member of the AAR, and the first agent to have a web page, Sheree has represented over a thousand authors in all areas of adult non-fiction as well as literary and commercial fiction.

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