By Beth Bruno, freelance book editor
Rita Rosenkranz, literary agent in New York City, represents almost exclusively adult non-fiction titles, including health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, memoir, popular reference, cooking, spirituality, sports and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or lesser-known subjects presented commercially.
Recently, as a writer and book editor herself, Beth Bruno asked Rita Rosenkranz 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?
I’ve heard that nonfiction agents can still make a good living because they can identify niche markets for steady sales.
Rita: I agree with this statement. There is still a definite need in the marketplace for niche titles. Some of my books with the most sales recently can be described this way. They are active both in print and as eBooks.
Beth: Is it true that publishers expect authors to do most of the marketing of their books? It’s my impression that 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.
Rita: I expect authors to be very involved in marketing, and this has to be clear from the outset in the proposal. Also, many of my authors hire an outside publicist, who will coordinate with in-house staff. However, traditional publishers, at least in my experience, do not expect authors to list their book on Amazon, obtain reviews, handle distribution, etc. Frankly, this remains one of the benefits of working with a traditional publisher.
Beth: I’ve met agents who are starting their own digital publishing imprints to take advantage of bigger profit margins for themselves and their clients.
Rita: I think publishing digital imprints, including republishing out-of-print titles, is mostly a courtesy agents provide for their authors since this is not yet a profit center for us—with some exceptions.
Beth: There is a stereotype that self-publishing is the newest form of vanity publishing and that the quality of most independently published books is mediocre at best. What are your thoughts about this?
Rita: Over the years, I have resold about 20 or so self-published titles. Each book has its own profile and potential—which, of course, applies to traditionally published titles, too. I review a self-published book in terms of its sales, the potential that remains untapped, the author’s platform, etc.
Beth: 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.
Rita: I have an open door policy and still review my unsolicited queries with a keen eye.
Beth: It’s heartening to hear that literary agents welcome queries from unpublished writers as well as from authors who have self-published their books, thus maintaining a commitment to unlock the potential of excellent books, whether they are written by established authors or talented newcomers.