Transcript: In Hills of Books, Finding Gold

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Interview Recorded at Yale Publishing Course 2013

With Maria Campbell, president, Maria B. Campbell Associates, and Gail Hochman, president, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents

For podcast release Monday, August 26, 2013

KENNEALLY: In 2013, good books come from everywhere, and if you’re a literary agent or literary scout, the challenge is that books good and bad also come from everywhere. Buying and selling rights in the digital age has never been easier or harder. At the Yale Publishing Course, two of the industry’s best book reps help sort it out, and they join me now on Beyond the Book. I want to introduce Maria Campbell, who is president of Maria Campbell Associates. Maria, welcome to Beyond the Book.

CAMPBELL: Hi, Chris. I’m very happy to be here.

KENNEALLY: Well, we’re happy you can join us. Also with us is Gail Hochman, who is president of Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents. Gail, welcome.

HOCHMAN: Thanks so much. I’m so glad to be here.

KENNEALLY: We want to talk with you both about some of the things that you brought up in the course presentation just now, and that is the role of international connector, and it truly is a global job today. And, Gail, maybe I’ll start with you, because you kept reminding us just how harder it is, how much work you have to do today. Has the whole digital revolution changed your agency that much?

HOCHMAN: Well, on the simplest level, digital has allowed us yet another format in which our writers work and their books can be read by readers. So in the US, we’ve added a third format. And the details of accomplishing this fairly for the writer and accomplishing a good negotiation with a publisher – I think we’ve figured out how to do it.

Now we address the whole international scene, because all of the international publishers are looking for digital rights. So it doesn’t make it easy or harder on the international scene. Just every day there’s a new challenge, and this is yet one of them.

KENNEALLY: And, Maria, you mentioned in your work, trying to find opportunities to publish back in other countries, that the form that we’re talking about isn’t simply books any longer. That’s something that’s important, I think.

CAMPBELL: Well, the e-book markets in the different countries are definitely not anywhere near as developed as in the US. So I would say they’re nascent e-book markets abroad. But publishers abroad are asking for e-book rights and are starting initiatives, both publishing in the e-book format a whole book and doing the shorts and the essays, so there’s definitely much more going on now.

KENNEALLY: Right. And I think I want to sort of underscore that, because it’s not simply the long form. You were telling me something which I hadn’t heard before, which is that in these other marketplaces, short forms, essays, the kinds of things that might have been published in magazines in the past are now winding up being published by book publishers in digital form.

CAMPBELL: Well, it’s all in a process. In other words, if a publisher is re-launching an author and decides that they want some more material about the author, they will investigate what’s available and what’s been written, and then they may do their own e-book that is based on author interviews. So I would say that the digital has given everybody access to everything, and they’re being creative based on their market and their own publishing needs.

KENNEALLY: Well, it’s given people a vision into everything, but they don’t always have the rights to everything, Gail Hochman, and so for you, that’s a very critical question in representing authors. You want to be sure they get the best for whatever is going to be sold. How much more complicated is it because all of these forms now add to what you’ve originally sold, which is the book?

HOCHMAN: We always start deciding which territories are we willing to sell. So if I have a novel and I sell world rights to a publisher, I will only do that if I’m getting paid well enough and if that publisher actually aggressively pursues deals in the outside markets. I prefer to keep the rights in the international markets. So my person, who of course I favor, will go and get the deals for the author.

And I have very strong feelings about who does a better job. They all do a good job. We often use subagents. We have friends in all the countries and the publishing houses. I find that when my office sells the rights in other countries, we somehow develop a very personal relationship with that publishing house, whereas when the corporate publishers sell it, I get an excellent deal and fabulous teamwork on their rights department side, but somehow my author usually is somehow at arm’s length.

So it’s funny. In a digital age, I am finding that the personal makes a difference. It’s very funny. The digital details, either team can work out well.

KENNEALLY: And Maria Campbell, how does that work out for you, because you represent publishers? Is it still very much a personal business even in this digital age?

CAMPBELL: Very much so. Scouting is a very personal business, and it’s really informed by taste and context – contacts and context, both. And the closer that the international publishers that I work with can get to an author, the better they can publish them.

So I would agree with Gail in that authors can do interviews for international newspapers and magazines. Sometimes authors are invited to different countries based upon setting up a lunch when the international publisher’s visiting in New York, and just setting up a lunch with the writer and getting them to know each other. So I would say it’s more personal than ever. In fact, because of digital, it needs to be more personal, counterintuitive as that may seem.

KENNEALLY: One of the things that’s happening is it’s a global marketplace now, and Gail, you joked that of course every publisher says to you, they want world rights, and you say what to them?

HOCHMAN: First of all, I say, well, how much are you paying me?

KENNEALLY: But you also say of course you want world rights.

HOCHMAN: Well, you say of course you want world rights. Remember, I represent the author. That is my only job. So I need to do what’s better for the author. And there’s never one answer, but I listen to the amount of money they might pay, I listen to what commitments they will make to my author in their own sister companies in other countries, and what royalties they’ll pay and what split they’ll pay. Sometimes I know that my rights person doesn’t know this kind of book, and they do. Sometimes I know that house is excellent for this kind of book, getting rights, sales.

So there’s no one answer. That’s why I guess one does need an agent, not a lawyer. The agent helps you make the decisions based on the business profile of the company and the details of that deal. I also keep up very strong relationships with many of the editors I work with in other countries and the executives in those countries. I guess today I’m realizing the personal makes a very big difference. So they want world rights. If they will do that job that gets my person, my writer, read all over the world, you can have them.

KENNEALLY: Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s not just the deal. It’s about the commitment they’re going to make to the author, and getting those rights, they may pay for those rights, but if they don’t do anything with them, that’s not really a full deal for you as the agent.

HOCHMAN: Well, you have to remember, whoever has the rights in France, Spain, Greece, whatever country, is going to go to the publishers that are appropriate in that country. And if those publishers just don’t like that book, neither of us is getting a deal. But if they say we have such a strong system of sister companies and they don’t promise me to go through those companies to get the book in that territory, that doesn’t help me.

But the funny thing is each case is different, and it keeps it interesting. But also, if we know the principles, we can call them saying, hey, I bet you don’t know your team has my book X. You don’t have to buy it. Please take a look. Amazingly often, they say, oh, thanks for telling me.

KENNEALLY: Well, Maria Campbell, what’s interesting to me about your role is the way that, through digital, you are surfacing opportunities in countries that might never have appeared on the map before, on the literary map, if you will. It wasn’t just a few European countries and the US that are players here. You have relationships – I believe you mentioned Slovenia, and you’re working with small companies in Europe as well as the larger marketplaces, and they are buying from each other rather than only buying from the US. Talk about that a bit.

CAMPBELL: Well, my clients are 18, and they are in the, I would say, largest and most developed markets. I’ve just started working in Eastern Europe, and I’m working there in Poland. But what I have seen is that international publishers are looking to each other more and more to discover new writers from languages other than English, which was, when I started scouting, the principle language that everybody translated from.

And now, there are big bestsellers coming from Sweden. There is a big bestseller right now, a literary novel coming from France. There are more and more books in Italian. Roberto Saviano’s book is now translated everywhere. Paolo Giordano – I mean, there are writers that have really made inroads. And I think this is only going to increase.

KENNEALLY: And in this age, because of the global players, it often feels as if commerce comes out first and passion second, but I wonder whether you have a sense of where passion plays out in all of this. The book business is sort of legendary for caring about things beyond the bottom line, and I wonder if that’s still the case, if there is a role for the passion for a book, or is it really just dollars and cents.

CAMPBELL: That’s a tough question. I think, for me at least, and I’m privileged because I’m working with terrific publishers who have a blend of both. So based on my experience and based upon how the decisions are made, I would say that I encounter both things. And I think that what ultimately drives a successful publication is someone who has the passion for the book, and then someone who can translate it into dollars and cents and marketing.

So one thing I have noticed is that the editorial departments that I work with all over the world are working much more in conjunction with their marketing departments, something that they weren’t doing 10, 15 years ago.

KENNEALLY: And, Gail Hochman, I would think that that’s part of your role, is to get people passionate about a book – not just to do the deal, but to get that publisher to really want to push that book out as strongly as they can.

HOCHMAN: Well, absolutely. I really do believe passion makes a difference. If you think this book is the most exciting thing you have ever read, that’s your first thought. Your second thought is I want to tell the 500 people in my address book how great this book is. Now, that is the kind of energy that translates into dollars and cents. If that book is in a field that one never makes money in, OK, different. But that’s what we’re looking for, potential word of mouth.

Now, I have had cases where I was so excited about a project, I loved the author, I persuaded him to do the book. He wrote a proposal. We went through it many times. I got it pretty strong. My letter was so enthusiastic and so passionate that I got rejections that said we haven’t done well with books on the blah, blah subject. I wish the proposal was as good as your letter.

So the question you asked was can I make someone be passionate. No. They have to love the material. We’re all working with the material that is actually going to be published, not with what a great report Maria’s person writes or what a great cover. That was my best cover letter ever, but I didn’t sell the book.

KENNEALLY: Well, that still remains the problem. Selling rights in the digital age comes down to selling those rights.

HOCHMAN: Right. And it does come down to the same old, same old – is that book extraordinary in what it is? And then, yes, there’s passion, and we have dollars and we have cents.

KENNEALLY: Well, Gail Hochman, president of Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents, thanks for speaking with me.

HOCHMAN: Thank you so much.

KENNEALLY: And Maria Campbell, who is president of Maria Campbell Associates, thank you, as well.

CAMPBELL: A pleasure. Thanks.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, and magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. Follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes, or at the Copyright Clearance Center Website, copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book.

Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.