An Agent Reflects on Ebooks and Gatekeeping

Agent Jenny Bent ruminates on the difference between being a gatekeeper vs a conduit.
An agent friend and I were e-mailing today about "reader taste" vs. "publisher taste." I think I've always had a case of "reader taste" because many of the books that I've really loved I've had a tough time selling or sold for very little money. Yet most of them have gone on to do very well indeed, many of them hitting the Times list. I would list them, but I'm not sure the authors would appreciate me telling the world that their book was hard to sell. Regardless, I loved these books, and I knew readers would love these books, but publishers often weren't so sure, probably because the books were considered "quiet,"i.e., not "high concept," or because they were aimed at readers in Middle America, or because they were quirky and hard to categorize.

Look, I don't want to be too hard on editors and publishers. We're all doing our best, after all, and publishing will always be something of a crap shoot, because we can't really afford to do market research (except for Harlequin) and rely on guesswork to make pretty major decisions about what to publish and promote. When publishers are "running numbers" to decide how much money they can afford to spend on a book, a big part of the process is comparing the book to another book that is similar, and then factoring in the sales figures of said book. Sound unscientific? You betcha.
She then adds:
I guess the reason that I can't help being a little gleeful about the democratization of the process, is that what I dislike about publishing is less the *way* we make decisions but rather the attitude that sometimes--not always--goes into those decisions, this somewhat patronizing, East Coast urban attitude of knowing better than the rest of book-reading America. And the idea that a book must appeal to a certain kind of sophisticated east coast reader to be successful.
Both the entire post and the comments are worth reading.


Ban said…
Should I mention I'm on Long Island? hee hee :)
Off to read the post!
wannabuy said…
" this somewhat patronizing, East Coast urban attitude of knowing better than the rest of book-reading America."

That said it all. We have different tastes. Publishers shifted their 'taste' of sci-fi away from mine. I fin it ironic in that as sci-fi returns to its roots ans simultaneously expands in new directions, its sales slide has reversed. I'm sure other genres have too.

I'm so done with arrogant gatekeepers.

Lucas Darr said…
Summary: Elitism is bad, m'kay.
As my taste runs to a variety of genres, the idea that publishers know better than bloggers/readers what will appeal is laughable.


alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com