Owner and agent at the Connor Literary Agency, Marlene Kim Connor wants readers to really love the books that her authors write. In this interview, she explains why technological changes are bringing a sea change to the publishing industry, and why it’s in a writer’s best interest to think of their books as a kind of business.
What official job title do you prefer? And why are you a great choice as an agent?
I am owner/agent for the Connor Literary Agency. I actually just had a conversation with one of my clients earlier today and had to talk about my personal style as an agent. Besides being relentless about the contract and about negotiating the best terms, I have a unique commitment to defining the market/audience and then making sure the book satisfies that audience. I work mostly with nonfiction and I get excited by developing projects in a way that will maximize its potential with its audience. dedication to the book itself. I hate books that sell but the buyer doesn’t read it or doesn’t get from it what they hoped to learn. I love books that teach me something new.
Do you think that ebooks and digital publishing are going to have a lasting affect on your industry? Or are they just another fad?
eBooks and other technological developments are just beginning to have an impact, and they will probably have a major impact in the near future. Think iTunes and the music industry. This will be different because music and writing are two different creative endeavors and attract two different types of creators, but everything from royalty structure, the paper industry, the printing and the trucking and warehousing industries, to the good ole publishing/editing industries will be affected. The industry is figuring it all out as we speak and authors/writers should stay abreast of it so that they can have a meaningful dialogue with their agent when the time comes. These technological advances might be a great opportunity for writers and agents, apart from the publishing houses.
What has your agency done to stick out the bad economic climate for publishing? And what should writers be doing?
I have most certainly been affected by the economic changes. I am a part of this country and have not figured out a crystal ball that helps me avoid what everyone is going through. I am beginning to challenge authors to think more about their audience — and their first audience is editors and publishers, not book buyer. Not all writers are self-promoters — I am a writer who is not a self-promoter. Publishers hold the responsibility to “publish” a book. But helping authors see their books are a business product, can help publishers and agents position books better and can create sales.
What types of submissions are you looking for?
My standard answer to this question remains, “good books.” A good book shows itself on the first few pages. We are still in a period of celebrity. Publishers want the sure-thing. Celebrity comes in many forms. You can be a celebrity among economists, or a celebrity among real estate developers. I recently went on the hunt for a “celebrity” who developed very popular household products because those products have a philosophy behind them that I believe are book-worthy. Unfortunately, I’m not alone in thinking that and he is already under contract. I have always worked with nonfiction more than fiction and I urge authors to think more about writing in that realm (and not just memoirs). I have associates who work more with fiction.
How should a prospective client reach you? And what should a writer avoid when contacting you?
Authors should contact me in the usual ways. Word-of-mouth or recommendations mean a lot. Background and experience is important.
Can you finish up with something a little personal about yourself?
I’m a native New Yorker (Harlem and Mornignside Heights) now living in the Midwest. I like the folksiness of the Midwest. New York can be unnecessarily edgy. As a native of New York, I feel I have a right to speak on the New York style.