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"Any first time author can be made to look "fabulous" -- it's all about how an agent, author and publisher present the author. Every author has a background and a story, which can be told to the book- sellers and public in a boring way or a way that is spectacular."

  Barbara   Zitwer

"If an author is a terrific writer and has a voice or perspective or style that's not been seen before, there is a far greater chance it will have a place in the literary market. Though it's true that it can be tough to get a first book published, agents and editors are always looking for the next voice or story."

  Elise Capron

"Whatever you're doing in this business, whether you're an agent, editor, or writer, it's crucially important to keep on top of what's happening in the industry. Agents and editors are much more likely to take writers seriously if they can name other writers in their genre whose work they admire ..."

  W. Gottlieb

"The truth is that most publishing professionals needn't read further than that ... Judging a book in five sentences might sound like an outrageous idea. But it's really not."

  Noah Lukeman


Market and Novel Talk
     by Michael Neff

Looking To Fall in Love - A Conversation With Peter Rubie

Peter Rubie specializes in a broad range of high-quality fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction he specializes in narrative non-fiction, popular science, spirituality, history, biography, pop culture, business and technology, parenting, health, self help, music, and food. He is a "sucker" for outstanding writing. In fiction he represents literate thrillers, crime fiction, science fiction and fantasy, military fiction and literary fiction. Peter Rubie spent the 1970s and early 1980s as a Fleet Street newspaper reporter, and a TV and radio journalist, first in England and then in the United States. In 1981, he immigrated to America to follow his passion for playing jazz. While living and working in New York City as a professional musician, he was lucky enough to study and play with such musicians as Warne Marsh, George Coleman, Junior Cook, and Jack Wilkins. His first novel was published in 1988, followed by a second in 1992. He has written mainly non-fiction books since then, including TELLING THE STORY: HOW TO WRITE AND SELL NARRATIVE NONFICTION (HarperCollins).


Who says you deserve to be published just because you REALLY want it, or REALLY work hard?

- Peter Rubie

MN: How have your opinions or conceptions of the agent business or book business evolved since your early days as an agent? Do you see things differently now?

PR: Absolutely. The business itself has evolved and become tougher as fewer titles, but more of them, become the norm for publishers. We're also in a recession and the publishing industry always gets hit hard at such times. However, the basics are much the same as they've always been: an excellent writer with a strong story, or topic in the case of non-fiction WILL find a publisher.

We're all looking for reasons to fall in love, not reject things. Perhaps I'm more elitist now than I was, but I don't see that as a drawback. Who says you deserve to be published just because you REALLY want it, or REALLY work hard? We've succumbed to the American Idol syndrome where being seen as being famous is taken as a supposition of talent, rather than actually taking the time and trouble to learn and develop one's craft.

The competition is fierce, and the readership for books shrinking by all accounts, and I'm afraid, as much as I hate to say it, but I feel more strongly now than before that talent (i.e., the speed with which one learns to do something well) has a place here. In other words, you HAVE to have something interesting to say first and foremost, and alas, many of us think we are interesting people but we're really not except to our friends and family. Then you need to have some grace and insight in the way you say it.

MN: Do you think it is more difficult these days for a first-time author to earn out an advance? If so, why?

PR: I think few first novelists earn out, though a decent few will at least break even. Part of the problem is the issue of "returns" (i.e., books returned to the publisher by the bookstore) which do tend to mess up author sell-through numbers over time. As to why, I think it's just the nature of publishing that most books published are not expected to do that well, though they are expected to hold their own. Someone, somewhere, once said that the average book buying population is about 10,000-20,000 people and so your sell through numbers tend to be drawn from this readership.

MN: Would you generally say that authors, especially first-timers, need to develop a marketing strategy for their novel once it is published? Do you have marketing suggestions? Does your agency assist authors with any advice in this area?

PR: I would say a marketing strategy is always useful, but it does need to be realistic, and most fiction is not easily marketed the way, say, nonfiction can be, to specific interest groups. (Parents, for example, or those interested in fly fishing or physics.) Study and research marketing and PR as much as possible, and really get a handle on the internet as a possible source is my best advice.

Lissa Warren, one of my clients, and the head of marketing at DaCapo Press, for example, has written a book called the SAVVY AUTHOR'S GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLICITY that might be a place to start.

FinePrint Literary Management may make a suggestion or two, but so far we have not found the right formula for mixing agenting and PR for authors, though we are actively looking at this area. I think merely hiring a PR person to work for the agency is not an answer because if you're not careful it creates a class system of authors within the company comprised of those who are worth promoting and those who find themselves not worthy for whatever reason who would get kind of mad they've been excluded. (Understandably.) However, it is an issue that we all need to be paying attention to.

MN: Do you see any new trends in the fiction market these days? Any genres losing or gaining market share? (Paranormal romance? Thrillers? YA fantasy? etc.)

PR: Again, the problem with trying to nail trends is that by the time you've written the manuscript the trend is long gone. The "trick" is to try and guess what is going to be hot in 18 months time. The genres are always a good bet, though some are softer than others at various times. In the end, though, a really well done book will always stand a chance of being the exception to the rule and that's probably where one should be aiming for, I guess.

MN: Not long ago, there was a lot of hype over the potential for Internet to market and sell books. In your opinion, have blogs and Internet in general produced a measurable impact on the marketing and selling of fiction? If not, why not? Where are they succeeding? Failing?

PR: I think they have produced an impact, though how measurable is a good question I can't answer. I know of companies that market largely using the web, such as BenBella Books and Quill Driver, and Fauzia Burke has a company called FSB Associates which is the only company that specifically deals exclusively with internet marketing for publishing and has done for over 12 years. The web is effective in targeting specific audiences who might want to know and read books that are specifically targeted to them but it's a lot of work.

MN: What do you see as the future for E-Books and other forms of publishing? Do you see the classic publishing model taking a hit? Adapting?

PR: This is an interesting question I can't really do justice to here. Suffice it to say the real issue is not technology, in my opion, but one of figuring out rights issues by publishers who are famous for being reluctant to embrace the modern world seeing it as a threat to, rather than adjunct to, traditional publishing. It's all about how they make money, and monetizing the new trends and techniques is something everyone in publishing is struggling with at present.

I believe that within the next 10 years (and of course it will be sooner than that in all likelihood) there will be a proliferation of ereaders, like the Kindle and Sony Reader only much better (I have a Sony myself, and find it really useful though also very deficient in some ways), and this will drive a demand for ebooks that publishers will eventually embrace as the mass market paperback readership continues to shrink, and it is met by a growing argument for adding the ebook as a mass market replacement.

There are strong financial reasons publishers should embrace this, and eventually there will come a tipping point but we haven't reached it yet. The people who will be hardest hit until they learn to reinvent themselves will be bookstores.

MN: What does the future hold for Peter Rubie?

PR: I am now the CEO of a largish agency (9 agents at last count) and as I get the agency on a stronger footing, I will spend more time with fewer clients, but certainly I will be taking on more clients. I'm just going to be more fierce about things I represent. I also want to get back to writing seriously and I'm hoping I can do that in the next couple of years with luck.

About the interviewer:
Michael Neff is the creator and director of WebdelSol.Com and the Algonkian Writer Conferences.

Web del Sol/Algonkian Workshops
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Suite 443
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info (at)
Phone: 1-800-250-8290


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