3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Melissa Sarver (Literary Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan Agency)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Marvelous Marketer: Melissa Sarver (Literary Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan Agency)

Note: Melissa may be stopping by so if you have any questions, now is the time to ask :)

Hi Melissa, thank you so much for visiting us today. Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Hi Shelli. Thanks for having me!

I am a literary agent at the Elizabeth Kaplan Agency in New York, which I joined in 2006. I’m doing a mixture of fiction (adult, YA and middle grade) and nonfiction. The first project I sold was a YA series by Suzanne Young called The Naughty List, which debuts in February 2010.

In fiction, I am looking for literary and commercial projects; I gravitate toward dark, edgy stories with brilliant prose and strong voice as well as quirky stories with a fresh sense of humor. I especially enjoy family sagas, multicultural stories and similarly emotional stories with dystopian themes. (I love Margaret Atwood, Graham Swift, Haruki Murakami, Barbara Kingsolver.)

In nonfiction, I'm looking for voice-driven narrative nonfiction, memoir, lifestyle, travel writing, pop culture, cookbooks and food writing. I graduated from Boston University and moved to New York, where I began working in magazine editorial. I benefit from the experience of working with several literary agencies: Waxman Literary Agency, Brick House Literary Agents, and Imprint Agency (now FinePrint).

Do you/your agency/your house have a website/blog? When did you start it and who manages it?

Not yet, but I'm working on a website and should have it up and running in a few weeks! It will be at www.elizabethkaplanlit.com Then you'll be able to see all the amazing projects we're working on. And yes, I’ll be managing it.

Great we can't wait to learn more about your agencies projects. We hear about Elizabeth Kaplan all the time, but do not know much other than its a great agency. In your opinion as your authors promote their books, what are the top 3 things every author should and must do ?

I think the first thing an author should do is accept the fact that the publisher may not do much to promote his/her book. This varies by project and by house, but it is the cold, hard reality of the times. You’ve really got to take things into your own hands and early. (Apparently getting to know one of the higher-ups at Target helps!

Don’t be upset if your publisher doesn’t want to send you on tour. They rarely do these days and it’s because they don’t generate enough sales, especially with new, unknown authors. I do think YA and MG still benefit from library and school visits or other children’s events.

It really helps for an author to have a great website that they update regularly; and even more importantly is for an author to be blogging regularly. That’s how you build an audience. And I’m not just talking about creating your own blog. Blogging on other related sites is a great way to expand your audience and get your name out there. The blogging and Tweeting really needs to start happening months (if not longer) before your book comes out. One of my YA authors has her own blog that she writes on almost daily; but she also writes for a bunch of other YA blogs. She’s really developed a community of other YA authors and readers – and when her ARCs came in, bloggers were clamoring to get their hands on them for blurbs, to review and blog about. She had created that interest and they were dying to read her book. That’s something I hadn’t quite experienced before. But it’s not the same thing to have your book come out and then start a web site for it and start a blog. There’s no built in audience there for when the book publishes.

Oh good. Now I have an excuse to keep blogging :) In addition to blogging, how important is social networking to an author's presence and promotion?

Well, again, our agency is really noticing that the books that are gaining web traction, are selling. Those are the only ones that are selling. We represent a number of YA authors and in this area it is critical to be on Facebook, Twitter, etc. because that is where the teens are! I think to power of social networking as a way to sell books and create an audience is only going keep increasing.

YAY! Another excuse to stay connected. It's hard to balance but sounds like it's worth it in the long run. When evaluating whether to take on an author or book, do you Google them to see if they have a web presence or current platform?

Yes! This is absolutely vital with all nonfiction proposals. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a publisher on board when the author doesn't have a strong web presence and/or platform. Things like a great Twitter following are being considered platforms by some publishers, do don’t feel like you absolutely have to have a TV show or column in a national magazine.

I have also been asked whether the debut novelist I’m representing has a platform, which left me aghast. But I fear that’s going to be the case more often going forward. I will absolutely take on fiction that does not have a web presence, but having one does help your case.

With nonfiction, it’s often a deal-breaker.

In your experience, what things do Publishers offer in contracts in terms of Marketing? What does the average author receive or is it different, depending on the book?

Publishing contracts don’t really cover Marketing plans – therefore, they aren’t promising to do anything specifically. There is a somewhat standard marketing plan that includes sending galleys to magazines, bloggers and newspapers; scheduling interviews, readings and appearances at bookstores and libraries. All of this will be scheduled by your assigned publicist, who handles your “national media campaign.” (You’ll see that phrase pop up a few times.) There are newsletters and email flashes sent out to booksellers, librarians, bloggers, et cetera.

Ultimately, publishers want their books to sell, too! But too often certain books take precedent and others don’t get enough attention. That’s why the author has to do everything in his/her power to get the word out and also work with the publicist to capitalize on every opportunity.

Melissa, everyone wants to know. What are you looking for? What are you interested in?

Along with what I mentioned above, right now I’d love to see multicultural YA and middle grade – stories that open young readers’ lives to other cultures, or those in which he/she can relate. I think there are so many cultures underrepresented in children’s literature and it’s an area where there is room for new writers.

Great, I wish you the best of luck and thank you for stopping by!

Thanks Shelli!


Suzanne Young said...

Wow. This lady sounds smart. :-)

Kristin Tubb said...

What a great interview! So all my time slogging around Facebook and Twitter is building my platform, right? Now my husband can't tease me anymore! :-)

Great info. Thanks, Melissa and Shelli!

Susan R. Mills said...

Great interview! I can't wait until their website gets up and running! Thanks for posting this, Shelli!

Corey Schwartz said...

Oh, she sounds great. Good thing we are all blogging!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Another great, informative interview, Shelli. Your platform is a concert stage!

Anna C. Morrison said...

What a great interview! Thank you! I'm glad I love social networking and am building up my blog audience.

J.A. Palermo said...

Thanks, Shelli. These interviews are great.

Danyelle L. said...

Great information! Thank you for the interview. :D

Little Ms J said...

Great interview and fantastic to hear that all the time we spend online may pay off!

Now, who wants to follow me on Twitter?


Kelly Polark said...

Another great interview, Shelli! Thanks!!

Kelly H-Y said...

Awesome interview, as usual ... thanks, Shelli!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I knew I was blogging for a reason ;)

Thanks for introducing an agent I hadn't heard of!

Christina Lee said...


Shelli (srjohannes) said...

suzanne - obviously :) I ditto that.

kristen, corey, anna - yes keep blogging. Just dont give up writing :)

Little J - i will! what is your id!

lazy writer, tricia - christina lee,kelly and kelly - thanks! :)

JD, danyelle - thanks for stopping ny - AGAIN :)

anna and sherrie - keep networking!

Michael A. Banks said...

I'm glad to see that Melissa addressed the matter of publishers not promoting books. It's true, and something that new writers have difficulty dealing with.

Ironically, fiction publishers promote a new or midlist author's book only after it has taken off on its own. Which, to authors, sounds like the opposite of what should happen. But that's how it is (as I learned when I was editing in the 1980s).

Aware of this, a fantasy writer named Raymond Feist went on a self-initiated and -funded promo tour before his first novel was relased. He went on the stump, visiting bookstores over an area of hundreds of miles. Ray is a very engaging fellow, and to make a long story short, his efforts resulted in a relative flood of orders for the novel. The publisher, believing they had something big, doubled the print run for the hardcover. And reacted in other ways to turn the publisher's newfound faith into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Unknown said...

Very nice post It’s nearly impossible to send a persistent marketing message without a core understanding of your company’s identity.. It is always ideal to have Good Brand Promotion Agency, they not only guide you but be with you all the ups and down times