Q & A with Literary Agent, Eileen Cope
GG: What made you decide to be an agent? How did you get your start in book publishing?
Ms. Cope: I started in the editorial department at GP Putnam’s Sons — before they merged with Penguin and Random House. I was one of the assistants to then-President Phyllis Grann, which was such a great education in publishing because I got to see all the different facets that make a book successful — editorially, marketing and publicity, and sales. After four years, though, I knew I wanted to make the transition from acquiring to developing my own projects. I first worked at a small, boutique agency where I did everything from foreign rights to serial rights to finding my own authors. From there I went to a larger agency, Trident Media Group, for about seven years before starting my own agency. I’m so grateful for all that early experience because I really understand the full picture in getting a book on the bookshelf and I am able to bring that knowledge to my clients.
GG: What books do you specialize in? What type of projects are you looking for?
Ms. Cope: My first love is narrative nonfiction. I love exploring new subjects, from history to science to biography. I also love memoir and investigative journalism. Anytime I can learn something new about a subject or person — I am immediately drawn in.
GG: When you decide to take on a project, what generally pulls you in?
Ms. Cope: A great story and great writing. As simple as that sounds, it’s true. I have the same passion and excitement for a new project today that I did 15 years ago. And getting in there with a writer or journalist and exploring themes and creating a narrative arc — it all makes me so happy!
GG: What does the current book landscape look like? What books are selling? What books are not?
Ms. Cope: Every agent has different genres they focus on based on their own interests and experience. My advice hasn’t changed in 15 years — find a story or subject you are passionate about, that you want to spend 12 hours a day with, and the rest will follow. Don’t worry about what’s selling and what’s not at that particular moment in the industry because it will change — don’t follow trends or genres-of- the-moment. Honestly, it rarely works, and by the time you are ready to submit, there’s probably a glut in the marketplace anyway.
GG: How much do author platforms matter? What advice do you give authors looking to build their platforms?
Ms. Cope: I hesitate to use the word “matters” because I find there’s so much pressure on writers and authors today to bring to the table not only a fantastic book project, but also the built-in audience to buy the book. However, the truth is, it is something publishers consider very seriously. My advice to authors, aside from traditional avenues of publishing in magazines and online social networking services like Facebook and Twitter, is to start by simply finding a community of like-minded enthusiasts. In other words, if you are writing a book about building a homemade tree house observatory in your backyard to study the stars at night with your family, there are probably hundreds of blogs, Meetup.com groups, forums, websites, clubs, organizations, events, etc., that you can join and start to build a community to interact with. These are your first potential book buyers.
GG: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the book industry in the last year? How do you think this will impact authors?
Ms. Cope: I see a lot of positive changes, which, as an agent, has really expanded my role and influence, which in turn I can share with my clients. I’ve personally become much more involved in introducing my clients to branding opportunities, online content managers, product lines, endorsement deals, TV and film production companies, magazine editors, TV producers at the morning shows, and news format shows like CNN, Dr. Oz, The View — which is the main reason I started my own company. So I could spend more time working with authors not just on their books, but also with growing and expanding their brands. In the last two months alone, I’ve negotiated a film option based on one of my books, a documentary with an Academy Award-winning producer based on a client’s online series, a producing and writing credit for a new Showtime series based on my client’s proposal, a Vanity Fair review, a People magazine feature, and a potential online endorsement deal with Neutrogena. It’s a lot of fun and I love it!
GG: What’s your take on self-publishing?
Ms. Cope: It’s a lot tougher than it looks — trying to break out among millions of self-published authors is no easy task.
GG: What can you get from an agent that you can’t get from self-publishing?
Ms. Cope: Quite a lot — editorial advice, marketplace feedback, publishing contacts, media introductions, publicity and promotion ideas, TV and film contacts, the international publishing community...
GG: What is your perspective on Gotham Ghostwriters? How do you view its role in relation to the context of the larger publishing industry?
Ms. Cope: Dan and his team are fantastic partners, and they also have great ideas and contacts. I can pick up the phone and call Dan anytime to bounce ideas off him, and he’s always available. I also have a lot of clients who need ghostwriters and co-authors, and Gotham has the best pool of writers out there. If I reached out to Dan in need of a ghostwriter, which I do regularly, he will get back to me in 24 hours with multiple possibilities.
Eileen Cope is President of Mark Creative Management and a 20-year veteran of the publishing industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.