A lot has changed since I first interviewed BookEnds Literary founder and president Jessica Faust in January. I checked in with her again to talk about those changes for the Open Mic’s Creativity and COVID-19 Special Edition, Day 25. Even though her agency is right in the heart of one of the most severely impacted areas in the country, she and her team are still hard at work to get writers new book deals.
OM: You’re in New Jersey, which is one of the hardest hit areas in the nation. How are you and your folks at BookEnds holding up?
Faust: It’s a very weird thing to live in the bubble, especially when you see what others are doing or how they’re living outside of here. The most important thing I can report is we are all healthy and safe. Emotionally and mentally we are doing as well as can be expected. We have our good days and bad days and we are working to care for ourselves as best we can while maintaining a business as usual attitude. Thank you for asking. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to check on us and have felt very supported by the writing community.
OM: This is really hitting the publishing industry hard. A lot of the writers I know have had their book releases pushed back indefinitely. How is it impacting how you approach your job as an agent?
Faust: I’m trying to be nicer. 😉
I’m actually looking closely at my list and the clients I want to add. The pandemic is going to change the world forever and as an agent I can be on the front lines of that with the books I’m representing, especially in nonfiction. In nine months, what kinds of books will people be looking to for this new world we’ll be living in? That’s something I’m considering when both reading my queries and reaching out to potential clients. I’m also adding a lot to my nonfiction list. Nonfiction is much more objective than fiction and can be a little easier to sell. That’s an area that, right now, I’m reaching for.
That being said, we are all still looking for fiction to lose ourselves in and all of BookEnds has taken on new clients. I believe we had 5-10 offers of representation out in April alone.
Overall, it’s not slowing us down. We are still reading, offering representation, submitting books and selling. We are actively selling and it feels better than ever. In some ways what’s happening now is pushing us harder to embrace new clients and get submissions to editors who are buying.
And for my current clients, especially those who might have had pub dates directly impacted, we are moving forward. We are planning next steps, next books, and career goals. In life, you can’t control everything all you can do is take control of yourself and your reaction to what’s happening. That’s what we’re working toward—what can we do. Let’s do it.
OM: Do you see this having a long-term impact on the publishing industry? Should writers be hesitant to be querying right now?
Faust: This pandemic will have a long-term impact on the world, and yes on publishing. How is yet to be determined. I expect some smaller publishers will struggle to get back on their feet again, while some of the larger publishers might look at the way they do work differently. Perhaps there will be more remote workers, perhaps we’ll see a change in book format. As for what’s actually being published, I don’t see anything more than the natural change depending on what the market wants. I don’t see a sudden shift to all light books or there will never be a pandemic book again. Publishers will publish what the market buys.
When we first went into a stay at home order I noticed my queries had dropped dramatically. I was also getting a lot of questions about whether it was proper to query, especially given the fact that we are in the heart of it all. So I did both a blog post and a Youtube video on this. In a nutshell, query. Just query! If your book is ready to go I see no reason to wait because then the question becomes how long or when do you stop waiting? We can’t stop our business because of things we can’t control. We have to keep going. Agents need to keep selling to stay in business and publishers need to keep publishing. We need authors and your queries to make all of that happen.
OM: With so much uncertainty about, well everything…are you doing anything different or special to maintain your own focus and creativity during this time?
Faust: I have been. I’ve been taking more breaks, leaving the office when I need to, getting outside anytime the weather is good, and being really honest with myself when it’s a day where I just can’t. On those days I might shut down early to practice my lacrosse (I’m terrible) or read a published book I can lose myself in. I’ve also been doing a lot of yard work—the really physical exhausting kind.
For anyone following my social media you might also have noticed that I’ve upped my video and blogging game as well as started to do weekly Instagram Live presentations. It’s a way for me to feel like I’m connecting with people when I can’t do it in real life. And it’s fun.
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