Literary agent Liz Kracht of the Kimberly Cameron Agency has seen a lot of troubling stuff come down the publishing pike over the years. But the COVID-19 pandemic is one for the record books. I checked in with her for the Open Mic Creativity and COVID-19 Special Project, Day 10.
OM: You’re a very spiritual and sensitive person. How has all of this impacted you?
Kracht: I’ve found this time very confusing on multiple levels, from big picture (history, politics, who am I and what am I doing) to small details (do I really have wipe down every, single goddamn thing?). I’ve had some down days, as I imagine we all have. My brother put a bug in my ear about the virus in January; he was always encouraging me to “pick up a few things” as I shopped. And the fires in California made me realize that I needed to be better prepared. So, I listened to him. Early on I recognized that I was going through what I figured were the stages of grief; life as I knew it was changing for good. I think I’m finally at the acceptance/hope stage. To keep sane I don’t watch the news or television and at one point even had to go off of social media because I couldn’t take in anymore information; I was at capacity. I needed to be able to hear myself enough to listen to my own instincts. Today I listened to someone who said this is a time when we are all being forced to face our fears—whatever these are for each of us individually. I don’t exactly know what my life will look like on the other side of this, but I have faith that everything I’m going through and evaluating will help improve the overall quality.
OM: Are you still getting the usual number of queries from aspiring authors?
Kracht: I’ve received some check-in emails from authors who I think are just shaking off nerves but no actual cold submissions. I’ve never had such a quiet inbox. I understand that people try and control what they think they can when everything in their life feels out of control. But this feels like a time to pause. In the beginning of the self-quarantine, I found it almost insensitive to be receiving emails. And I certainly don’t want to be “that agent” sending queries to New York editors when the state is completely under siege. We’re all going through an incredible time of trying to process what all of this means, individually and collectively. It will be back to business before we know it. I’m predicting people will want to adjust their lives back to a somewhat slower pace once we’re all out of quarantine—and may even fondly remember some things about this time. We’ll see it in the memes.
OM: I’m fearful this will have a devastating impact on the publishing industry, and therefore lead to an even tighter market for writers in the future. What are you experiencing so far from the publishing houses?
Kracht: I’m receiving some correspondence from editors but my boss Kimberley just said publishers have begun laying off editors. I also saw that Barnes & Noble just shuttered hundreds of stores. Some of this may be the furloughing of employees, but it does remind me of the last difficult time the industry faced. I came into the industry in 2009/2010. Publishing fell on lean times. Remember how thin newspapers became and how many independent bookstores we lost? I think we are going to face a tight market. I can’t imagine we won’t. But maybe there’s an unseen way we’ll come out ahead. Authors are fairly impatient these days, so they may choose to hybrid or self-publish, but the publishing industry—as well as life itself—is cyclical. We face ups and downs. My advice is for authors to be ready for when things turn around—because they will. And I think we may see a trend in “feel good” fiction; we’ve had enough grief.
OM: What are you doing to stay positive during all this? Have you developed any new routines or habits?
Kracht: I’m trying to be easy on myself. I was suffering burnout before we got to this point. So I’m trying to lean into the quiet and slow pace of routine. Honestly, I’m relishing not feeling work-related pressure. I’m hoping to get caught up on work projects but also realizing that we are in unprecedented times; I’m not giving myself a hard time about anything, even the copious amount of sugar I’m consuming. Routine is the key word for me: exercise, meditation to clear my mind, work for focus, eating well, and taking good quality supplements. Of course, these are things I should have been doing all along—and was—but there’s more intention now. It feels important to me to use this time—this collective pause we’ve been given—to make sure I am where I want to be, doing what has heart and meaning for me. This feels like an opportunity to fine-tune my life, make changes I’ve needed to make.
OM: You just had your own book come out. How is that doing, and do you have any other new projects you want to talk about?
Kracht: I did just have my book come out, thank you—The Author’s Checklist. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my book signing and a couple of workshops I’d scheduled to support the book. And it just doesn’t feel quite right promoting; my head hasn’t been in the game. I haven’t received my first royalty statement but my rankings are good when I have some publicity to share. Of course this is the worst time for any author launching a book but I think I may be lucky in that my book has back list potential. In terms of new projects, I’m hoping to get back to work on a narrative nonfiction project about a murder trial I was pulled into through work. I’m going to generate some buzz for the book by offering it as a four-part series article. I’m looking for a window to get back to work on edits for the first part in the series and then plan to pitch it to magazines. Maybe another book idea will come out of all this. This is the perfect time to create.