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January 3, 2014

Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. {Book Review}

For many aspiring authors, attempting to find their way through the confusing world of publishing is a daunting task.

It can be even more complicated than completing a novel because you’re unable to control the outcome. Instead you’re left to the mercy of the process, hoping your hard work is part of the two percent that gets accepted by literary agents each year.

Those are some lousy odds.

That’s where guides like Jeff Herman’s come in. Herman is a longtime literary agent himself, completely familiar with the ins and outs of the business. Throughout the book he and other agents provide their professional advice, giving you tools to work your way through the publishing maze.

At first, I found the book’s conversational style a bit off-putting, but as I read on I appreciated it for its candor and relatability. Herman provides us with an up close look at the world of publishing. He shows that agents and publishers are just like the rest of us, but with expertise in their field.

According to Herman, the key to finding an agent or publisher is writing a quality product and knowing where and how to sell it.

He lists the publishers in three sections: Publishing Conglomerates, Independent U.S. Presses and University Presses. He also includes a special section of Canadian book publishers. He uses icons at the top of each publisher entry to make it easy to find those that specialize in your genre. He also includes a listing of titles and authors each publishing house has produced to give you a good idea of how well your work will fit their preferences. He included title/author listings in the literary agent section as well to give you an idea of who best matches your genre and type of work.

In addition to the publishers, Hermann also includes contact information to several literary agents and independent editors to help with manuscript preparation. He also includes suggestions on how to write query letters and book proposals, tips for understanding author-agent contracts and ways to build your resume through ghostwriting and collaborations. There is also a section dedicated to the pros and cons of self-publishing.

He also includes a great Question/Answer section that, as he puts it, provides “answers in unvarnished terms.” Additionally, his observations on literary agencies and additional perspectives from the eyes of an editor gives the reader a good understanding of the business and how to maximize the process.

The book includes some great advice from literary agents, such as:

>> “Marketing is the secret to becoming a successful writer.”

>> “Over 50 percent of my clients have come to me through some kind of referral.”

>> “Many new authors oversell their book, when their query letter should achieve one goal: to prompt the agent to ask to see a proposal or material.”

>> “This is really a business of relationships.”

While I grew to appreciate the conversational style of the book, I found a few things awkward. The agents were asked questions sent by Herman and most were answered. However, some were strangely worded like “describe the client from hell.” While I appreciate the attempt at being casual, it sometimes came off as unpolished.

And some of the responses to his strange question: “How would you describe what you do as an agent to someone (or something) from another planet?” were equally odd, like: “I don’t. They already know.” I did note a response of “I don’t know how to answer this one” by one agent. I sense she found the question as awkward as I did. I get that Herman was trying to keep the discussion lighthearted, but at times it took away from the solid advice the agents were providing.

One of the best takeaways from the book is that, like most other businesses, getting published is all about networking. Herman encourages authors to be their own advocate and to meet as many writers, agents, publishers as they can. It’s also important to understand your genre, so your time is spent targeting only those agents and publishers interested in that material.

Despite some small missteps, Jeff Herman’s book had some sound advice. As someone who is looking to make their way through the publishing process in the near future, Herman’s book made me feel like maybe the impossible is actually possible.

Note: elephantjournal.com received these review items for free, in return for a guarantee that we would review said offering. That said, we say what we want—good and bad, happy and sad.

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 Editor: Bryonie Wise

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