Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Agent, Editor, Visionary: Jessica Faust

The times they are a changin’.

Gosh, it seems like just a couple of years ago that the hot question on the street was: is e-publishing going to take over? Now, so many people have embraced it, so many book buyers are loving their e-readers that it staggers the mind to try imagining limitations for the space age text.

Jessica Faust glimpsed the brave new world and acted on it. Already a highly successful literary agent, presiding over her own agency Bookends LLC and boasting several bestselling and award winning authors, she stunned the book community by unveiling her own e-publishing company, Beyond the Page. Some were supportive. Many were not. In the end, Jessica proved to be right. Today, it has becoming standard practice for agents to either help their clients self publish or acquire contracts for them with independent e-publishers if the major houses pass on the manuscripts.

We’re pleased that Jessica could take some time out to tell us a little bit about her journey.

CIR: Thanks, Jessica, for hanging with us here on the Rock. We love your spirit! In one interview, you said that it was quite a rush to sell a book as compared to just reading one. When you strike a deal now with the major houses, especially as tough as it’s being rumored to get contracts anymore, do you still feel the same level of elation?

JF: Absolutely. I’ve often said that the best part of my job is making an author’s dream come true, but I think there’s a lot more to that. Not only am I making someone’s dream come true, but I’m discovering a book, I’m falling in love with it and I’m playing my part in introducing that book to the rest of the world. It’s like the ultimate in getting your friends to read a book you love. In fact, as I’m typing this I’m enjoying the high of getting an offer on a book that both the author and I have been working for years on.

CIR: Some articles are mentioning the power of an author building brand name with e-publishers (as a matter of fact, I think your Beyond the Page Publishing suggests as much on the home page). Is the success rate fairly high of authors doing this then moving on to traditional publishers?

JF: I’m not convinced that ebook first is the way for authors to go. Most of the great successes we’re seeing in ebooks are by those authors who had a brand before going to ebook. I think ebooks can be the ultimate in marketing for those who are traditionally published since it’s a way to keep putting good material out there in between publication dates, but for those looking to launch a career, I think ebooks are a tough way to find readers.

Certainly we’ve seen successes, but a lot of those authors worked incredibly hard to even get noticed and I also suspect for every author had success with ebook first there are at least ten times as many who have hardly sold a book.

CIR: You recently retired your blog. While many were saddened, I can certainly understand how you felt it ran its course—and I still reference it since you’ve left it up in its entirety. Has it freed up time for you?

JF: Thank you for your kind words. Ending the blog was a difficult decision for me and one that was a year in the making. I think that it’s freed some mental time since I no longer have to think about the blog, but I’m not sure if actual time has been freed since there’s always something to fill the space. While I miss the interaction I had with my readers I felt it was time and still do feel it was the right decision. I’m enjoying the freedom of not writing the posts or coming up with something to write.

CIR: We always ask a kooky question, a trademark of Chiseled in Rock. Do you think Charles Dickens would have self e-published if the means were available in that age?

JF: I honestly can’t say I know enough about Charles Dickens to know the answer. I think self e-publishing is a very personal decision and those who are doing it often have the desire and the great abilities to run a business beyond just writing. Others, a lot of those using Beyond the Page for example, would rather just write and let someone else handle the other end of the business. I guess I don’t know what Charles Dickens was like. I also don’t know how much he relied on an editor which can make a difference.

If I have to give an answer though I think I’d say, “no” because I still like to think that most authors enjoy the relationship they have with their editors and publishers.

CIR: You took a lot of lumps when you started Beyond the Page. Have any critics changed their positions or do you think they have now that the trends show you were right?

JF: I did didn’t I.

Well if the critics have changed their positions they certainly aren’t telling me. I think that rightfully there was and has been a lot of concern about agents venturing in this direction. The fear was primarily about conflict of interest and that agents would focus more on publishing clients than getting clients published. I hope that my reputation for being ethical and fighting for my clients would help convince the critics that I wouldn’t think of doing such a thing.

It’s such a new world, as you’ve said, and I think all agents, as well as authors and publishers, are exploring different avenues for working in this world and, for agents, providing what our clients need.

As with anything new, I think a lot of critics acted out of fear and luckily a lot can change in a year. I’m not seeing the backlash that I was and since a number of agents are venturing into this territory I think authors are becoming more comfortable with the idea.

CIR: Thanks Jessica!

JF: Thank you. This was a great interview. It’s nice to talk about the changing world of publishing in such a positive way and I love your kooky question. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any follow-up questions.

Inteview conducted by Gusto Dave


Terry Wright said...

I can see where those in the business would clain a conflict of interest when an agent e-publishes authors who haven't been picked up by the main houses. On the surface, it appears that the agent's attitude might be "Oh well, I can't make any money off the author that way so I'll get some money by publishing him/her myself." Jessica, I have to commend you for sticking your neck in a wringer. Very brave on your part, but in the end, I think you offer authors a service they truly need and want. Best of luck with your venture.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Thanks Terry. I think it makes sense for all of us to enter a new business world carefully and cautiously. When things change it's natural for people to get nervous. That being said, I my foray into epublishing has made me a better agent. Through the experimentation we've done with ebooks I've been able to bring ideas to traditional publishers on marketing and selling of my clients' other books.


Lucinda Smith said...

Great interview. I've just recently begun to research the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing and self-publishing. I think it's progress when agents (and publishers) realize the world is changing, and step forward to use the new tools to improve their industry instead of fighting the changes or pretending they don't exist.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Thank you Lucinda. And I think the thing to note is that there are pros and cons to both. The decision an author makes to self-publish or traditionally publish has to be what works for that author and what works for one won't necessarily work for another.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Jessica, I think your business decision makes a lot of sense and shows your willingness to look ahead. I'm betting more agents will follow your lead as time goes on.

Dave, thanks for this excellent interview. Your questions rock!

BookEnds, LLC said...

Thank you Patricia.

Aaron M. R. said...

I'll never forget when I read that Jessica Faust was going rogue. It really was a watershed moment in my life, and I talked it up with everyone I knew because it felt like a turning point.

I posted an unathorized interview with Mark Coker, found of Smashwords yesterday, and basically, I'm in awe of those publishing pioneers, like Jessica Faust. Part of me is still frozen in indecision, but I'm slowly gathering up my own courage to take the leap and go west.

BookEnds, LLC said...


I sort of like the thought that I went rogue ;)

It's an interesting world right now, but if there's one thing I've learned it's that there's no one path fits all. Some authors (and agents) are much more comfortable sticking with a more traditional path while others want to try something new and different. I like to think I'm offering my clients the ability to do both or some combination if that's what they want.

Take all the time you need to make your decision. Traditional publishing, ebooks, and books in general aren't going anywhere.