On Publishing, On Writing

Forum on Publishing: Author, Agent, Editor

Tonight I attended a Forum on Publishing, featuring author Emily Fridlund, her agent Nicole Aragi and editor Elisabeth Schmitz for her book History of Wolves.

They talked through the very traditional process of her novel being acquired by agent and then by a publisher. While the editor and agent work strictly in literary fiction, which isn’t my genre of choice to read or to write, they did outline an acquisition journey such as many of us writers like to envision for ourselves when we aspire to publish traditionally.

Rather than outline that process, as there are numerous other resources and articles about how that works, I’d like to share some of the things I took away.

How to pitch a book

Nicole Aragi, agent, said that during her very first read of a manuscript she considers representing, she asks herself: Whose taste does this fit? How will she talk about it to other people? Elizabeth Schmitz, editor, said that as soon as she gets excited about a book she wants to acquire, she begins sharing it with her colleagues and sales reps. She seeks to get her other team members as excited about the book as she is before launch meetings or bidding.

Take away as an author: Can you describe the tastes of the people who would like your book? Can you talk about your book to other people, writers and non-writers, limiting your description in concise terms with enthusiasm? Can you elevator pitch your own book?

Notes about the Editor vetting an MS/author

  • As Schmitz reads a manuscript she makes notes of possible changes or suggestions, and when she talks to the author, their willingness to hear-out or make such revisions helps her determine whether they will have a good working relationship
  • She doesn’t just want to hear about the book’s plot, she wants to assess it at sentence level. She might open a manuscript to the middle and read a few passages to get a sense of the voice and style.
  • If she’s excited about a book, to the point that she’s nervous someone else will snatch it up, she knows she has enough love for a project to last the on average two years it takes to publish the book.

“Apparatus” or Why Traditional not Self-Pub

Schmitz several times used the word “apparatus” to describe the team of people and systems in place working to make a book a success. Not only do you have to do all the production work yourself when you self-publish, you have to market your book. Schmitz estimated that 30+ people get word out about the books they publish at their medium-sized publishing house. This chain of editors, publicists, sales reps, booksellers, and peer authors figure out the best ways to market the book. They use marketing channels that have been in place from publishing house to brick-and-mortar stores for decades, which no amount of social media coverage can duplicate.


The concern was posed, is the traditional method in peril? Is the publishing industry in peril? And if so, what can be done to fix or stabilize it?

Author, agent, and editor expressed concern about our society’s diminishing love for reading or time spent reading, given the other forms of entertainment available. The hope is that each great book has the potential to get more people excited about books. And that’s what they devote their time and energy doing, trying to create the best books possible that people will love to read.


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