Adam Chromy heads up Artists & Artisans, Inc., a literary agency and management company that’s enjoying unusual success in a difficult publishing climate. Chromy’s iconoclastic, strategic approach allows him to look at the changes the industry is undergoing not just as challenges but as opportunities. Read what he had to say during our recent interview. I believe you’ll find it refreshing and eye-opening.
ANITA B: The publishing trades are full of doom and gloom. Yet, you mentioned, when we last spoke, that you’re having your best year since becoming a literary agent. Tell me to what you attribute that success.
ADAM CHROMY: Thanks for asking, Anita. Mostly it’s just a matter of timing. I have heard that it takes at least five to 10 years for an agent to build a substantial client list – and that is after the agent has usually spent many years as an editor or an assistant to an agent. I came to this industry six years ago without any experience in publishing and started right up as an agent selling books – but it has only really been this year that my client list has caught up to my ambition. So the overall industry may be down and I will do less than I would have in a healthy environment but my growth this year over the last has been great.
And I also have to credit my awesome clients – many of them are selling their second or third book, and I have even had some clients whose first books failed to sell come through with big books for me to sell this year.
We also have a great agent working with me now named Jamie Brenner – she is building a great list of literary fiction and nonfiction and commercial women’s fiction. Having someone as good as her to work with has really helped our company take off.
Finally, this year we transitioned from being a literary agency to a management company. So we are actively engaging Hollywood contacts to get our clients’ books adapted to film and TV projects. This will be great for the clients, their books as well as us. And we just got our first green light for a show in October!
ANITA B: Tell me a bit about one or two of your better-known projects.
ADAM CHROMY: We had a good year for literary fiction: James Howard Kunstler’s novel, WORLD MADE BY HAND (Grove/Atlantic), was chosen by NPR’s Alan Cheuse as one of the best 5 novels of 2008. And Michael Hogan’s BURIAL OF THE DEAD received universally glowing reviews. We also had a nonfiction hit with Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler’s FRIEND OR FRENEMY which is also on the way to being adapted for a TV series. And we should have several big books coming out in 2009.
ANITA B: What are the most important changes affecting book publishing now and what changes do you see coming in the future?
ADAM CHROMY: Everyone seems to be talking about publishers publishing fewer books and paying smaller advances. But we are ready for that. In business school (yes, I have a business degree from NYU not a lit degree from an ivy league school) we learned that the railroads went out of business because they thought they were in the railroad business. They held on to railroads as the world moved on to trucks, planes, etc. They would have survived if they realized they were in the transportation business and changed with the times. That lesson will always stick with me. So I never say we are in the book business. We manage storytellers and experts with valuable knowledge. We are ready to advise them in the professional distribution of their material in books, film/TV, the Internet and any other media that will benefit them. So if the publishers go the way of the record companies and railroads we are ready and will survive because people have consumed stories since Homer and always will.
ANITA B: What advice do you have for authors hoping to find agents and, ultimately, get publishing contracts?
ADAM CHROMY: I advise authors to build audience. Authors who want publishers to publish their books and build an audience for them are misguided. Publishers will publish the books of people who have already built an audience. Blog, publish short stories, win a contest – do something to build audience. Or write a phenomenal novel. But the more audience you have the greater the tolerance for the quality of your writing.
ANITA B: What would you recommend published authors do to help their books stand out?
ADAM CHROMY: See above and keep doing it – half your job as an author is to keep building audience.
ANITA B: Are there particular types of books that acquisitions editors tell you they’re looking for right now – and is this any different from what they were looking for in previous years?
ADAM CHROMY: Everyone is saying they want books from celebrities and established authors – they want safe bets. If it’s a debut is should be a marketable high concept with exceptional quality and polished execution.
ANITA B: Anything else you want to add that you believe is important for authors and aspiring authors to know?
ADAM CHROMY: Successful story tellers and promoters will be rewarded more than ever in this new climate, but there will be less midlist and lower level spots. So authors should be prepared to work hard and hope for a big score. The low level authors will be mostly relegated to offering their books free online or in POD. So if you want to make a living as a writer, you need to be prepared to work hard, catch some breaks, and make sure you have great management (like us).