Superinterview: April Eberhardt,”literary change agent”

I wish I could find the  Digital Book World article that gave me the first glimpse into the work of April Eberhardt. The article included a mention of her--or, maybe she made a comment.(Found it! It was actually in Publishers Weekly.) I looked at her website and immediately sent an email, asking if I could interview her. She agreed. That was about five months ago. Both of us have been busy.

If you know me, you know that my father sold/sells books. You also may know that I have been involved with the creative/writing side of the internet for quite a while. When Amazon began selling a device only for reading books in 2007, I finally committed myself to writing books/ebooks.  Since then, I had been waiting for someone like April Eberhardt. I didn't think that traditional publishers would drown in the wave of  self-publishing, but I did believe that there would be a third possibility. When I saw the phrase "literary change agent" connected with April Eberhardt's name, I was thrilled.

Although I may be an April Eberhardt fanboy, I am not writing this to kiss her elbow and hope she will pick up my books. I don't think she works that way, number one. And, number two, it is premature for me to think about changing the course I have chosen for my writing career and my other pursuits. This post is mainly for my own reference and enjoyment... it's something like an experimental portrait.

OK..here we go...

We open with an excerpt from a recent interview conducted by  Chicago Women in Publishing.

You describe yourself as a literary change agent. What does that mean? 

The publishing landscape is changing rapidly and drastically, to the benefit of the informed author. I embrace that change, and seek to help authors understand the full range of their choices and how to select among them strategically and successfully.

Continuing on that thought, from an interview with Ms. Eberhardt conducted by Naomi  Rosenblatt from Heliotrope Books. The interview appeared on the Blk Neon website.

"I live in San Francisco,” April Eberhardt explained in her indie publishing seminar. “I overlook the bay, and watch big tankers struggle to change course—unlike the agile sailboats that navigate easily. But of course tankers have the advantage of more power than sailboats. This has become my metaphor for the respective strengths of big publishing conglomerates and smaller indie presses.”

Next, a description of Ms. Eberhardt from the Art Of Writing/ A Writer's Retreat in Tuscanny Workshop...

April advises and assists authors worldwide as they choose the best pathway to publication for their work be it indie or traditional, digital or print. She serves as an industry advocate for establishing quality standards for non-traditionally published work to increase the acceptance and success of independent publishing.

April works frequently with authors to critique and hone their manuscripts prior to submission or publication. She describes her approach as “kind but clear” with an eye toward commercial success. “There’s the sheer enjoyment of the writing from the author’s viewpoint,” she says, “and then there’s the expectation readers have for a sharp, compelling story. My objective is to help authors achieve both. I focus on identifying and underscoring the strengths that each author has, while at the same time finding ways to keep the story lean and taut with strong reader appeal.” Above all, she says, she wants to “encourage each author’s momentum and sense of satisfaction with the process and result. We want you to keep writing!”

Math! Needles in haystacks!  How does Ms. Eberhardt find a great book and how often does that happen? from Chris Jane, of 5 On, a regular feature found on the extremely helpful website of Jane Friedman.

CHRIS JANE: ... Of the 10,000 submissions you receive every year, you’ve said, you find fifteen to twenty to be exceptional. Is “exceptional” a matter of substance, marketing potential, both, or something else?

APRIL EBERHARDT: To me, “exceptional” means an utterly compelling story, one that’s original, beautifully written and tightly told, one that I can’t put down. I see five to ten of these a year.

Marketing potential comes second. While I realize that the traditional market may be looking for something easier to sell (translated, that means similar to other recent successful work), when I find a wonderful manuscript, I’m prepared to champion it until it gets published (which increasingly is via indie means—either partnership publishing or self-publishing.)

From the same interview:

Why are publishing houses ignoring the same perfectly good writers you’re passionate about helping?

It’s their bestseller/blockbuster orientation. The most common reason cited by editors turning down the manuscripts I submit is, “We can’t break it out big enough,” meaning sell thousands of copies in a period of a few weeks. There are now a million books published annually. It usually takes more than a single swift push to bring a good book to the attention of its readers. Big Pub can’t afford to do more than that for most. They put their money on a relatively few books that are similar to recent successes.

Next, from the Hippocampus website, from an interview conducted by  Lori M. Myers, Senior Interviews Editor.

Lori: I’ll never forget what you said during your presentation at Chautauqua. It went something like “Traditional publishers aren’t failing, but they’re flailing.”  

April: Big publishers continue to believe they’re the arbiters of taste, and the most desirable gateway to being published. That’s all changing–the internet has opened a multitude of possibilities. Most importantly, readers and authors can connect directly without middlemen, and readers decide what’s worth reading and recommending.

So should writers steer away from “Big Pub?”

While some authors do desire traditional publication, its value proposition to authors is weakening. Until Big Pub figures out a way to give more to authors (which involves a complete overhaul of their financial and operational model,) other new, profitable and more satisfying ways of being published will continue to lure authors away from traditional publishing.

Having options is good, but there seems to be so many!

There’s partner publishing, assisted publishing and hybrid publishing, along with self-publishing.  As one attractive new option, partner publishing offers high-quality services from publishing professionals, along with curation and distribution, enabling authors to pay for selected services and receive a top-quality book.

Next up: a 2014 interview between Ms. Eberhardt and Mary Rowen, author of LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner) and LIVING BY EAR. MR: In addition to traditional and self-publishing, there are so many other options available now. For example, there are many publishing companies that will edit, proofread, design, and publish a book for a writer for a fee. The books produced by these presses often look very professional, and many writers are drawn to them. But from what I’ve heard, they’re not all great. Are there any pay-to-publish presses that you’d recommend? Any that you’d advise writers to avoid? And what sorts of things should a writer look for in a pay-to-publish press?

AE: Above all you want experience, transparency and references in a partner publisher. You also want curation and distribution. Companies like She Writes Press, White Cloud Press and Turning Stone Press are led and managed by people with long experience in traditional publishing. All are open about their approach, costs and clients. They are selective about which authors they publish, and have clear contracts granting all rights to the author, along with offering distribution, usually through Ingram. The legitimate ones will happily refer you to other authors who have published with them so you can learn more about their experiences. I’d suggest steering clear of subsidy presses like Author Solutions that accept any and all manuscripts, tend to produce inferior-quality books priced at non-competitive prices, don’t offer distribution, and sometimes pressure authors to buy more services than they need.

Research, email exchanges and the links above answered all of my questions about Ms. Eberhardt except for three. She replied to my first two questions with her latest bio. It summarizes some of the points above.

SB: Was there one moment when  you decided to enter into a business that was not yet clearly defined? Was it a well-researched plan or a leap of faith?

AE(from her bio):April Eberhardt is a literary change agent and author advocate passionate about helping authors be published in the most effective and satisfying way. After 25 years as a corporate strategist and consultant, Ms. Eberhardt joined the literary world, where she saw strategic opportunity to play a role in the changing world of publishing. Ms. Eberhardt advises and assists authors worldwide, as they choose the best pathway to publication for their work, be it indie or traditional, digital or print, and serves as a consultant to new publishing startups. Ms. Eberhardt divides her time between San Francisco, New York and Paris. She also is a reader for the Best American Short Stories series published annually by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

AE (continuing via email): The above may in part answer your question as well—how and why did I get into agenting and publishing consulting? I entered the field with the intent to play a role in the evolving world of publishing. While I recognized that the direction and speed of change would be unpredictable, I was completely comfortable with that. It’s exciting to be part of an industry undergoing a major transition, especially publishing since its product—reading—is of such keen interest to many of us. Good consulting is about keeping an eye on the shifts and trends, asking thoughtful questions about a client’s (in this case, an author’s) goals, dreams, likes and dislikes, and aligning the two. There’s always a lot of experimentation that occurs, and it’s easier to discern the right next steps when you’re working as a team vs trying to navigate it alone.

SB: E-books can be said to symbolize the possibilities of self-publishing. What was your first

e-book experience?

AE: E-books are obviously an important format in publishing’s evolution, particularly since they allow for experimentation in a broad number of ways (content, marketing, etc.) and provide a relatively easy, inexpensive way to make quick adjustments. I don’t remember the first e-book I read. 

I would like to sincerely thank Ms. Eberhardt for taking the time to be a part of this informative experiment. I enjoyed it very much and hope many others will as well.

And, if you are in Boston in May, Ms. Eberhardt will participating in the Grub Street Writers Conference:

THE CHANGING FACE OF PUBLISHING: WHAT ALL AUTHORS NEED TO KNOW

In this illuminating workshop, Literary Change Agent and author advocate April Eberhardt examines the state of publishing today along with the implications and opportunities for authors. She presents five different paths to publication, including a candid discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach from an author’s perspective. Discover what partnership publishing is, along with hybrid authorship, and collaborative (also known as cooperative) publishing. Learn how to choose the right path for you and your work, which sometimes involves different paths for different projects, and how to develop a publishing strategy and approach that meets your goals, dreams, timetable and budget.

Ms. Eberhardt's home page: http://aprileberhardt.com/

 

One Response to Superinterview: April Eberhardt,”literary change agent”

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