Interview With an Agent: Vicky Bijur

By Lori Culwell

headshot-1-200x300First of all, here is a little bit about today’s interview subject, agent Vicky Bijur:

Vicky Bijur runs the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency, which she started in 1988. Vicky has served as president of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives) and is currently chair of its Ethics Committee.  Among her clients are NY Times bestseller Laura Lippman, whose novel EVERY SECRET THING was just filmed with Dakota Fanning, Diane Lane, and Elizabeth Banks; NY Times bestseller Lisa Genova, author of STILL ALICE, chosen for 2013 World Book Night; James Sallis, whose novel DRIVE was the basis of the film starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan; NY Times bestseller Larry Gonick, who created THE CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE; food blogger Ed Levine of Serious Eats.com; food blogger Kenji Alt of The Food Lab; Stella Parks of Bravetart.com; Steven Greenhouse, NY Times labor reporter; Margaret Maron, just chosen as Grandmaster by Mystery Writers of America; and the Estate of Patrick Dennis, whose AUNTIE MAME was just optioned for film by Tilda Swinton.

Q:  When taking on a new author, how important is their internet/ social media presence?   Is this now a “make or break” thing for you?

Whether or not a new client has a blog and website and Facebook Fan page and Twitter account is important.  I need to know how internet-savvy the writer is.  Is he or she aware of how much an author today has to do on his or her own?   Is he or she up for, if not tweeting and blogging and posting, then at least one or two of those activities?

Q:  When taking on a new author, do you look at sales/ reviews of their self-published books on Amazon? 

If someone has self-published of course I’m going to see what the book’s rank is on Amazon.  And ask the author about the sales.  I am less interested in readers’ comments on Amazon, although perhaps I should pay more attention.

 Q:  How much do you work with authors in the digital space?   That is to say, if an author can’t find a publisher, do you now consider it normal to help them put a book out themselves, or do you (like some agents) help your authors with that now?

 We are all doing more and more of this:  either working with digital publishers or advising authors on digitizing or sending out books ourselves to be digitized.

Q:  How has agenting changed in the past five years?

 Actually, I am not sure agenting has changed.  We still strive to represent our writers to the best of our abilities. What has changed is the rate of change of information an agent has to keep up with, whether it’s the DOJ suit against publishers or ebook pricing or the effect on authors of the shrinking number of brick-and-mortar stores or the constant evolution in internet marketing. 

 Q:  Are you seeing your authors selling more electronic books or print books?

 I am seeing the whole range:  fiction with surprisingly low ebook sales and fiction with more copies sold digitally than in print.  Ebook sales of non-fiction depend so much on whether a book is mostly text or is heavily illustrated or is design-intensive that it is harder to generalize about non-fiction.

 Q:   For the most part, are you finding that authors are being more business-like in their approaches?    That is to say, when authors come to you, do they already have their websites and networks in order, or do you help develop this?

 I think most authors have become much more savvy. Most have websites, many of them blog.  A lot of them tweet.  They mostly have Facebook pages.

 One thought:  I think authors have to educate themselves about metadata.  A useful exercise for authors:  plug in relevant keywords (whatever themes/subjects your novel discusses) to Google and see if the Amazon link to your title comes up.  Yes, other bookstores are important, but the Amazon link seems to be the litmus test.  If it takes more than two pages to reach the Amazon link to your book you need to talk to your publisher about updating the metadata.   Another exercise: plug in those keywords on Amazon to see if your book pops up.

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