April Eberhardt: Literary Agent for Change
Contributor
Written by
Susan Bearman
March 2012
Contributor
Written by
Susan Bearman
March 2012

This post was originally published on Write It Sideways on 2/28/12.

by Susan Bearman. Reprinted here with permission.

 

I first met April Eberhardt in October 2011 when she came to speak to my writers’ workshop, and was immediately struck by her genuine enthusiasm for writing, literature, publishing, and writers … especially writers. I asked her if she would talk to me for a piece on Write It Sideways and she agreed with that signature enthusiasm.

 

April spent the first 25 years of her career as a corporate strategist. Along the way, her belief that the whole world is moving toward direct-to-consumer marketing lead her to create a semi-custom women’s boutique clothing company. And her love of literature took her to Zoetrope: All-Story, a quarterly literary publication founded by Francis Ford Coppola, where she became head reader.

 

Five years ago, she became a literary agent. I asked her what led such a savvy businesswoman to take a leap of faith onto the foundering ship of publishing. “I’m an risk-taker," she said. "I was a corporate strategist for 25 years, so I’m looking at this business as a strategist. I had a vision. I’ve had my eyes fixed on high-quality self-publishing from the outset. I jumped in knowing that it was coming and that I could help lead the way.”


Wait. What? Did she say self-publishing?

“Too many good authors are not being published,” she said. “It’s not the story, it’s the industry that’s broken. You can spend years shopping your manuscript to traditional publishers only to find yourself not published. I want to link the author to the reader. It’s a mindset, not just technology."

 

Just before we spoke, Eberhardt decided to join forces with several other major literary agencies as part of the Argo Navis Author Services program of The Perseus Books Group. This represents the agent-curated model of self-publishing that she had envisioned when she started five years ago. "I had to wait for the timing to catch up to the vision.” 


According to Eberhardt, some tiny fraction of writers are published by traditional publishers, and even then, it doesn’t always live up to a writer’s expectations. "Among my authors who have been published by big houses, it can be a huge disappointment,” said Eberhardt. “It’s heartbreaking—to see the promises made and then broken is crushing.”

 

Eberhardt gets 10,000 submissions a year. Ten thousand. “Of those, I find 15 to 20 that I think are exceptional,” she said. “I work hard for my authors. I’m in service to my authors, but it’s tough.” She currently represents about 20 writers, mostly first-time authors of women’s literary and book club fiction.


A New Paradigm

So why is an agent interested in self-publishing? How does that work?

“Most self-publishing is not of high quality,” April admits. “There has been a disregard of publishing standards and that needs to change. I’m looking at a new way of doing things, a model of agent-led self-publishing where authors get guidance to bring their self-published work to a professional level.”

 

"Self-publishing can, in some cases, increase your chances of being published by a traditional publisher," said Eberhardt, "but I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that. If we raise the bar in self-publishing, if we do it right, the author has the most to win. Traditional publishers take too much of the pie. They have a food chain to feed and authors get the crumbs."

 

So literary agent April Eberhardt is soliciting manuscripts for this new model—a model of agent-assisted self-publishing, where authors would pay for publishing, but keep a much, much larger percentage of the profits. “I will continue to solicit submissions, but far fewer for traditional publishing,” she said. “We need some success stories in self-publishing to show it can be done right. If you do it wrong, don’t even bother, but if you do it right, you will help raise the bar.”


What Can Writers Do to Do It Right?

According to Eberhardt, the work you must do as a writer for the self-publishing market is the same as always, only more:

  1. “Share your manuscript with others—not friends and family, who will of course love your work. Find an utter stranger, someone with no vested interest, to give you feedback. Evaluation from an unbiased viewpoint is essential.”
  2. “Find an editor. You would be amazed at what I see. Never send out an unedited manuscript. I get glaring errors from writers who don’t bother to let anyone else kick the tires. You need someone to edit for content and to do line edits.”
  3. “Hook into self-publishing at the highest possible level. Learn the business.”
  4. “Read. Know what’s being published.”
  5. “Think of different ways to promote your book and unearth unusual points of purchase.”

 

Part of raising the bar is making sure that your self-published book looks professional, and unless you are a designer as well as a writer, you will probably have to find other professionals to create a great cover design and professional page layouts. If you want your book to compete with those published by the big publishing houses, you need it to look the part.

 

Eberhardt also believes that every writer needs an online presence. Where you do it depends in large part on the demographics of your readers, but how you do it is what counts. “The whole issue is one of authenticity,” she said. “If you aren’t authentic, it really shows. We’ve all become very sensitive to people trying to push stuff on us all the time. Constantly selling is a total turnoff. You have to be interesting and interested.”

 

That means participating in an online dialogue. “Speak intelligently on the web about your book, but about other books, too,” said Eberhardt. "Every writer needs to be a reader." Here are some of her suggestions for creating an effective online presence:

  • “Every author must have a website.”
  • Participate on other blogs.” (Comment on posts that interest you; offer to guest post on relevant blogs; do blog tours.)
  • “Have your own blog.”
  • “Facebook and Twitter, but that’s not as important for all authors. It depends on your demographic. My demographic isn’t on Facebook and Twitter, so I outsource that kind of social networking. The readers of my authors are much more active on other sites, like Goodreads and Shelfari, as well as on e-mail.”


Even Agents Have Dreams

"My dream is to have the go-to website aimed at book club readers—intelligent readers who want good fiction and to have a dialogue about the books they've read and loved," said April. "There is a risk to putting out new authors, but I want a place where they can cast their shadows for the first time. I want to act in services to authors and readers."

 

Her passion for this dream comes from the stories. “It’s the discovery of the unusual story that keeps me going,” said Eberhardt, "the hope of finding a thrilling new voice.”

But it’s the authors themselves who may be her biggest obstacle in realizing those dreams. “Old dreams die hard, and most writers want the dream of being picked up by a traditional publisher,” she said. “I understand it. But that’s Plan A, and it isn’t working for most writers. Let’s try Plan B.”

 

I asked if she had any final words of wisdom, and she decided to end our interview with a call to action:

“Consider self-publishing. Do it right. Open your mind. Let go of the idea that only traditionally-published books are real books. And finally, I would love to have every reader go out today and buy a self-published book.”


Thank you to April Eberhardt for her time and generosity. We’ll be watching as she forges a path in the new world of publishing.

 

Susan Bearman is a writing veteran of more than 20 years, working as a ghost writer, technical writer and business editor. She teaches writing and social media for writers, and her current works-in-progress include several picture books, a memoir and a mystery. Read Susan on her own blog, Two Kinds of People, and weekly on the Garanimals Blog.

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Comments
  • Catherine McNamara

    Great post! I met Avril at my first women's writer's conference two years ago and she gave me a confidence boost when it was needed. I am now marketing my debut novel and have had a short story collection accepted. Avril is an inspiring speaker and her ideas here are compelling. A few years back I was about to give up on trying to sell my manuscript traditionally and if I hadn't gone down that path I would definitely be learning about self-publishing.

  • Eliza Earsman

    EXCLUSIVE/Explosive report published 25 MARCH 2012- update on http://ning.it/ahXnUi Please share with newspaper editors/journalists etc.

  • Cynthia Hartwig

    Great post, Susan. Did you happen to ask April if she's getting any blow-back from traditional publishers in moving to the self-publishing arena. I am wondering if it is possible for her to serve two masters. Good solid information and a good way to write an interview. Thanks.

  • Susan Bearman

    Carolyn, I know what you mean. I think I'm a pretty careful proofreader, but even on my blog, there always seems to be something that needs to be fixed. Glad you liked the profile.

  • Carolyn Vines

    "You need someone to edit for content and to do line edits."  I also believed that too many sloppy, self-published lowered the bar for those of us who aimed to publish a quality book. Thinking I was a good enough editor, I did NOT heed this advice when I self-published my memoir. Imagine my dismay when a reader (who, luckily was also an acquaintance) informed me of the dozens of type-os in my book. I'd read through the manuscript so many times and thought I'd caught all errors. Wrong! I immediately pulled my memoir from production and hired a professional, something I should have done in the first place. April Eberhardt's publishing paradigm is intriguing. Will visit her website. Thanks for the article/interview.

  • Susan Bearman

    Julie McKay Covert Hoping April will stop by to answer some of your questions.

    Claude Nougat I can't wait for April's proposed website.

    Lesley F. Howard Isn't April a dynamo? She has been and continues to be a very generous resource.

    Nancy Owen Nelson It never hurts to ask.

    Claire McAlpine Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you found the post helpful.

    Jessica Vealitzek Check out the Argo Navis website for more information on other agents who are participating in this model. 

  • Jessica Vealitzek

    Interesting, informative, and encouraging to read. I hope more agents like her exist. Thanks for writing.

  • Claire McAlpine

    An excellent piece and very informative, encouraging and insightful.  Even if the traditional route proves difficult, creating an engaging online presence and genuine intereaction with others is the right preparation for any endeavour into self-publishing, which in itself can sometimes be a route to more traditional publishing. Thank you for sharing.

  • Nancy Owen Nelson

    This is fascinating. I queried April after the 2009 Antioch Conference in Yellow Springs, OH, about my memoir. She did not accept me, but I'm wondering now if she would support me as self-published? 

  • Lesley F. Howard

    I had the opportunity to meet with April at the James River Writer Conference in fall of 2011 -- everything you say about her I also experienced, and I appreciate your capturing her thoughts re: self-publishing and audience so succinctly. Technology is, IMO, finally ripening the possibilities for savvy "amateurs" who want to self-publish. I'll be following her journey with interest -- and your blog! Thanks!  

  • Claude Nougat

    Glad to hear about how April is doing and about her plans and ideas. Sounds great! I very much like the idea of setting up a go-to website to guide readers towards worthwhile books! That would be a really important role for agents in this new Digital Age where self-pubbed authors have transformed the market, turning it into a veritable tsunami of titles (I believe 1.5 million at the latest count...)

  • Julie McKay Covert

    An interesting concept. I'm still not sure how the agent fits into the picture if she is not finding a traditional publisher to pick up the work. Or is it that these experienced agents are acting as book wives to help an author birth their own book rather than use a surrogate (trad pub) to birth their baby?

  • Susan Bearman

    It's a bit frustrating not to be able to reply to individual comments here, so bear with me.

    Deborah Batterman, thanks for your continued support of my work.

    Kelley Clink, I thought it was pretty revolutionary, as well. But it seems to be a time of revolution in the world of words.

    Patricia Smith Wood, You're welcome. I think this model may just be what self-publishing needs.

    Celestine McMullen Allen, good for you, both for self publishing and for raising the bar. Continued good luck.

    Bridget Straub, the numbers are daunting, but then again, I never did like math. I think I'll stick with writing.

  • Bridget Straub

    It's a little overwhelming when you put into numbers how many of us are looking for representation. 10,000 submissions must take a long time to sort through.

  • Great insight.  I self-published my first book, and it looks as though, based on your post, that I will be going this route again.  My dreams are minimized in that I have always wanted a book to be picked up by a traditional publishing house.  I feel good about my first collection and the quality of the product.  I will be raising the bar on my next publication.  

  • Patricia Smith Wood

    What a glorious concept! Agented self-publishing sounds like the perfect blend of expertise and new blood in writing. I'm very interested in this path. Thanks for the interview and the invaluable information!

  • Kelley Clink

    Susan!  Great blog!  Revolutionary thinking. Thank you so, so much for sharing!

  • Deborah Batterman

    Even better on a second reading . . . And oh-so-perfect for the She Writes audience.