If you’re at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre at around 4:30 p.m. on April 7, you’ll see people paying special attention to what Jonny Geller says.
It’s his good looks and charm.
No, wait, that would give us 17 reasons. Sorry, Jonny.
The Great Cathedral Tweets: @wabbey
As the afternoon shadows of Westminster Abbey cast its darkening dignity over the QE II Centre, the Publishing for Digital Minds Conference congregation will be rolling into its own evensong: The bookly faithful will be gathered as an invocation to London Book Fair’s annual weeklong summit of the literature world’s movers and shakers.
- Sure, some in the audience will be so attentive because they’re among @JonnyGeller‘s 20,200+ followers on Twitter.
- Others will listen closely because he’s the Joint CEO of London’s Curtis Brown, one of the world’s great literary and talent agencies. Geller’s clients alone could provide you with a stupdendous lifetime reading list. They include John le Carré, William Boyd, Susanna Clarke, Carl Hiaasen, Jonathan Grimwood, Adele Parks, David Mitchell, Jake Arnott, and many more, among them the literary estates of the late Nelson Mandela and Ian Fleming. Bond, James Bond.
- Still others of us in the house on the seventh will be delighted to see Geller’s fellow panelists in the Question Time session that brings them all to the stage. They include Faber & Faber chief Stephen Page; Sourcebooks czarina Dominique Raccah; author Nick Harkaway; Kobo’s key front man Michael Tamblyn; Palgrave Macmillan’s managing director Sam Burridge; and the UK Publishing Association’s leader, Richard Mollet. These are no slouches.
But watch the authors in auditorium in particular. And when it seems they’re leaning in with Sheryl Sandberg nowhere in sight, see how many of Geller’s new 15 Commandments you can recite.
No Burning Bush
Geller has just published one of his occasional blog posts with The Bookseller in London. Typical of his essays, it’s a finely distilled draught of truths that some of his fellows in the agenting business wouldn’t risk saying. (Another agent in the London flock writes under the pseudonym Agent Orange because, this agent has told me, publishers unhappy with her or his comments could take out their displeasure on his or her clients.)
In How to rise above the din, Geller wastes no time:
Let’s face it, much of publishing is now marketing.
That’s exactly the kind of noise that many in a digital-whipped industry like book-mongering, actually, would rather folks didn’t make. Too honest by half. The prettier picture, after all, glows with fireside appreciation for paginated prose and marvelous rabbit-holing in Merriam’s and Webster’s gardens to root out just the right word! Ah! Winged phrases sweetly sifted for your pleasure and edification by tweedy swells and sweatered women whose biggest thrills…well, never mind that. Here’s Geller:
It sometimes feels like it comes down to shouting with taste. So many books, so few channels and so many other distractions. How does a unique product like a book, a story, an imagined world, rise above the din? What does an author need from their publisher and agent?
Here are those 15 Gellerian instructions for rising “above the din.” I’ll mess around with them only a bit and I’ll put those messings around in [brackets]. So you know it’s [me]. Sorry, can’t hear you for the din.
- Collect a small team of professionals who are devoted to the project for periods of time throughout the year leading up to, during and after publication. [One of the main complaints you hear from traditionally published authors is that their work may not have the sustained attention of anyone in a digitally distracted business. Geller’s talking about gathering such professionals so that a book project gets focus, commitment, time. You’ve heard the word “team,” right? Such a concept.]
- Empower that team to take initiatives that may not always be consistent with corporate decrees. One size does not fit all. [That clacking is shoes on well-waxed floors. Lower-level employees running for the doors. Geller has just proposed that a given project’s needs may be more important than a company’s routines. There could be crossfire in which to be caught. Helmets on.]
- Test the message with the author. They will know instinctively if it goes against the spirit of the work and will sniff out a disingenuous campaign. [This is one of the most resilient of Geller’s tenets. Two years ago, he was at The Bookseller with another piece, An Agent’s Manifesto, in which he wrote: “The author is the expert. Why assume that the one person who has spent the past 12-18 months on the subject, the story and the world of their work, knows least about how they should be represented to the trade and to the reader?” Believe it or not, this at some points in some offices of some publishing houses at some times in history would be thought heresy. The author has not always been seen as much better than a possibly talented but always addled youngster. Somehow, many publishers seem to have missed that word author-ity. Crazy, huh?]
- Never blame the market. [There goes about 45 percent of tomorrow’s water cooler conversation.]
- Never moan about certain retailers not “making” books anymore. [There goes the rest.]
- Never “protect” the author from bad news. They need to know what to expect. [Offering that author a Campari on ice with the bad news is perfectly appropriate.]
- Think mad ideas and test them against the author. Nobody minds energy, ideas and enthusiasm. [Might sell some books, too.]
- Authors hate silence. [Have I mentioned “the silence of the trads” lately?]
- Authors want to know who is accountable and who is worrying more than they are. [Someone is worrying more than the authors are, right? Right? Hello?]
- Authors want believers. [And vice versa, in the better moments.]
- Don’t expect social media to sell books. [Tweetin’ Jonny knows his social.]
- Don’t be surprised if you offer one e-tailer a promotional discount and Amazon matches it. You can’t then bemoan the devaluing of the book. [It may not all be Amazon’s fault. Pass it on.]
- Irritate, cajole, tempt, seduce and beguile your customers about a book you believe in. [And work on finding and connecting with those customers, the better to irritate, cajole, tempt, seduce and beguile them.]
- Don’t let up. [And…]
- If the above sounds like too much work for the book you are publishing, don’t bother publishing.
See? You don’t even have to be an author to love this guy. If you’re a reader, you want Geller “shouting with taste” for your favorite authors, right?
No, They’re Not Out To Get You
Chances are good that there’s nobody in any part of publishing getting up in the morning determined to give an author short shrift. What can appear to be recent patterns of treating “the talent” like the kitchen help were installed along with your great-grandmother’s first Formica. (Did you know that a man named Faber made that stuff, too?)
As the noise level of digitally enabled (and disrupted) publishing rises, Jonny Geller is right to conclude, “authors and agents want din, more din, but most of all, din that makes sense.”
And in the peace of that coming Monday afternoon in Broad Sanctuary at the Digital Minds confab, we may witness one of the big week’s last moments to do something other than “shout with taste.” The trade-show floor of London Book Fair at Earls Court is nothing if not loud.
Follow along with us at hashtag #DigiConf14 on April 7. We’ll whisper a litany of New Gellerisms to you in real-time.
Image of Jonny Geller by Vicki Alhadeff | Provided by Curtis Brown, London