Sunday, August 7, 2011

Agent Panel: Barry Goldblatt

Barry Goldblatt
Barry Goldblatt is a lucky man.

Not only does he happen to work for an agency with the same name as his (what are the odds?),  he's married to the fabulous Libba Bray, who has entertained and inspired us all weekend. And in addition to Libba, he represents some of the most compelling writers in the business: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Lauren Myracle.

The 11-year-old agency has two agents now, Barry and Joe Monti. They represent everything from picture books up through YA.

On digital publishing:

The simple fact is, this is nothing new. The way it's being done is new. Vanity publishing has been around since the first printing presses have been available. It doesn't change anything about how professional publishing works or how we work. Our job is to find authors whose work we believe in and give them the best chance to be seen by as many eyes as we can.

On market segments that are thriving: 

Barry doesn't worry about this: "My job is, I get a great book. If I believe in that book and the author is really talented, I'm going to find that book a home whether the marketplace is buying that or not. Right now, you hear a lot of buzz about YA. But there are a lot of readers who aren't reading YA and we're still publishing books for them. Just because it's not fancy and glamorous doesn't mean there's not a market for it."

What makes you sure you can sell a first-time author's manuscript? 

I signed it! I have a full list and there's not tons of room left. But I'm always looking for new people. There is very little in agenting as satisfying as making that first sale for an author. It's the best rush we get. It really, really is.

What's voice? 

"We know it when we see it." With his clients on a recent retreat, he had everybody bring a paragraph or sample of what they thought was good voice. Having everybody read what they thought was great voice was really enlightening. It was different from every person there. What was consistent was, you knew it when you heard it.

What happens if you can't sell something? 

"I have a 98 percent sell rate. Are there things that can't sell now? Yes. Are there things we can't sell now that we pick up later? Yes. Are there things that are unsellable? Yes. As we've discussed, those conversations with the client can be really difficult. Sometimes you emerge from it as a team, sometimes you don't. I built this agency on the idea that great writing will always find a home, no matter how weird a problem is or how oddball it is in terms of where the marketplace is." 

"I don't measure my success or failure about whether the book becomes a huge hit. That's not what it's about. It's about a good publishing experience for my author." 

You have a magic wand. You can fix any one thing in the publishing business. What would it be?

I want the end of semiannual payments to authors. In Europe, they pay once a year.
How do we submit to you? has our guidelines. It's email only. Please follow the guidelines. You will be deleted if you don't follow the rules.

What do you not want to see any more of? 

What's the next hotspot?

What's your pet peeve about submissions? 
For me it's simply sending me things I don't represent. It drives me crazy.

What would you like to land on your submissions desk tomorrow? 
All of the above: brilliant, award-winning bestseller.

Barry took a moment to mention the passage of the brilliant William Sleater: "If you have not read his work, you should. His book INTERSTELLAR PIG will be enjoyed by any reader of any age. He will be sorely missed.


  1. Out of all the people who spoke, presented, and just attended the conference the agents on this panel were the only ones who came across as less than kind. They seem to be out there just to help themselves. Oh, they are willing to partner with and nourish the writers who are brilliant, but don't send any bad submissions. Also don't critizie them or have the nerve to go somewhere else if they don't think your work is good enough, even if you have sold 4 previous books with them. And unless you are making money for them don't bother them. Normally I would say thank you for being real, but they aren't. They put on a (weakly attempted) nice face and spew lines about wanting the best for their clients. Save the fake sugar coating for the poor people who got up the courage to submit to you.
    Barry was misquoted on the question of how to submit to him. He didn't say "please". He said, "You are not important enough or special enough to break the rules. If you don't follow the guidlines you will be deleted."
    Don't worry Barry we all know we're not special or important to you when you just ignore our submissions if you don't see $$$ in them.

  2. Thanks for a fun interview, Martha! I was wondering, though, if I've missed it or if it really wasn't there, but I can't seem to find anywhere on the website that actually states what this agency wanted to see in terms of submissions.

    As well, if you tried to get to click the "Submissions Guidelines" link from the News page, it brings up an error.