Friday, July 7, 2017

Rubin Pfeffer: Be Empowered -- Publishing Is Your Business

Rubin Pfeffer has served as President and Publisher of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Trade, working with world-renowned writers and illustrators of adult and children’s literature. As SVP and Chief Creative Officer of Pearson, Inc. Pfeffer coordinated programs between Penguin and Pearson’s educational products and services. Later, he joined Simon & Schuster as SVP and Publisher of Children’s Books overseeing such fine imprints as S&S BFYR, Atheneum, McElderry Books and the launching of Beach Lane Books. Pfeffer founded Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC, a literary agency focused on children’s content, representing industry award-winners and luminaries. RPC Content takes great pride in introducing new, emerging, and diverse voices in children’s writing and illustrating to the children’s books community. Visit

Fresh off his duties moderating the editors' panel, agent Rubin Pfeffer, founder of RP Content, kicked off a session he aptly titled Be Empowered: Publishing Is Your Business. Emphasis mine -- and his.

"Who you are is a key component of the publishing process," he said, whether you're a writer, illustrator or both. "There's no such thing as publishing without you."

While publishers rely on writers and artists for the very product they push, frequently, the writer or artist is the one who feels left out the loop. But you don't have to feel that way.

Knowing how to navigate the business helps you best protect yourself professionally and emotionally.

Highlights from Rubin's talk:

  • Everyone's always pitching, everyone's always selling. You to agent -- agent to editors -- editor to sales and  marketing, etc. -- sales and marketing to markets -- markets to gatekeepers -- gatekeepers to readers. It's a huge cycle. 
  • Despite what you may have heard (or the pinch you may have felt!), when it comes to money, "you're not getting shafted." The numbers even out in the end because the publisher is absorbing a lot of costs. "Honestly, 80 to 90 percent of books that are published don't make money." 
  • Foreign sales and other subsidiary rights can be "found money" for authors. Translation, audio, adaptation and other rights can be negotiating tools and resources for additional income. 
  • Make sure your agent is Team Author. It should be a relationship built on mutual respect. Be clear with them on your career goals. And remember: "The agent is the bridge between you and publishers," Rubin said. "But you're paying the toll, so be sure you're getting what you need." Communicate your needs.
  • The relationship between the writer and editor is sacred. The smart agent becomes invisible once the project is sold -- unless there's an issue.  
  • Publishing is a business built on relationships. When it comes to agents, editors and publishers, "make sure you feel respected." Don't feel respected? Move. 
  • Ask questions. (Or have your agent ask.) Sales numbers? Marketing? Get a post-mortem: what worked, what didn't? 
  • Publishing is deliberately slow -- for the sake of quality and to give each book the best opportunity in a busy market.

    In the meantime, think about the long term. Start on what's next. Keep writing, keep working. 

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