What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
2014’s trends are going to look a lot like a continuation of what we’ve been seeing over the past few years: further consolidation among publishers (see: HarperCollins’ acquiring Harlequin, just announced) as well as among agencies and other players in the publishing/book space; increased conflict over margins between publishers, retailers and authors; continued high frequency of phenomenon-level mega-successes along with A-plus author-brand growth that crowds out the vast and heterogeneous midlist; further rending of the garments over the problems with “discovery,” a word we invented when the only kind of discovery that seems to actually work (i.e., in-store physical discovery of the unexpected, leading to serendipitous purchases) became challenged by the supremacy of the Internet and online shopping. All that said, the market among publishers for good books remains quite strong; there is a powerful hunger for unique voices and wonderfully told stories (though it should be admitted that the market vastly prefers the novelty of debuts to nonbest-selling published authors).
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m always hoping to find books that invent their own genre rather than ones that simply follow in the wake of another success. Like Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010), for example; the success of that book created a powerful sense within the publishing industry that complicated, intellectually rich material can work on the highest imaginable level—so long as it’s extraordinarily written, told and researched, as Rebecca’s book so assuredly is. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to be a part of that story. I always tell people that I’d love to find a thriller that creates a subgenre—much like The Firm(1991) did for legal thrillers, The Hunt for Red October (1984)did for techno-thrillers, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) did for serial killer thrillers, The Da Vinci Code (2003) did for historical conspiracy thrillers, and Gone Girl did for domestic psychological suspense. I also love novels that aren’t afraid to shuck off the prosaic, mundane world and take flight into the imaginative possibilities of fiction. I mean fantasy specifically, of course, but not just fantasy per se: that moment when an author peels away from the exactly real while retaining total believability and authenticity? A book owns me when it does that.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
It’s not so much a topic. I’m a voice junkie: I like authors with strong writing personalities, and I’m drawn to unique, authentic, idiosyncratic voices and storytelling. What I don’t want to see, I guess, is the inverse: boring writing telling a boring story that just fills a perceived market need.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I love books, and I love the aesthetic pleasures of working with authors to make their books the best they can possibly be. But it’s also been incredibly exciting over the past decade to spend time digging deep into the financial and economic structures of publishing, analyzing our business and our authors’ businesses from a broader perspective, with the ultimate intent of utilizing the strategic insights gained from this analysis to improve authors’ careers and maximize their revenues from their work. I’ve been lucky to have the resources of a large agency filled with brilliant people to bring to bear on the issues that are most important to our writers, and I think we have carved out a unique position among agencies as a result of our hard work in this area.
Simon Lipskar is president of Writers House, a leading literary agency in New York. As an agent, he represents a wide range of writers, including many major best-selling and award-winning authors in literary and commercial fiction, narrative nonfiction and fiction for young readers.