What trends were you pleased with in 2014?
It was a relief to see the industry coming to some peace about all things digital. We’re not seeing the anxiety that we used to about how e-books and online bookselling are transforming the business (OK, maybe there’s still some anxiety about Amazon’s dominance). In part, that’s because the market for e-books has plateaued but also because publishers, authors, and agents have gained some competency with digital publishing. E-books are now part of everyone’s work flow, we’re figuring out the discovery question, and we’re all continuing to experiment but with more knowledge informing our experiments.
I was also glad to see increased fluidity between traditional publishing and self-publishing. There’s a widespread recognition that the two models both have pros and cons and that each can make sense for different authors and different books. I work exclusively with adult nonfiction authors, and some of them move back and forth between the two publishing models. For example, an author who usually works with a publisher might write a book for a very niche market that they can reach directly: in that case, they might self-publish the book and go back to their publisher with their next mainstream book. There’s also a maturation happening in self-publishing, with a lot of independent authors hiring teams of professionals to help them make books that are indistinguishable from those on the big publishers’ lists.
What are some trends you’ve noticed thus far in 2015?
I’m seeing a lot of submissions that reflect a disenchantment with big business and government: critiques of both the Canadian and U.S. justice systems and how elections are fought, books about corporate fraud, and books lambasting sitting politicians and their governments. Those will find an audience when they reveal something surprising and are written by a true authority on the subject. But there are also a lot of conspiracy theorists and cranks writing on those subjects. They’re easy to weed out.
In this era of celebrity books and books based on Twitter feeds, it’s heartening to see a book on an unlikely subject by a lesser-known writer, like H Is for Hawk, become wildly successful. I don’t know if we can call it a trend for 2015, but I’m glad that powerful voices and original stories can still trump platform.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’d like to work with more subject matter experts who also have exceptional writing talent. I’m interested in people who are doing original research and breaking ground in their fields and can translate their work for a popular audience. If the next Atul Gawande or Gabor Maté came my way, I’d be pretty happy.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I’m often surprised by what I can be interested in, if the subject and the voice are original and the writing is exceptional. I’ve sworn off subjects before and then found something brilliant on that topic that made me reconsider. As Nan Graham was quoted as saying, “I’ve vowed never to do another memoir, then someone like Jeannette Walls comes along.” Those moments of discovery are part of what make publishing so addictive.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
In my work, I straddle the traditional and nontraditional sides of publishing. After many years working as an editor and then a publisher, I founded a hybrid agency called Page Two with my business partner, Jesse Finkelstein. We act as literary agents through an association we have with Transatlantic Agency, and we also help a variety of authors and organizations publish their nonfiction work in nontraditional ways, to the highest possible standards. Some of our clients have traditional book deals and are self-publishing. Our model is rooted in the understanding that different kinds of books and authors need different publishing strategies, so we help people navigate the full spectrum of their publishing options and produce high-quality books across the board.
Trena White is co-founder and principal, with Jesse Finkelstein, of Page Two and an associate agent of Transatlantic Agency. She was formerly publisher of Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone Books and before that worked as a nonfiction editor at McClelland & Stewart. She has a master of publishing degree from Simon Fraser University, where she is an adjunct professor in publishing.