Publishing Isn’t for Sissies: Michelle Grajkowski–An Agent’s Perspective on the Digital Wave

Yesterday’s PIFSsummarized several best selling author’s perspective on the indie-traditional publishing debate. And Publisher’s Weekly’s thoughts on what makes indie work. Today–let’s talk to agent Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary Agency,a 10-year industry insider who’s seen this coming (while she launched NYT’s best selling careers), navigated her and her author’s way through the early stages of it, and is currently shifting her own business now that the digital wave is crashing onward, to better help those same authors.


Yes, she’s my agent. No, I’m not one of her A-List clients. Yet. But she’s fighting just like I am to get me and all of her authors there, wherever there is and whichever publishing path each individual career takes. I believe with all sincerity that she’s an author advocate in this business. She’s tough and insightful, understanding and flexible, level-headed but determined to negotiate for everything her clients should have, every step of their career. In short, she’s an amazing business partner and advisor and friend.

And those are just a few of the reasons I hope everyone who’s panicking and pointing fingers and pushing to the extreme and making rash decisions because the publishing sky is apparently falling, again–or just those of you who are open to and curious about a savvy insider’s perspective–take a few minutes to read on. You won’t be disappointed ;o)

Everyone welcome Michelle Grajkowski to Publishing Isn’t for Sissies!


Twenty years before Julie Andrews floated down from a cloudy sky into London to save a dysfunctional family in Mary Poppins, the movie industry was shaking in its boots.


Studio executives in the 50’s were very worried that their blockbuster movies were a thing of the past – thanks to the hit new box that sent pictures straight into people’s homes. And, they weren’t the only ones sweating.

Radio stations across the globe were frightened because no longer were families gathering around the radio to hear great classic like The Bob Hope Show, when they could tune in and see him live in their living room.
Flash forward to 2011. Publishers, authors and agents are feeling these same concerns in regards to the publishing industry. Bookstores are closing and bankrupting, e-readers are selling at all time highs, and buying habits of the readers are changing.

And, that, my friends, is the key word – CHANGE.

Did Hollywood studios or radio stations around the county collapse because of television? In most cases, no. And, why? Because the studio and radio executives knew they had to adapt. They had to roll with the changes and figure out ways to still be a viable entity in a world filled with new adventures.

Studios realized that the days of Golden Age musical productions were numbered. Movie goers were going gaga over other types of films. Radio stations started to focus more on music. who knew that teens could have so much advertising power? Gone were radio dramas, and up were bubble gum classics.

Taking a lesson from pop culture, I truly believe that the publishing industry will grow in this new world of e-publishing.

However, publishers, agents and authors need to adapt in order to stay on the wave.

First, publishers must recognize that authors may not need to rely on them as much to help their books reach the masses. Companies like Smashwords are changing the face of self-published novels. In years past, an author could self-publish a book. But the costs were high, and the quality of the physical book often times did not meet that of a traditionally published book. And, bookstores generally would not carry these books which made it hard for authors to actually get them into the hands of readers. Now, however, authors are able to load their books onto many different websites at a minimal cost to themselves.

And, some authors are hitting it big doing just that. Amanda Hocking has reportedly made over a million dollars on her self-published e-books. But, interestingly enough, Amanda has since landed an agent and sold a series to St. Martin’s Press in a multi-million dollar deal. So, even though she is widely successful on her own merit, she acknowledged that in order to reach an even greater audience, she wanted to sign a traditional publishing contract so her books would be accessible in all formats.

As the ebook sales continue to rise, publishers are starting to beef up their own publishing programs – they are changing with the times. Dorchester Publishing shocked the writing community last year when they announced that they were going direct to digital. Harlequin started a trend with the large houses when they formed Carina Press, their digital publishing arm. And, just last month, Harper Collins announced the same with their digital imprint, Impulse.

What does this mean to the authors? It means more opportunities to break into a large publishing program electronically while still receiving the fantastic editorial and marketing support of their traditional publishing counterparts. And, both Carina and Harper Collins Impulse editors agree that if a book or series takes off successfully, they will try to move those books into print. Carina just announced this week that one of their authors was just picked up by HQN, and that her books will be released as mass market editions. It’s exciting times!

But, where does all this change and flexibility leave agents?

Right where we are! Agents are so much more than salespeople. Yes, we market our authors’ books and try to find the right home. But, our biggest goal is, and always will be, to help our authors build long term, serious careers in publishing. We are big picture people — before one of my clients and I sign into a deal, I’m not just focusing on that particular deal. I’m looking into the future. Will this decision make sense for my client’s career 5 years from now? Ten? We’ve walked away from deals before (as hard as that is!) if it looks like it won’t be a good step in my client’s career.

And, in this digital age of publishing and self-publishing, those same long-term questions still need to be answered today. Every decision you make as an author today should benefit your career ten years down the road. Every. Single. Decision.

However, my role as an agent IS changing. No longer can agents only look at one traditional path for publication. The world is opening, and I’ve spent countless hours discussing the state of publishing with my clients. Staying on top of, and being informed on all the changes is crucial. If we stop, we’re going to fall off the ride. So, I’m constantly tracking the new venues for publication and looking for new ways to shop client material.

I mentioned earlier that I believe that the changes in the digital platform is going to help publishing numbers grow. And, I mean that. I think that as more readers buy e-reading devices the number of actual books sold throughout the industry is also going to increase. Rather than having to physically drive into a bookstore or to log onto Amazon to have a book mailed to you, instead if you want a book, you download it and magically it’s in your hands. Instantly. And, when you finish one book, you can quickly download another. Impulse buys are going to grow book sales.

So, as scary as change feels, in publishing, I think this change is a huge opportunity for growth. Yes, we will have battles along the way (epublishing royalty percentages), but we also have a bright future in front of us. The bottom line is this is your career. The one constant throughout the years is that no one author’s career is the same as another. You have to decide what’s right for you. And, I truly believe having a strong advocate by your side to help you reach your goals is still paramount. So, as nervous as change can make anyone feel, I, for one, am so excited to be part of this ever changing publishing tide!


Thanks for coming today, Michelle!

She’ll be back out today, to answer any questions you leave in the comments. And she’ll pop up in PIFS again before you know it, tackling more specific topics that are affecting authors, agents and publishers. So  keep ckecking back to see what’s ahead!

In the mean time, look back at some of the most recent PIFS posts if you’ve missed them:

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9 Responses to “Publishing Isn’t for Sissies: Michelle Grajkowski–An Agent’s Perspective on the Digital Wave”

  1. Elaine says:


    Thanks so much for taking time to be on Anna’s blog today!

    I was curious as to what you would say to those of us still unpublished. Many are saying we should go right for self-publishing if our books may not fit the traditional big 6 NYC houses, but my main goal is to find an agent. To me, it doesn’t matter if digital and ebooks outrank print books, I still want an agent to partner with going forward–even if their roles do change.

    What would be your advice to those of us unpubbed (yet many of us are PRO status and are actively seeking publication) who aren’t sure which direction we should go when we do finish and polish that next novel?

    Elaine Burroughs

  2. Nancy Naigle says:

    Thanks for the comments, Michelle. It’s definitely a shifting landscape. I guess like any business we’re going to have to take some chances and ride the wave of change into the future!

    With so many choices, are there any tips you give debut authors to help set themselves apart from the masses?
    Thanks for joining the blog today.

  3. Hi Elaine,

    Thanks so much for your question. If your goal is to secure representation, my best advice would be to send your proposal out to agents once you feel that it is polished and ready to rock.

    Personally, I like to shop a project that is fresh, that hasn’t been published in any format prior to my pitching. Editors tend to like fresh material as well — it’s easier to position for sales and marketing. That being said, if a book that has been published either electronically or was self published and has a great following and a strong track record, all bets are off!

    Honestly, with all the changes in the current market, and the store closures, etc., it’s becoming harder and harder to secure a tradtional print contract as an unpublished author. (Not that it was ever easy!) So, anything you can do to develop a name or a following is very helpful. I recommend being very active online, whether it’s through online communities like Facebook or Twitter, or through posting on blogs. Publishers like to know that writers are able to help in their marketing endeavors.

    And, if you have a book that you think just doesn’t quite fit into the traditional publishing molds, there is nothing wrong with self-pubbing your book.

    But, again, this all comes down to what you want from your career. Don’t let it discourage you if you feel like you are writing things that are outside the box. Most of the top-selling authors grew their careers doing just that — they found a way to carve a niche in the marketplace and sold a LOT of books that way!

    Personally, I love to find and help develop new writers who write things that are different than the other books that are out there.

    Sorry! This is a long-winded answer! :)

    Thanks again,

  4. Hi Michelle!

    Enjoyed your post. Let me just say–I’m so happy you’re my agent and in my corner! Good advice here! Amidst all the changes, it’s also a time to look for opportunities. Let’s hang on together!

  5. Excellent post. And, Anna, you’re too modest.

  6. Michelle, what do you think (in general) about the “standard” NYC e-rate of 25% net? You mentioned Avon Impulse. It’s no advance and 25% net, although it does have the sliding royalty rate if you sell an amazing number of books. Do you see a time the big houses will raise their digital royalty rates to compete with the self-publishing marketplace? I mean, if they’re offering a decent advance, it’s one thing… However, there’s always the possibility of print if the author does very well in digital. Hem-haw.

    Personally, I’d like to see a “standard” NYC royalty rate that matches the “standard” digital-first house rates and still have the possibility of print. Either that, or offer the advance.

    Publishing is changing so rapidly. As new opportunities sprout up, it’s hard to realize what to do sometimes. This is when a supportive agent who isn’t afraid to explore new avenues with his or her clients becomes invaluable.

    The number of authors I am aware of who are either (1) self-pubbing their back list and/or (2) self-pubbing their new stuff at the same time is growing astronomically. And a lot of it has to do with the 25% on net. The authors feel they can do better on their own. And many of them are proving that they can.


  7. Mary Preston says:

    Change is always inevitable. I don’t think anyone thought, I certainly didn’t, that e-books would force such sweeping changes.

  8. Anna says:

    Thanks again for coming out, Michelle. We’ve had great traffic!

    I think the things I take away most from your post and comments is keeping the eye on the long-term career, not just the current chaos, and choosing business partners you wan to be working with (and trusting your career to), both now and 5, 10, and 15 years down the road. As always, I LOVE your approach.

    Keep the greate questions coming, folks. I’m nudging Michelle to check back out here over the weekend to keep the conversation going ;o)

    And, Cindy, ditto to you my friend!

  9. M.E. Anders says:

    Thanks, Michelle, for sharing your insight into current industry while simultaneously injecting our spirits with hope for our writing futures. Good luck to you and your clients!

    Your approach differs from many other agents, who seem to be focused on just “getting a deal.” Words of wisdom, here…

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