Agent Advice: Carole Jelen of Waterside Productions

This interview features Carole Jelen, vice president at Waterside Productions. As publishing agent for two decades and coauthor of Creating Your Author Platform: The New Rules, this former publishing executive and editor has worked with innovators including Steve Jobs, and is designated as a “Career Builder” literary agent. Among her slew of unique specialties and responsibilities, she also connects authors to publishers in all top series, such as the branded “For Dummies” line and build author careers with single titles and full series lines. She is seeking: Her top-selling specialty areas include technology, business and self-help.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Carole Jelen of Waterside Productions) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Carole Jelen, vice president at Waterside Productions. As publishing agent for two decades and coauthor of Creating Your Author Platform: The New Rules, this former publishing executive and editor has worked with innovators including Steve Jobs, and is designated as a “Career Builder” literary agent. Among her slew of unique specialties and responsibilities, she also connects authors to publishers in all top series, such as the branded “For Dummies” line and build author careers with single titles and full series lines.

She is seeking: Her top-selling specialty areas include technology, business and self-help.

(The term "platform" defined: learn how to sell more books.)

jelen-literary-agent

GLA: Why did you become an agent?

CJ: My business card reads "Idea Magnet" because I've always loved nurturing ideas. Publishing was a natural calling for me; I loved working as an editor for three separate major publishing houses for over a decade. My publishing work evolved into becoming a literary agent, where I've stayed for a couple of decades now. For someone who is like me—half bookworm and half cheerleader—working as a literary agent is the perfect combination.

GLA: What's something you've sold that comes out now/soon that you're excited about?

CJ: The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital: Inside Secrets from the Leaders in the Startup Game by Andrew Romans (McGraw-Hill).

40 leading venture capitalists come together to teach entrepreneurs how to succeed with their startup

The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital is packed with invaluable advice about how to raise angel and venture capital funding, how to build value in a startup, and how to exit a company with maximum value for both founders and investors. It guides entrepreneurs through every step in an entrepreneurial venture from the legalities of raising initial capital to knowing when to change tactics.

Book tour locations and details will be announced shortly:

  1. Boston October 2, 2013 from 5pm to 9pm at Choate overlooking Boston harbor.
  2. Panel of five leading VCs followed by two hours of food, drinks and networking.

GLA: Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

CJ: I work a little differently—preferring concise queries rather than proposals for the first contact point. It saves time on both ends to ask the author to first briefly sum up need for the book and idea description along with bio and author platform summary.

In the literary agency business for a generation now, I’m pretty solid in knowing what I’m looking for. If the idea and author generate excitement, that's when I go to the next step with the author, and the proposal becomes well targeted. About half the time, I'm the one seeking the ideal author to fit a book idea that I'm confident will sell.

(What does that one word mean? Read definitions of unique & unusual literary words.)

GLA: You have been involved in many roles in the publishing industry. What has been the most challenging? The most rewarding?

CJ: Yes, I've worn many of the publishing hats. There's no question that literary agent work is the most rewarding; the celebration of published books is built right into the equation, with an average of around 100 of these a year at my desk.

The most challenging? As a west coast free spirit acquiring books for large east coast publishers, those fly-into-the-east-coast-for-in-house-all-day committee meetings required a mountain of patience.

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GLA: Your agency bio says you worked with Steve Jobs. What kind of work did you do with him, and what was that like?

CJ: At Addison-Wesley publishing, we grew book series using the concept of strategic alliances. So I had a lot of contact with Apple in aligning publishing efforts regarding all things Apple in the early days.

Jobs was a master of promotion. I was able to see him up close and the way he created the amazing loyal corporate culture of Apple and also learn how he created that powerful audience awe around Apple announcements. I was lucky to be part of that time and place! But it wasn't until Steve Jobs left Apple for those few years creating the NeXT computer that I was able to meet him and work as the only publisher allowed into the NeXT headquarters. I worked on creating the official book on his product. He didn't like publishers involved because he spun his own message and was a master at creating a sort of persona around his products, down to the last detail. There was even a hardbound book he created showing every step of how the NeXT logo was created. That kind of care and concern was remarkable to witness, but even more remarkable was how he was able to reach into the hearts and minds of everyone around him to join his cause.

GLA: One of your areas of expertise is creating and cultivating author platform. Does this mean you are, perhaps, more willing to consider writers with little to no established platform? Is this the same for nonfiction writers, who are generally expected to have standout platform before proposing books?

CJ: Yes, I've been working on my book Creating Your Author Platform: The New Rules: Building Your Audience in 14 Steps (May 2014) for a couple years now under that title because my author clients I represent became frustrated that publishers demanded platform. Authors want a comprehensive book and couldn't find anything out there putting all the steps together under one roof to follow. The authors I represent work as subject matter experts and also write books, so they barely have time to work at their jobs and also finish manuscripts.

Basically, my clients demanded a platform roadmap, so we delivered on it. I coauthor with my author-client Mike McCallister who clicks the universal must-have platform pieces into place step-by-step simplifying how to use the latest technology. And as our client platforms grow, we see book sales climb.

For inquiries—we need authors with a platform and an amazing book idea that gets the bells ringing!

(The term "platform" defined: learn how to sell more books.)

GLA: What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do to build platform?

CJ: That would be to read my book. ;) which shows every step, simplified. I've also collected many author client and publisher success tips and techniques answering this subject and included their advice.

As a literary agent working with a busy clientele, I see the first thing authors must do is to overcome their own resistance to the idea that they must create a platform. There's major pushback because the prevalent attitude is that "someone else should do promotion." Resistance results in nonaction. Growing a platform takes some time, but it's fundamental to success of authors and books. The term New Rules in our book title means we shine light on new demands, strategies and tools in the digital era: one of the main points showing authors the whys and hows in engaging with their readership.

GLA: The Waterside Productions, Inc., site says it is a “literary agency for computer and technology authors.” Can you expand on this?

CJ: Yes, we place more computer/tech related books with publishers than any agency; we also have a leading agency position in top selling titles in business, lifestyle and self-help including authors like Eckhart Tolle's best selling title: A New Earth. Tech is a specialized niche that we're versed in from way back in the early days of then-unknowns in the Silicon Valley and one in which we have a lead, with multi-millions of copies sold by our author clients.

GLA: Your agency only lists nonfiction submission guidelines. Are you only interested in nonfiction work?

CJ: We are a nonfiction agency, but we are also open to fiction proposals on a limited and selective basis.

GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

CJ: I guess that would be some perilous adventures traveling to 37 countries—my memoirs to be published after my upcoming book on platform. The writing will be far too up close and personal (!), but I guess you could say I'm ready to live in a glass house.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

CJ: Yes, I'll be attending local writers conferences in the San Francisco bay area.

GLA: Where can people see full submission guidelines?

CJ: http://www.waterside.com/agency/submission-form/

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

CJ: Choose the widest possible audience for your book and then focus on your audience needs.

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This guest column by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
The Write-Brained Network. You can
Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

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