Business is booming at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Eleven new major book deals nailed down and that was while Sandy was vacationing in Europe.
So look out, now that she’s back!
Widely considered the most powerful agent on the West Coast, Dijkstra has been called “tough” and “abrasive” with a keen nose for new talent.
A passionate fighter for her authors
I’ve been on the other side of the table from Sandy during some tough negotiations and I can tell you she’s a passionate fighter for her authors. She knows the ins and outs of every contract. She perseveres, she’s relentless, and she walks away with top dollar for her clients.
One thing is certain: when I get a submission from Sandy Dijkstra, I sit up and pay attention.
The agency, based in Del Mar, California, represents more than 250 writers. Its deep bench of blockbuster best-selling authors includes:
- Amy Tan Joy Luck Club; Saving Fish from Drowning
- Lisa See Peony in Love; On Gold Mountain
- Joel Greenblatt The Little Book that Beats the Market
- Chalmers Johnson Blowback; Nemesis
- Susan Faludi Backlash
- Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Mistress of Spices
- Irv Yalom Staring at the Sun
- Maxine Hong Kingston Woman Warrior
- Stephen Prothero Religious Literacy
What Sandy thinks about publishing today
What can we learn about the state of the book business from a top literary agent? I reached Sandy by phone at her offices in the beach town of Del Mar, just north of San Diego.
Absolutely terrific. I just got back from a two month vacation in Europe and found that the three wonderful young agents who work for me had sold eleven major projects while I was gone. Eleven new contracts.
‘I should go away more often,’ I told them.
These were deals for new authors just starting out, for older established authors, for five and six figure advances, some with two or three titles in the contract, fabulous projects at major commercial publishers. So my people are happy, optimistic about selling more books, passionate about what they do. And that’s the future for us!
There’s quite a bit of doom and gloom in the book business this year, as publishers report declining unit sales and profits. How has this affected your operation as an agent?
Well after 25 years in the business, I know that plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. The more things change the more they are the same.
I’ve seen this cycle before. We don’t really know what’s going to happen and personally I don’t believe this doom or gloom is going to last. I can see the bigger picture. The truth is that we’re in an economic recession, real estate is suffering, the price of gas is awful, there’s less discretionary income around.
But what do we really know about the future? Well, we know that baby boomers need larger type books, that’s for sure. We know younger people still love to read but are buying fewer books.
So what we have to do is understand, to meet and grow with these young people, and figure out how to sell them ideas and information they want.
What do you tell your authors about marketing their books?
I tell our authors that they can’t stop working on their book after the first act, after finishing the manuscript and signing the contract. I say they have to go on to the second act or there won’t be any third.
We want our authors to know that they themselves are the first and best advocate for selling the book, and we their agents are the second.
We can try to persuade the publisher to pay attention to the book and do all the conventional things they’ve been doing for years in the national broadcast and print media. But we know that they have a narrow window of concentration. It’s hard to get their attention. A few weeks after publication, they’re on to the next season, the next list of books. So we tell authors to have limited expectations of their publishers.
It’s really up to us – the author and the agent – to keep the book visible, to continue and expand the marketing, to hire a publicist when appropriate, especially to invest in web-based internet marketing.
How important is web marketing?
I agree with my colleague Steve Kasdin (former marketing executive with Harcourt Brace, now marketing Amazon’s Kindle to book publishers) that authors and agents have a tremendous opportunity now to control marketing direct to readers by going on the internet, building interactive web sites, and blogging.
Some publishers, like Penguin and Random House, support author web sites and blogs, but it’s still up to the author and agent to keep pushing on this, with the help of professional tech design and web-marketing specialists for hire.
I’ve been recommending Fauzia-Burke Associates, for example, and there are many others.
What are you most excited about now and for the future?
You’re going to be hearing a lot about the San Francisco Opera’s World Premiere of The Bonesetter’s Daughter on September 13th. Amy Tan wrote the libretto based on her novel. Stewart Wallace has written a score with western and Chinese music. It’s going to be fabulous.
I’m also excited by what Irv Yalom is doing now. You know he’s been a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford Medical School for decades, writing nonfiction and novels, books for professionals and for lay readers, big New York Times bestsellers like Love’s Executioner, international bestsellers like When Nietzsche Wept, and The Gift of Therapy.
All of his books are having new editions all over the world. His new book about overcoming the terror of death called Staring at the Sun is a bestseller in Germany, France, Greece, Brazil, Israel, Norway, and Sweden, When Nietzsche Wept has been made into a movie that’s soon to be released, he’s starting in on a new novel.
What an inspiration!