Axelrod on voice

For more than 30 years, Steven Axelrod has been one of the top agents for romance authors—negotiating deals with publishing houses, and helping his clients build their careers. He knows the business side of publishing intimately and when we spoke, he had a lot to say about author branding, and the extent to which self-publishing is totally transforming the publishing world.


How has the publishing industry changed for authors?

Well, it didn’t change at all for 27 of them, and then, I guess it was five years ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle, and that didn’t really change it all that much. But then, I don’t know how long ago, how long after they introduced the Kindle, they introduced KDP, the Kindle Direct Publishing or publishing platform, whatever it is. And that’s changed the business, I think. That’s been a disruptive change to the business that we still don’t know quite what it’s going to cost us, but it democratized the publishing process. It used to be that if you wanted to submit to a major publisher, you had to submit through an agent. It was the publisher’s regulations, so it was a lifetime employment act for agents, and if you wanted to have a book in the bookstores or a book read widely, you had to get an agent, and the agent had to submit to a publisher, and the publisher had to agree to publish it. Then it could go out. Now with Kindle KDP, an author can just upload a book and all of a sudden have a massive bestseller. And there are lots of cases where it’s happened. People who have never published before. I have a new client who never published really before April, and now she’s number 85 on the USA Today list. All self-published. Phenomenal.

The brand is the author, and their storytelling gift and their voice. That’s the real brand, and the readers recognize it, and they recognize it immediately. It’s one of the things we see on Amazon now with the self-published stuff is people are successful almost overnight. It’s like viral. It’s very hard to deliberately duplicate or deliberately create, but it happens all the time. People who have never published before are all of a sudden stars in that world. And it’s because their voice just cuts through all the clutter and speaks to readers, and when readers have that experience they want to talk about it, and they want to share it, and they want others to enjoy it as well; and it’s amazing.

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