Tara Hart has worked with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. since starting as an intern in May 2008. She joined the agency full time as the Contracts and Royalties Manager in September of that year. Her primary responsibilities involve the negotiation of contract and processing of payments, as well as managing our internship program. In addition she has been working to evaluate the various options in the reprint arena and to successfully relaunch various titles into the marketplace. To this end she has shepherded over eighty titles through the republication process and is looking forward to seeing many of these titles live again. She earned her BA from Niagara University and her Masters in Publishing from Pace University.
Prof. Denning: Hi Tara and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been two years since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program. What have you been doing professionally and personally since then?
Tara: I have been working at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc as the Contracts and Royalties Manager since the fall of 2008. I handle the negotiation of all our domestic contracts and work with my colleagues in negotiating film, audio and translation agreements. I also have been working to explore reprint opportunities for our back-list and to date have placed over 80 titles back into the market.
Prof. Denning: How has the publishing industry changed since you began your career? What was the work environment like then, as opposed to now, in terms of job opportunities?
Tara: I think that the publishing industry is facing more challenges since I began working in 2008, especially with the economic downturn, which led to a spate of layoffs and highly qualified people competing for similar jobs as new entrants to publishing. That said, I also think that this is a time of great opportunity for people who are willing to experiment, take chances, and make a difference and who are passionate about great books and introducing them to readers. There are new opportunities to reach readers in new ways, to change the way people read and to effect the way the world thinks of books.
Prof. Denning: How did your educational experience at Pace prepare you for your career in publishing?
Tara: I strove in my time at Pace to take as many different types of classes as possible, while being aware of the strengths I possessed. I also tried to make as many connections as possible with my fellow classmates and professors. This industry is one of personal connections, and using Pace as a starting point, I have founded friendships and professional connections that have served me well since leaving the program.
Prof. Denning: What was the topic of your thesis paper? What advice would you give to students who still have to write their papers?
Tara: My paper was on the terms of the proposed Google Books Settlement back in 2009. I decided to write on this topic as I was getting inundated with paperwork regarding the proposed settlement and realized that many authors and people in publishing had no idea what the settlement was about. I also wanted to address some of the issues I saw with the way it was worked out. As for students who are still working on figuring out their topic, I would recommend that they read the industry news, in either Publisher’s Marketplace, Publisher’s Weekly or the New York Times Book Review, and try to identify areas that interest them.
Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested publishing? Where did that passion come from?
Tara: I wouldn’t say I’ve always been interested in publishing. I’ve always been interested in books and I tried for several years to foster an interest in being a librarian, including enrolling in a graduate program at the University of Albany- but it never felt like the right fit. I was trolling through my local B&N and all of a sudden it hit me- where do books come from?! That brain storm led me to explore graduate programs in publishing and to attend the Pace program.
Prof. Denning: What were some of the highlights of your graduate experience?
Tara: Obviously, my internship with JVNLA was a huge step in the direction of establishing a career in publishing. I worked with Jennifer over the course of a summer in reorganizing several filing systems in the office, and I showed an aptitude for contracts and a desire to learn more. At the end of the summer, I was offered a full time position working on contacts and royalties, as the agent who had been handling these areas moved to another literary agency. In addition, I was able to connect with Michael Healey, who was the head of the Book Rights Registry at the time, to discuss the Google Books Settlement in detail since he was the David Pecker Distinguished Visiting Professor of Publishing at Pace at the time. It was invaluable to speak with him and my interview with him gave my thesis an extra level of detail.
Prof. Denning: How have you been involved in the program since graduating? How do you feel that the program prepared you to work within a literary agency and with contracts?
Tara: I have spoken in General Interest Books classes for Professor Soares over the last two years, both in class and in online forums. I also try to pay it forward by interviewing and hiring Pace students as interns, when possible.
Prof Denning: Can you tell us a bit about Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. and what it is like working there? Do you enjoy working with contracts?
Tara: The number one thing I love about working at JVNLA is the books my colleagues work on. We represent authors who write everything, from picture books to serious non-fiction and anything in between. An added bonus is that I work with really amazing people, who each bring their own experience and expertise to the agency. We are a very collaborative office which makes it a pleasure to come to work. I enjoy working with contracts. I like fighting for my clients, to ensure that they get the best contract possible and then being there to explain the terms when authors have concerns or questions. While I didn’t know what I would end up doing when I decided to explore a career in publishing, I think that this job was the best possible one for me as I love creating order out of disorder.
Prof. Denning: What is something you wish people knew about agents and agencies? Do you come across many misconceptions?
Tara: I think for people outside of the publishing industry, they just don’t know what agents do in general. I find myself saying things like “Well did you ever see Jerry Maguire? Well, its sort of like that….but for authors and books.” For people in the publishing industry, I think they understand what we do overall but they may not truly understand the breadth of our job. We are the author’s advocate, often their first editor (outside of their critque group) and, at least at JVNLA, we are there through thick and thin. We view ourselves as their partner for their career and take that very seriously.
Prof. Denning: Tell us a bit about what your job entails and some of your duties?
Tara: To be honest, I have a long list of things that I do here. We joke that in literary agencies, and a small office to boot, we all wear many hats! I work with our agents to negotiate contract terms, enter the accepted deals into our database, negotiate contracts, route paperwork, and process payments and royalty statements. I also negotiate permissions for our clients’ work and deal with all of that paperwork. I manage our internship program, from connecting with various schools around the country to interviewing and checking references, and then I oversee our interns when they are in the office. I have also been working extensively in our back-list program and have placed many titles back into the marketplace, with a long list waiting to be submitted. To date, we have over 80 titles placed with publishers, and I am enjoying the process of working with authors on titles that they think the world has forgotten. Lastly, I also read submissions and client manuscripts for the agents in the office.
Prof. Denning: As the number of book-to-movie adaptations continues to skyrocket, have you seen a change in the way contracts are negotiated? Have you had the opportunity to work on this type of document yet?
Tara: I have seen that film contracts are still basically the same- but studios are only interested in projects that either touched them personally or made a lot of money already. I have seen more change in publishing contracts as the increased desire to “enhance” eBooks can lead to consternation in the film industry, especially when the word “multi-media” is used in book contracts. I have worked with the contracts departments of various publishers to ensure that, in the event of conflict with these rights the publisher will work with us and the film company to resolve any problems.
Prof. Denning: How does technology/social media fit into your current job? Does the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency use a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to communicate with authors, publishers and readers?
Tara: We use all forms of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Pinterest. Each of us has our own twitter account, as well as one handled by our VP who tweets for the agency. As for Facebook, we have both a profile and a fan page, which I help manage. We take our social media very seriously and want to manage the way our agency and clients are perceived as much as possible. We also see our own use of social media as an added benefit for our clients, as we are familiar with each of these sites and can help our clients use them to the best possible advantage.
Prof Denning: What do you think the future holds for book publishers? Do you think the launch of designated ebook readers, iPads and Kindles have forever changed publishing in a positive or negative way?
Tara: I think that people decrying the death of the book are sorely mistaken. While I have concerns about the way eBook pricing will impact publishing, along with the DOJ case and settlement, I think that the written word has a long life and these new formats can only help get more people into reading. As long as people are reading in some way or form, I’m happy.
Prof. Denning: Do think that any genre in particular has benefited from the increased use of ebooks/reading devices?
Tara: Its been pretty clear that genre readers, primarily romance and science fiction/fantasy readers have been the quickest to convert to eBook reading. It’s also slowly moving into most areas of fiction. Non-fiction has been the hardest to convert readers, but I do think that it will happen, though perhaps not to the same extent. I was just reading the most recent Pew Survey, which seems to suggest that we will see a leveling off on eReader and eBook adoption in the next 3-5 years, which will be interesting.
Prof: Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in book publishing are today? What are the biggest challenges that publishers face as a result of these trends?
Tara: I think that self-publishing is one of the largest challenges to traditional publishing currently, but in the end it may end up being a boon as readers get tired of sifting through thousands upon thousands of books to find that some are so poorly written that they don’t even justify the $2.99 price the customer paid. That said, I do think that publishers should look at ways to justify themselves to their authors, by looking again at escalators for trade paperbacks and for eBook sales and in putting together marketing and publicity plans that involve more than an Author chat on Twitter or a blog tour.
Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future ebooks? Books in general? What areas to you think will be the most impacted (textbooks, childrens, trade, graphic novels, romance etc.)?
Tara: I find the idea of all electronic text books to be slightly challenging but it may end up being the wave of the future as school budgets are cut as it may be more cost effective to by a software license as opposed to new physical books. I do think that childrens picture books, graphic novels and comics have huge potential in the eBook market with the advent of new devices, such as the Kindle Fire and the iPad, allowing for fixed layouts and engagement with image focused content in ways not previously possible in electronic formats. I also feel that Picture books will not necessarily see the same cannibalism as other print sales have seen. Its not as enjoyable to cuddle up with your iPad and read your child a bedtime story- but its awfully handy at a restaurant to hand Little Johnny or Suzy your iPad for them to read Curious George instead of letting them play Angry Birds.
Prof. Denning: What do you think the essential skills our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?
Tara: I think anyone entering the world of publishing at the moment needs to be willing to experiment and take chances. This industry is at a cross roads and needs new ideas and a willingness to fail in order to emerge stronger and more vibrant.
Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?
Tara: Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to a speaker, to ask a question or try something a little different. You never know when you are going to meet someone who is looking for a person just like you to fill a spot in their company. Remember that this industry is one of personalities and personal connections. It’s important to keep that in mind as you never know when you will come across that person again.
Thank you very much for your time and insights!