By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE
Peggy and I recently had the opportunity to meet with Jan Kardys, president of Black Hawk Literary Agency in Redding, Connecticut, representing “a broad spectrum of authors and illustrators, with a focus on new nonfiction and fiction.” She is founder and chairman of the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, committed to educating and encouraging writers by providing connections with other writers, authors, editors, and literary agents; and by offering workshops, panel discussions, and opportunities for one-to-one manuscript review sessions with agents and editors. Jan and her business partner, Jeanne Rogers, recently established Unicorn for Writers LLC, also in Redding, offering a menu of forty expert publishing services for writers in various areas of manuscript evaluation and editing, publishing consultation and recommendations, social media and marketing, as well as cover design and illustrations.
We settled down for lunch and a lively, informative interview in the distinctively New England town of Bethel, Connecticut. Jan started our conversation by displaying several of her current clients’ galley proofs (preliminary versions of publications) and her recent publication, You Wrote a Book, Now What? Jan exuded so much enthusiasm in discussing her career, her teaching, and her work with clients and writers, that she hardly touched her meal.
Jan Kardys has thirty years of diversified publishing experience at several major publishing corporations, and although we provide a link to her complete resume below, we asked Jan to highlight in her own words, how she started on this professional path:
I’ve been in publishing forever, and I worked for ten major publishers. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich was my first publisher. I started out in editorial, learned copy editing and proofreading, and took editorial classes at NYU. Later there was an opening to work for an art director and a production director. So I took a break from editing to learn this, because production is a key component for every single book. I worked for an incredible art director, and learned a great deal about art: how you choose an artist and how you negotiate with an artist, for illustrations, specifications. I learned about production runs and paper, and even though I didn’t want to stay in either of those two fields, it was invaluable, and helped me in many other areas of publishing.
When Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich moved to Florida, I took a job at Lippincott working for a subsidiary rights director. I did permissions, foreign rights, book clubs, ISBNs, catalog identification and publication, and all sorts of work for subsidiary rights. Lippincott merged with Crowell, and another merge was being planned with Harper and Row. So while taking a class at NYU from the St. Martin’s Press’ subsidiary rights director…I learned that they were looking for someone to do foreign rights. I brought my resume to the next class, got an interview, and I was hired. ….I also worked at Scholastic Inc., twice, three years in obtaining permissions, granting permissions, and doing some rights. Then I went to Doubleday, where I switched from subsidiary rights into contracts.
Doubleday was taken over by Bertelsmann, so I went to Macmillan’s contracts department. It was a great experience. I stayed there for 10 years and I would’ve stayed for the rest of my life, but once again, (she chuckled) every publisher that I’d been with had this happen… Macmillan was taken over by Simon and Schuster. I was promoted and did School/College contracts for a year. Then there was an opening at Warner Books, and I became a director of contracts there. Again, there was a merger. Warner Books and Little Brown dissolved into Time Warner Trade Publishing, and so I was there for four years.
Then I went to magazine publishing only for a year. Once you’re a book person, it’s really hard to go into a different world, like the magazine world. So I left that and went to GOOGLE because I wanted to take a break since I had done so much in publishing, and I wanted to expand. I was head of contracts in New York GOOGLE… and took classes in marketing, advertising, and sales, and it was invaluable. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned.
Jan’s dedication to helping writers is unmistakable and seemingly unshakable. This is clearly visible in her work with writers: teaching classes in book publishing, creating and chairing the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, conducting writers’ Meet Up groups, providing library presentations on topics in publishing, and providing numerous resources on her blogs and websites.
We asked Jan to tell us more about Unicorn for Writers, LLC and why she started the company:
We started the company because the interesting thing today about agents is that we know what the future is going to be, we figured it out. There’s going to be more and more self-publishing. There are certain agents who on their websites say “consultation” or “marketing plans.” Agents should not charge a writer for reading their manuscript. That’s taboo.
When I get queries, I look at five to ten to twenty pages, or sometimes I’ll read a little bit more. I usually know within the first five pages if the person can write. If they can’t write, I don’t have the time to help them. So I started the new, separate company. This came out of all the work that I have to do for my nonfiction clients. I was an English teacher…that was my first job and I love to teach. I just love to show people what they need to do, because to me it’s so easy because I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. The new company is called Unicorn for Writers. So it came out of what I know from teaching writing at Norwalk Community College, and Greenwich Continuing Ed, and others…teaching what writers need to know.
We published, “YOU WROTE A BOOK, NOW WHAT? Insiders info on book publishing.”
If you aren’t a great writer, or you want to become a better writer, you can become a better writer. But who wants to sit here and read (she points to a pile of thick, bulky books) these books, beginning, middle, and end? It’s a lot of work to read these books. That’s the reason why I wrote the book that Jeanne and I put together. I wanted to give none of the filler, go right to the point, “This is what you have to do.” So when you look at the book, you see how I parceled it out into all the different areas, and that’s how our website is too. (Purchase info and a peek at inside pages can be found at: http://unicornforwriters.com/book/.)
Jan on what writers need to know:
What do you do first? Writers have to research their competition, and a lot of writers really don’t do that effectively. If you’re going to write a memoir, read a lot of memoirs, study what those writers have done. Study their writing style, take notes, and keep a journal. You’ll learn how they format their book, how they put it together.
The whole Unicorn for Writers web site is designed for all the steps that a writer needs to take: first research the competition, then your manuscript – writing it, revising it, getting beta readers, doing a book summary, making sure the first five pages are incredible. Because if you don’t hook us, we’re not going to buy your book. The first page of the novel better be packed with emotion, and the main character has to ground us. We have to dance inside their brain, and we have to love them, love them from page one.
So that’s why we started Unicorn for Writers, and people have started to come to us. Jeannie and I do it together. I talk about traditional publishing, and she talks about self-publishing. We sort of banter back and forth because there are tremendous advantages to traditional publishing, for example, distribution. Self-published authors can find book distributors, but they’re going to pay for those services.
Jan discussed some of the services offered through the new company.
Jeanne and I each read the whole manuscript, and then we write what we think of it. We do this separately and don’t tell each other what we thought until we’re both ready to send our emails to the author. The authors are really getting two evaluations for one. We do that deliberately because Jeannie will see things that I don’t see, and I’ll see things that she doesn’t see. We see emotional things for which we’re generally similar, like flaws in character or transitions, or the tone, or what whenever it is—the rhythm of the book. We seem to have the same kind of feelings, but we write it differently, which really gives the writer so much more. When we’re each ready to e-mail to the writer, then we talk about it. We find it really interesting what each has found, and what we liked or didn’t like.
Then, there’s the cover—a cover design is so expensive, and you can pay one to two thousand dollars. You want a professional book design cover, because you don’t want a cover that doesn’t look good. I’ve seen so many self-published covers that just upset me, probably because I worked for an art director. I can see what’s good, and what doesn’t work. You don’t want to look like a self-published author when you’re on Amazon.
So if you have a self-published cover, the public is not going to be impressed. I connected with probably two hundred artists and illustrators on LinkedIn to subcontract for us with authors who want a cover design. Unicorn for Writers is about connecting people.
Writers have to be on TV, and on the radio, and have to be entertaining, so we also have a media trainer. He’s trained major politicians, and has trained three or four of our clients who love what he has done. Authors need to have that polish—the way you move, the opening line, how to hook the audience right away.
Visit http://unicornforwriters.com/ for more information on services concerning subsidy rights, serial rights, foreign rights, book club rights, copyrights permissions, specialty and premium sales, and many more areas of publishing that might be unknown to most self-publishing authors.
Please come back and visit on Sunday, July 27 when we will continue with Part II of this interview. We’ll cover Jan Kardys on topics including: good novel rhythm and visualizing a book; becoming a better writer; media ideas; publishing readiness; and advice on query letters, book summaries, and manuscript set up. We will also feature The Unicorn Writers’ Conference to be held on March 14, 2015, at Reid Castle-Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.
Black Hawk Literary Agency www.jankardys.com/Resume
The Unicorn Writers’ Conference www.unicornwritersconference.com
Unicorn for Writers, LLC www.unicornforwriters.com