In a digital panel on Tuesday titled "Publishing and the Rights Trade in a Covid World," British literary agent Andrew Nurnberg spoke about selling rights in the strange new reality of a pandemic.
The managing director of London-based Andrew Nurnberg Associates took questions from publishing and rights consultant Diane Spivey, before a series of queries came in via panel attendees.
Although work for many literary agents has continued apace during the pandemic--books are, of course, still being sold and the international rights business has not dropped off--Nurnberg acknowledged that he often missed the old ways of doing business. To that end, he has begun to move away from endless Zoom calls to that old, reliable device: the telephone. He said that when he asks clients if they'd be open to "a good old fashioned telephone call," he's often greeted with a 'yes'...and a "palpable sense of relief."
The longing to get back to the pre-pandemic modes of business animated Nurnberg's responses throughout the conversation, which is part of this year's entirely virtual event.
When asked by Spivey how young people in the business can forge new professional relationships, Nurnberg said to, essentially, make the best of it now until things get back to normal. Noting that you "can't beat foreign travel and meeting people in person," especially in the business of selling rights, Nurnberg said many of his colleagues are on Zoom with "people they know." This, he admitted, is tough for younger publishing professionals who have not formed as many contacts in the industry. "We're all working remotely for the time being," he said, adding that everyone is essentially biding their time until "we can back to the office and see people."
Because of the desire to interact with colleagues, Nurnberg said he doesn't foresee a future where publishing is done remotely. At least not entirely. While Nurnberg said he can see publishers and agencies allowing some of their employees to continue to stay home after the pandemic subsides, he still thinks offices have a place in publishing. What the pandemic has shown him, he said, is that "when we come back to work we may not always be in office five days a week," but that an office is still essential. "We need that space. We spark one another. It's totally different when you're together."
The need, and desire, for togetherness also came up when Spivey asked if the pandemic has shown publishing professionals that book fairs are not so necessary. Nurnberg said he feels the pandemic has shown the opposite.
"Nothing is better than the buzz of the fair," Nurnberg said, adding that the buzz comes "from meeting people." The pandemic, he went on, has shown the industry that "we should travel, we should have book fairs, and we should meet editors on their home turf." While acknowledging that recent events have proven the world should be more aware of environmental concerns--he feels, at least in Europe, publishing professionals should try and take the train, in lieu of flying, when possible--the post-pandemic publishing sphere should look unchanged. "I don't think that basically anything should change," he told Spivey.