Tell us about your business?
Established in 1928, McIntosh & Otis, Inc. is a full-service literary agency located in New York. M&O represents a broad range of adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction, including many bestsellers, literary icons, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners. In addition to representing the subsidiary rights for its own clients, M&O also represents the sale of subsidiary rights for Louisiana State University Press and University of Nebraska Press. M&O is committed to working with writers to develop their careers. Our agents provide detailed and substantive guidance to our clients throughout the publication process.
Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?
I have always been a voracious reader, but if you asked me when I was growing up if I would become the president of the second oldest literary agency in America I would probably have said no. Before I started my career in publishing I was a jazz musician, both a composer and a performer. One must have an entrepreneurial spirit as a musician. I began my career in publishing at a small startup in California. The company had only been in business as a book publisher for a very short time. I was able to get in on the ground floor and actually help in building their business. I established the firm’s subsidiary rights department and began doing editorial work as well. I learned that I actually liked being in a business environment, but I preferred the freedom of creating new outlets to working in a typical corporate structure. I started at M&O not too long after my experience with the small publisher.
It is a challenge to be a small business owner, especially in an industry where small players keep getting gobbled up by larger companies. We have had many offers over the years to either sell our agency or become affiliates of larger firms. We have always chosen to remain a small independent company. Our size is an advantage because we are able to pay very close and individualized attention to all of our clients. We are able to provide a sense of real care and concern that writers may not find at larger agencies.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
I’ve been influenced by Mavis McIntosh and Elizabeth Otis, two women who overcame significant challenges to launch a literary agency in the 1920s.
Both women were highly intelligent and hardworking and they became fast friends in the 1920s while working for another literary agent. After some time, the ladies decided that they could do a much better job as agents and set out on their own. They left their salaried positions to start the first female fronted literary agency in New York – McIntosh & Otis, established in 1928. It was a gamble. There were some women involved in the book publishing industry at the time, but the majority of the major players on both the editorial side and at the corporate level were men. Still, they took the leap and the leap paid off.
Elizabeth Otis discovered John Steinbeck, one of the most iconic writers of the 20th century. The success did not happen overnight, but it did happen. These are lessons I continue to keep in mind in my day-to-day work as President of McIntosh and Otis. One must always be willing to take a leap, whether this means in hiring a new employee or taking on a new client or working in uncharted territory. Success does not happen overnight.
What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Some things that I’m proud of include a debut novelist who won a coveted award, an auction for an unpublished writer, and an advance so big that it rescued a non-profit that happened to be the beneficiary of a certain work. All of these accomplishments have been incredibly meaningful.
We live in a world where we don’t have a lot of time to reflect on our accomplishments. We have to stay focused on the future. In the book publishing industry, the future is in many ways unknown. The industry has changed dramatically in the last two years alone. We’ve seen a rise in eBook sales and a plethora of self-published works. We’ve also seen continued conglomeration of not only book publishers but also outlets in which books or sold.
What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?
Never give up.
What have been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?
My colleagues at McIntosh & Otis look to me for direction. I do not have a crystal ball and do not pretend to know what the future holds, but I do tell them to explore every possible avenue out there to discover new talent and to submit good work to publishers. I encourage them to take risks and remember that overnight successes are few and far between.
Our objective is to build on the strong foundation that we have at McIntosh & Otis and, as we grow, to remember where we came from. Elizabeth Otis and Mavis McIntosh were two very brave women who created a wonderful legacy. Preserving that legacy is very important to me.
What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?
Don’t be afraid of the big boys. Persevere and keep moving forward.
Do you have any new projects coming up (or have you just completed a big project ~ reached a milestone, etc.)?
We’re thrilled to announce that we will be handling all subsidiary rights for Rutgers University Press. This includes paperback reprint rights, audio, eBook, book club, foreign, film, TV and stage. We have a long history of representing university presses, beginning with Louisiana State University Press in the 1980s. After a huge success with A Confederacy of Dunces, LSU Press asked M&O to handle their subsidiary rights. Since then, we have sold many of their titles into foreign markets. We have sold A Confederacy of Dunces into at least 20 foreign territories and have concluded many lucrative paperback reprint, book club and movie deals.
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
I enjoy spending time with my husband, my two-year old child and my puppy. I also enjoy yoga and mountain biking.
What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?
We want to continue to find great talent. Book publishing is a business that initially evolved out of handshake deals and gentleman’s agreements. Editors would go out to lunch with agents eager to hear about their latest finds. After a few pages of a manuscript had been read, a deal might be struck over lunch.
Times have changed in a lot of ways, but the industry is still built on personal relationships. This is true of agents with editors, and especially true of agents with their authors. As agents, we should not only act as a client’s advocate but also inspire clients to produce quality writing to their fullest potential. I have spent countless hours on the phone or via email reassuring my clients that the writer’s block they may be encountering will soon pass. One of my greatest joys in life is to inspire authors to not only believe in their work but also to believe in themselves.
What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you?
Please visit our website: http://www.mcintoshandotis.com/home.html and follow us on Twitter @McIntoshAndOtis.