By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
In Rights Trading, No ‘LBF Effect’ This YearOseries of stories on how world publishing’s people are responding to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic can be expected, in many if not most cases, to outline significant adjustments in how workers are carrying on, as best as possible, with their business.
In the case of the 2 Seas Agency, however, operating in the foreign rights trade at a distance—both inside and outside the company—isn’t that far from the norm. The company sells both worldwide rights and into specific territories, of course, and was established in Ojai, California, in 2011.
Many international publishing players know the company’s co-owner and lead agent Marleen Seegers, who’s based in Ojai, and tends to rack up as many airline miles as any of us in a given year of trade shows and rights fair travel.
As it turns out, though, the company’s senior agent Chrysothemis (Chrys) Armefti has found that the onset of the pandemic requires her to move no farther than the kitchen to the living room—on Cyprus, where she and her husband now are working from home. Armefti is based in Nicosia, near the center of the island.
The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center at this writing shows Cyprus’ population of 1.1 million people to have confirmed 262 coronavirus cases and eight deaths—by world standards, an enviably low viral presence being registered so far.
We start our exchange with Armefti, by asking her how things normally operate for the company.
‘The Virtual Structure’
Chrys Armefti: 2 Seas Agency sells rights on behalf of publishers, agents, and a select number of authors from around the world. Ojai, where we’re headquartered, is a small town just south of Santa Barbara, and quite the opposite of a publishing hub. It soon became evident it was going to be challenging to find staff locally with the right profile and experience to support the agency’s growth.
“Despite the worries, people seem to have more time to effectively read the books we’re sending out on submission.”Chrys Armefti, 2 Seas Agency
In late 2012, Marleen started working with a virtual staff, and the agency has had a completely virtual structure ever since. I joined 2 Seas in the summer of 2015 while I was living in Portugal, and now I work from Cyprus.
Working from home became the new norm for me right away, and being able to access the company’s online tools and database from anywhere in the world gives me absolute freedom. The virtual structure also enables us to conduct business as usual during our travels to book fairs and other international publishing events.
Despite the 10-hour difference between Cyprus and California, we always find time to connect in the late afternoon or evening, my time. Communicating with someone who’s not physically in the same place can be challenging, especially if you heavily rely on email. We use Skype or WhatsApp video calls for longer conversations between the two of us at least once a week, but for smaller exchanges, suggestions, and so forth, Google Docs have become our go-to tool.
We’ve noticed it’s important to stay away from email for such internal communication, otherwise you run the risk of your inbox becoming your to-do list.
Publishing Perspectives: What’s the situation now with the pandemic spreading?
CA: In Cyprus, we’ve been in confinement since March 13. My husband works for an international videogame company and they sent everyone home on the same day that schools were closed because of COVID-19.
I let go of my sunny kitchen table and moved to a smaller table in the living room. Working in the same space as a couple has its advantages and disadvantages. While now I have company and don’t eat lunch by myself, we both have to be respectful of each other’s work, especially when we’re on calls with our colleagues or clients. In case my husband and I have calls at the same time, we alternate whoever is going to have the meeting in the bedroom.
Thanks to the agency’s virtual set-up [Seegers has written about this here] we were very fortunate not to have a transition to the virus-era mode at all. As for the other team members, besides Marleen in California, we currently have two other colleagues who work from different places in the United States Over the years, we’ve had people on our team based in Brazil, France, Greece, the UK, and Italy.
‘To Mitigate the Impact’
PP: What are the key challenges in working this way?
CA: Being at home for days on end is not ideal. The moments that we had outdoors during the day and our social gatherings on the weekend are now nonexistent. I live in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, and its only green place for exercising is already crowded.
“Without having had an ‘LBF-effect’ on our sales—which none of us rights sellers seem to have had—we continue to receive and negotiate offers.”Chrys Armefti, 2 Seas Agency
We try to exercise half an hour before starting work in the morning just to keep a bit active. Family and friends now have more time for us but we need to set boundaries—such as, “working from home” doesn’t mean “I don’t work at all.”
Our days are now more organized, both on a personal and a professional level, because we need to stay sharp until the end of the lockdown. We try to keep things as before, though. Batch cooking helps to free up time, but it doesn’t mean that just because we’re both at home now that we have infinite time for food preparation.
PP: Are there any happy surprises in how this is working?
CA: Working from home is probably challenging for those who are doing it for the first time or who have kids to homeschool. But for us it’s less an adjustment.
The challenge for me now is mainly to share my home office with someone else. I also had to become more flexible about respecting the schedules of those we’re in touch with from all over the world—acquiring editors, scouts, co-agents, all of whom have had to change their own work structures and adapt to working from home in less than a week, often while schooling their kids.
PP: Speaking of being in touch, how are your communications going?
CA: I would say our communication by phone and email have in fact increased compared to before the start of the pandemic.
“Publishers are still looking for books to publish in one or two years’ time.”Chrys Armefti, 2 Seas Agency
We had many face-to-face meetings scheduled this book fair season. Marleen had to cut her five-week European trip short earlier this month to return to California after having finished just one week of meetings in Amsterdam. We were both supposed to attend London Book Fair the following week, and Marleen was then to continue with visits to Paris and Milan. The Prague Book Fair that I was planning to attend in May has also been postponed to October 2020.
In an effort to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our business, we’ve been conducting phone, WhatsApp, Skype and other kinds of conference calls to replace as many of these personal meetings as possible. If calls aren’t a possibility, we’ve managed to communicate efficiently by email and we’ve been fortunate enough not to run into many technical hurdles.
PP: And how is everyone doing in terms of mood and outlook?
CA: The coronavirus pandemic is definitely the initial topic of our conversations. We’re all in the same boat, and sharing our fears and anxieties—besides tips on how to better work from home—with people from around the world creates an even tighter bond with everyone. There’s a real sense of solidarity and connection, which is heart-warming in these times of isolation and social distancing.
Despite the worries, people seem to have more time to effectively read the books we’re sending out on submission. Without having had an “LBF-effect” on our sales—which none of us rights sellers seem to have had—we continue to receive and negotiate offers. Publishers are still looking for books to publish in one or two years’ time.
And when someone turns a title down, their message is more often accompanied by an explanation about why they didn’t think this book was going to work for them. This allows us to better prepare our submissions for this person next time, while we can also communicate the explanations to our clients and authors who appreciate it.
If You’d Like To Alert Us to Your Plans and Updates
We’re receiving good notice from many associates in the world industry, and we’d be glad to consider having you join them in telling us about your coronavirus-related news for our international readership. Please note that we don’t use articles written by industry professionals, but if you’d like us to consider doing an interview with you, contact Porter@PublishingPerspectives.com.
The world totals at this writing are 887,067 cases, 44,264 deaths.
For a comparison, when we published our “Coronavirus Worklife” piece with Lena Stjernström at Stockholm’s Grand Agency, those world totals were 487,684 cases and 22,030 deaths.
That was just six days ago, on March 26.
In our Spring 2020 Magazine, Publishing Perspectives has interviewed publishers, industry experts, entrepreneurs, and authors to present a look at the book business for the coming year. Inside this issue of Publishing Perspectives Magazine, you’ll find articles and resources including:
- Publishing and the coronavirus
- Richard Charkin’s view of key industry challenges
- China’s growing comic book market
- Brussels Book Fair debuts its rights center
- Eksmo CEO Evgeny Kapyev on Russia’s book market
- Matchmaking for publishers and producers in Latin America
- Book market data
- A world tour of copyright developments
- Translation sales resulting from Norway’s Frankfurter Buchmesse guest of honor program
- An AI startup creating interactive stories
- An interview with author Andrew Keen
Download ‘Publishing in Times of Crisis’ free of charge here.