Archive | February 2014

Interview with literary agent Daniel Lazar of Writers House.

Today, we are lucky enough to have literary agent Daniel Lazar of Writers House on the blog. He was nice enough to discuss the craft of writing with us. Thank you, Mr. Lazar, for being here!

 

Me: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?

Mr. Lazar: I’m going to steal an analogy I heard from another agent (Jeff Kleinman at Folio Literary): If you watch shows like American Idol or the Voice, you’ll see a lot of talented singers walk across the stage. Out of 10 contestants, you’ll probably see 9 singers who are great and talented and worthy of praise– but then that 10th singer arrives on stage, opens their mouth and simply knocks the rest out of the park. Why? What does that 10th singer have? It’s impossible to define; they just have “it.” And not only do you realize that it’s extra special, but you also know you can’t teach “it” to the other 9. That’s what a great voice is. But in general, the way to make your writing voice stronger is to focus on specifics. A lot of fine and polished writing doesn’t really shine because it’s, well, fine. But not that memorable. It’s the little details– a writer capturing specific visuals, scents, turns of phrase– that make a fine piece of writing into a unique, special piece of writing.

Me: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?

Mr. Lazar: Years ago, I heard the most valuable answer to this question in my first days at Writers House from Al Zuckerman, who founded our agency. His insight has never steered me wrong: Readers like a character because of who that character loves, and who loves them. Crass example: create the most unlikable, nasty character in the history of literature, but give him a dog he dotes on, and readers will be putty in that character’s hand. That’s an oversimplified illustration, admittedly, but work backwards from there with your own version in your own work, and it should prove true.

Me: There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us? Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?

Mr. Lazar: They’ve been talking about high concept forever. It basically means a story (so this term can apply to film or theater too) that can be described very easily. You “get” its appeal in just a few words. You can usually tell if something is high concept based on how people — other than your immediate, biased circle of friends and family– react to the pitch; and it’s a hard thing to see objectively in your own work. THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is a great example because you hear that title, and you hear in just a few words that it’s an insider story of the fashion world, and immediately you just “get” it, right? ROOM is another great example. But I don’t think it’s necessary for a book to be “high concept.” When I look at my bookself, I see many of my favorite books aren’t what I would call the most high concept–Middlesex, or Cutting for Stone, or The Blind Assassin–and they worked anyway because readers love them.

Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

Mr. Lazar: I mentioned the value of “specifics” above. That’s important. Also, start your story where the story really starts. Too many manuscripts meander until they get to the real point. Look at the opening paragraphs of MIDDLESEX, of GONE GIRL, of THE HELP. Whether or not you liked these books (I loved all of them), they’re great examples of what can hook millions of readers.

You can Find Mr. Lazar on Twitter here.

His Publishers Marketplace page is here.

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Literary agents searching for new authors!

Do you have a manuscript that is polished and ready to go? Is it time to start querying literary agents? Then get ready, because on February  26th, literary agent will converge on Twitter! It’s manuscript wish list day!

All you have to do is follow #MSWL, wait until an agent says they are looking for a manuscript just like yours, and then query them! It couldn’t be easier! And who knows, maybe the perfect agent for you is out there right now, getting their wish list ready. So make sure your manuscript is the best that it can be and mark your calendars for February 26th!

Interview with literary agent Melissa Jeglinski.

Today, we have literary agent Melissa Jeglinski from The Knight Agency on the blog! Welcome, Melissa, and thanks for being here!

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Me: How did you become an agent?

Melissa: I worked in publishing for seventeen years as an editor with Harlequin.  I really loved my job but was burned out by the city environment.  I decided to make a huge change and move south. I had a great deal of respect for Deidre Knight and her agency and since they were in Georgia, I gave her a call.  We really clicked and she offered me a place as an agent with The Knight Agency.  It was a great match that has allowed me to work with so many different writers and projects.  I’m really grateful that I took the leap.

 

Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Melissa: The author/agent relationship is part business and part personal.  You are signing an agent to represent your work so they have to be great at their job but you also want to like them personally.  You are asking them to work with your “baby” so to speak so you want them to respect that project and respect you as well.  I always have to personally like any client I sign, that’s why I never know I’m going to offer representation until we have a phone call and a chance to chat.

Once an author signs with an agent they should be working on revising that project and getting it ready to shop.  The agent should have a list of houses/editors they think would be the right fit and keep them informed of how they will “shop” that work and how much information they will provide to their client. I always send my clients my “pitch list” of the editors I’m sending their work to.  I update them regularly on editor responses.  And I also check with my clients as to whether or not they want all the feedback or just the ultimate decision.  Some clients don’t want to hear anything negative while they are working on their next project.  Some want to know everything.  While I am shopping that project I signed the client on for, I’m working with them on their next project as I firmly believe they should always be on to the next thing. I don’t believe in all the eggs in one basket.

 

Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Melissa: I would love to see more Middle Grade fiction with a plot other than the MC getting a special power or going off on a wild adventure.  Something quirky but emotional or perhaps a historical setting, even something sort of creepy would be great.  I’d love to see a historical Young Adult novel or some YA Horror—true horror like Stephen King scare-me-to-death-and-give-me-nightmares horror.  I’d also be open to some historical fiction set in early 20th century as I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan.

I’m seeing a little too much contemporary romance without a unique twist or setting. There is a lot of that out in the market right now and you’ve got to stand out to get noticed.  I’m always looking for cozy mysteries but not seeing enough unique premises.

 

Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area you could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

Melissa: I wish writers would think about where their book should really begin.  Often I can see the best opening being well into the second chapter.  I like to see something that isn’t filled with backstory or reads like a mini synopsis.  Tell those elements as you get more involved in the story.  Start with action or reaction, not the process of getting to the action.  And make sure there is a nice balance of dialogue and narrative.  Opening with long sections of introspection make for a slow start when what I want is an immediate invitation.

 

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Melissa: I’m very open to submissions.  If a writer feels they have a project that is suited to the genres I’m looking for I invite them to send their query and first ten pages of their manuscript to Melissa dot Jeglinski at Knightagency dot net. Paste everything in the body of the email as I will not open attachments.  I respond to all queries within two weeks.  Please note that I do represent Romance (contemporary, historical, inspirational, erotica), YA, MG, Women’s Fiction and Mysteries.  I do not represent science fiction, fantasy, poetry or picture books.

 

Interview with literary agent Amy Cloughley.

Today, we have literary agent Amy Cloughley of Kimberley Cameron & Associates on the blog. Welcome, Ms. Cloughley, and thank you for being here!

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Me: How did you become an agent?

Ms. Cloughley: After studying creative writing and magazine journalism, I held positions in both editorial and marketing—managing a magazine, advertising campaigns, and marketing/promotion projects. I first got into book publishing via an internship at my agency and ultimately started taking on my own clients, coaching writers through classes and conferences, and participating in the myriad of opportunities that agenting has opened up. Certainly my journalism background laid the groundwork for my appreciation of tightly-written prose and my love of a unique story; whereas, my marketing background provided a base for the business side of book publishing. Throw in the fact that I get to help writers reach their goals (obviously, the best part of the job!), and I have landed where I belong.

 

Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Ms. Cloughley: I will be your biggest fan. With so many queries coming in every day, I guarantee that I only offer representation to authors if I feel passionately about their projects. For me, the author/agent relationship is, above all, a collaboration. With the first phone call, I am always excited to hear your ideas and also share my thoughts, i.e. the amount of editing required, what that editing will look like, and the next steps I will be taking once the manuscript is polished and ready to go. It is so important that our visions match, and we establish a communication plan that works well for both parties. I suppose it is the “former project manager” in me, but I am all about having a plan, documenting that plan, and executing that plan so neither of us is left wondering what is going on.

 

Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Ms. Cloughley: I agree with all of the agents who say they are looking for a strong voice, but I will add that I am a sucker for a really specific setting—whether that is a vivid town or an inside look at a social or cultural environment. On the flip side, I get a lot of projects where the writing doesn’t go deep enough into the protagonist’s internal journey. Whether the book is a psychological thriller or literary fiction, I need to care about, relate to, or be interested in the character enough to want to turn the page.

 

Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?

I don’t always get to go, but on the first Sunday of the month I love to wake up early to go to the most amazing outdoor antiques faire in the bay area. It has hundreds of booths full of unique furniture, art, and of course lovely aged books!

 

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Ms. Cloughley: Hmmm. Advice. There is a delicate balance between taking too much advice and digging your heels in, but it is next to impossible to create your best work in a vacuum. Whether you work with a smart writers’ group, have a trusted editor, or attend quality classes and workshops, listening to the feedback from other can be insightful and inspiring. Of course, some feedback will be more valuable than others—and weeding through it can be the trick—but finding the right resources can be invaluable in helping you create your best, most polished work.

 

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Ms. Cloughley: Certainly! You can find a bio with my editorial preference on our company website (http://kimberleycameron.com/amy-cloughley.php). I prefer a one-page synopsis and the first fifty pages of your manuscript attached as a separate Word or PDF file. You can also follow me on twitter (@AmyCloughley) to see if I will be coming to any conferences in your area.

Interview with literary agent Anna Olswanger.

Today we have literary agent Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency on the blog. Thank you, Anna, for being here with us today!

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Me: A common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters?

Anna: If the character cares about someone else, even if it’s an animal or a cause, the reader will care for the character.

Me: How can a writer make their characters stronger?

Anna: A character has to want something deeply, so a character who makes choices and takes action in order to get what she or he wants is a strong character. And a strong character drives the plot.

Me: There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us?

Anna: I’m not an agent who deals with “high concept” fiction because I’m more interested in literary fiction than commercial fiction. I’m especially not interested in the “Twilight meets Hunger Games” kind of description of a novel. I don’t care what a novel is like. I want to know how it’s different.

Me: Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?

Anna: With some publishers, yes. I don’t tend to submit to those editors.

Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area you could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

Anna: Cut the exposition. It’s boring and mostly unnecessary. And try to cut the prologue. Most prologues are also unnecessary and just keep the reader from jumping into the story.

Me: Does being an author yourself help or hinder you as a literary agent?

Anna: I think that being an author gives me empathy for what my clients go through as I try to find publishers for their work and they have to face rejections. I also think that I’m willing to try publishers and opportunities for my clients that other agents might not consider because I would try those publishers for myself as an author. For example, I might try a publisher who does ebook originals, even if there were no advance.

You can find literary agent Anna Olswanger at:

Twitter: @AnnaOlswanger

Anna’s website: http://www.olswanger.com/

Agent bio: http://www.lizadawsonassociates.com/staff/anna-olswanger.html