Archive | March 2014

Interview with literary agent Stephany Evans.

Today on the blog we are lucky enough to have literary agent Stephany Evans, the president of Fine Print Literary Management. Thank you so much for being with us, Ms. Evans.

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Me: How did you become an agent?

Ms. Evans: I had worked for a short while at Simon & Schuster Audio as assistant to the Editorial Director – this was the mid/late 80s in the baby days of audio publishing. After leaving S&S I continued doing odd jobs, a lot of restaurant work, some editing, had a bit of a career as a painter, until 1990 when my former boss, who had by then moved on to HarperCollins, had a party and there I met a woman who was an agent. I hadn’t had much contact with agents at S&S so wasn’t that clear on the scope of their job. As we talked I grew very interested. This woman (who had not been in the business very long) told me she was buried in work but couldn’t really afford to pay a salaried assistant. Nevertheless, it sounded like my cup of tea and I jumped. I worked with her for two years before going off on my own – which was madness.

 

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. Evans: No one agent can answer this question in a general way because each relationship is unique. On my client list are authors who were, say, professional journalists before doing their first book and may tend to be pretty independent. They may already have their infrastructure in place and quickly grasp the quirks of book publishing vs writing for a periodical. There are other authors who might need more coaching and active guidance. There are some who want to see all the feedback from editors and others who don’t want to hear anything until there is an offer. In terms of every day communication, I do try to be accessible and responsive to my clients. But I’m human, I’m one person, I have more than one client, and things happen to me just like they happen in anyone else’s life so things can on occasion go wonky, but I strive to make sure that isn’t the usual. I tell my clients that I tend to prefer email for brief ‘back and forth’ things, but if something requires discussion we should talk by phone. Others may like to do things differently. Our business also requires massive amounts of reading, which takes real time, so I think whatever agent an author may sign with they need to be patient, but also need to feel comfortable that they are being heard and that if they have an urgent issue their agent is getting back to them and working with them to resolve it.

 

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. Evans: Well there can never be too much smart writing, right? Who doesn’t want to find more stories that just grab them and don’t let go? Characters so real you just want to slap them? As an agent I want the same things an editor wants, or a read wants, for that matter – a book with a ‘big’ feel to it. An author you trust from the first sentence – even if the narrator is unreliable. I love New York so a story set here will often pull me toward it for that alone (then it has to stand on other merits, of course). I’m passionate about running, love to eat, and am very interested in art so those are other elements that can draw me in. I love the beach and have a warm spot in my heart for Mexico… OK, I could go on and on with this so will leave it at that.

 

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

Ms. Evans: Oh, gosh. I don’t think anything much surprises a writer, do you? How’s this… I grew up on a cherry orchard in rural Pennsylvania, rode a wicked fast pony in gaming events at local “rodeos” (barrel racing, pole bending, etc), and just before moving to NYC I was a waitress in a doughnut shop. For real.

 

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

Ms. Evans: Read as much really good fiction as you can. Read in different genres, read stuff from the canon – the books that are generally acknowledged as fine. As you read, listen internally to the words to develop your ear both for realistic dialogue and also an understanding of what different words and sentence structure do to mood, pace, etc. Look up the words you don’t know and expand your vocabulary. Words are all you’ve got. Get to know them intimately.

 

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

Ms. Evans: To mix a couple metaphors, I’m up to my eyebrows and have very little bandwidth for new projects. That said, blow me away with your query and your writing and you’re in. An email query is best to start. I will let you know if it’s something of interest and/or if I’m able to look.

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Interview with literary agent Beth Campbell.

Today, we’re lucky enough to have literary agent Beth Campbell of BookEnds, LLC on the blog. She’s got some great advice regarding the craft of writing, so read on!

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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?

Beth: Voice is difficult to really sit down and define because it’s somewhat nebulous. I think people understand it best when looking at a story that is written in first person—then the “voice” is in the personality and quirks of the narrating character. When the story is in third person, there’s no character to provide the voice for you and the style and personality inherent in the writing itself provides the voice.

Most solid, polished writing falls flat because it looks the same as every other piece of solid, polished writing out there. Good voice is what sets excellent writing apart from merely good writing.

As for tips: I think that an author’s voice really shines when it feels unique, and the uniqueness is often in the details. If the author takes time to slow down and examine some of the smaller (but still significant!) details in her story or setting, that can give her room to develop a voice instead of having the narrative going from plot point to plot point to plot point. I would also caution authors not to try too hard. The best voices always sound natural and effortless. That doesn’t mean they are, of course, but if you’re trying too hard things will probably sound forced. A good voice should be close to your natural style, so embrace it.

 

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?

Beth: Relationships are absolutely vital in creating a sympathetic character. Some of the most unlikeable characters I’ve ever come across have been that way because of the way they interact with the people around them. If your character doesn’t have a meaningful connection with anyone, they are very difficult to empathize with. Give a character a little sister or dog or elderly relative that she adores, and people will get that.

From there, I’ve often found that motivation and dimension make remarkable characters really stand out. Too many heroes and heroines seem to do things for no reason—the real reason of course being that the writer needs them to do it in order to advance the plot. Excellent characters act (or don’t) because of their needs and desires, and plot follows naturally from there.

 

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?

Beth: High concept fiction is generally used to describe a story that can be easily pitched in a sentence or two. That’s it. One or two sentences, and the listener has a full picture of what the story is about.

As for whether or not it’s important for books to be high concept: I think it depends on the venue of your pitch. If you’re querying traditionally or pitching one-on-one to an agent at a conference, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the manuscript is high concept. On the other hand, I’d argue that high concept manuscripts have an advantage in twitter pitch contests and other various short pitch formats. I personally don’t think it really impacts your chances of being published or not.

 

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?

Beth: I’m going to come full circle and say: voice. Any one—writer or not—can come up with an excellent idea, and most writers have a handle on grammar and syntax, but voice is really what sets people apart. Alternatively, I would urge authors to work on their dialogue. So much dialogue seems forced or unnatural, and that’s a total deal breaker for me—even if the narration is good.

Interview with literary agent Elizabeth Pomada.

Today, we have literary agent Elizabeth Pomada of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents on the blog. Thank you, Elizabeth, for being here!

Me: How did you become an agent?

Elizabeth: I became an agent by accident. After working in publishing in NYC, We moved to S.F. with no jobs. An agent for writers & artists told me there were no jobs in S.F. or promotion directors in publishing. And then she said “meanwhile, all these people send me manuscripts and I have no idea what to do with them.” So I went into her office every Tuesday and tackled the piles and actually found 2 books. One which became a huge best-seller, and the other was published posthumously. So I actually started selling books.

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?

Elizabeth: The agent/author relationship should be a working marriage. After an agent has accepted the book and signed the contract with the author, she aims to sell it to the most appropriate publisher for the best possible deal. The agent then receives the money from the publisher and writes a check for each author and for herself, and then tries to sell subsidiary rights–foreign,movie, etc., and then guides the author through the publishing process and sometimes through their career.

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?

Elizabeth: I’m looking for literary and commercial novels that will keep me up at night reading. They are few and far between and the bar keeps getting higher.

I’m getting too many novels that are going nowhere. No drive, no action, no voice, no emotion.

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

Elizabeth: A writer might be surprised to learn that I have very eclectic tastes and like things that are new and different. Best piece of advice we can give a writer: If anything can stop you from becoming a successful writer, let it. If nothing can stop you, do it and you’ll make it.

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

Elizabeth: Don’t submit anything prematurely. First/second/third drafts may not be enough. Polish your craft. And read, read, read.

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

Elizabeth: Yes, authors can simply follow the submission guidelines on our website.

Interview with literary agent Jill Marsal.

Today, we are lucky enough to have Jill Marsal of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency on the blog! She has some wonderful advice for writers and will even tell us what she is looking for in submissions right now! Thank you, Jill, for being here with us!

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Me: How did you become an agent?

Jill: When I was in high school, we had a career day, and one of the speakers was a literary agent.  I had never heard of agenting (this was before the movie Jerry Maguire), but I thought it sounded terrific.  I loved reading – fiction, non-fiction, all types of books – so that afternoon I went home and got out the phone book and started calling local agents to see if I could get a job.  I started with a small agency and loved it and knew I was “hooked” on agenting.

 

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?

Jill: The author/agent relationship should be a collaboration- the agent should understand the author’s goals and work with the author to help her or him reach them.  Obviously, a strong manuscript is critical to getting published so a good agent should offer editorial feedback to help make manuscripts or proposals as strong as possible.  It is a very interactive process to get a manuscript “ready for market.”  And good communication is critical to a successful relationship.  In my view, the author-agent relationship should be a long term partnership where the agent helps grow and develop an author’s career and is there to answer questions, offer advice, and be the writer’s advocate.

 

Me: What are you looking for right now in 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?

Jill: I would love to see more women’s fiction and stories about women, stories of family, friendships, interesting relationships, Southern fiction, or multi-generations, and all types of romance, including romantic suspense, historical, contemporary, and category romance. I am also looking for mysteries, cozies, suspense, and thrillers that keep the pages turning and have an original hook. I also like general commercial fiction and welcome a dramatic storyline and compelling characters in interesting situations or relationships. If you have a novel that has a highly original concept or voice, please send!

On the non-fiction side, I would like to see more current events, business, health, self-help, relationships, psychology, parenting, science, and narrative non-fiction. I want to find projects which will move readers or leave them thinking, which make provocative arguments or share interesting research, or which offer useful, new advice.  I am not looking for memoirs or YA at the moment.

 

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

Jill: My neighbor is a scientist who goes to Antarctica to research and track killer whales, and it sounds fascinating.  While I don’t think I will ever make it quite that far, I would love to go up to Puget Sound to see killer whales in their natural habitat one day.  I love dolphins, whales, seals, and other marine animals.

 

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

Jill: R.E.S.T.!  Read, edit, share, and talk.  It is so important to know what is working on the market – read published books in the genre you want to write and analyze how the successful authors are crafting their stories and making them work.  Are there “rules” for the genre?  How does the author create deep POV? Do the characters have strong story arcs?  What makes you care about them?  How does the author keep pacing up? How do they establish setting?

Very often, new writers will open a story with a lot of “set up” and backstory to try and give readers all the information they need to know before the actual story gets going.  Really examine your work to make sure there is no big “information dump” in the beginning, that you have strong pacing out of the box, that you are showing not telling, and take what you have learned from studying other authors and apply it to your work.

And then, after you have studied these things and applied them to your manuscript, share it with someone who can give you feedback- a critique partner or writing group or someone who can offer meaningful feedback is invaluable.  Often, a fresh set of eyes will help you see things about your work in a new way and help take your manuscript to the next level.  And talk about what is working, what isn’t working, and why so you understand the feedback from your reader.

 

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

Jill: Yes, please email a query to Jill@MarsalLyonLiteraryAgency.com