Archive | October 2014

Interview with literary agent Julie Gwinn.

Today, we are lucky enough to have literary agent Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency on the blog. Thank you, Ms. Gwinn, for being here with us.

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AN: How did you become an agent?

JG: I have been agenting full-time since July. I have been involved in the publishing industry for more than a decade, as a trade book marketing manager, editor and finally as fiction publisher. After the fiction line was shut down at my previous publisher, I began working freelance to help edit, consult and manage authors and their projects. My transition to agenting seemed to happen organically from the consulting business.

 

AN: 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?

JG: The relationship between author and agent is a business relationship first. It is the author’s responsibility to write a good story that the agent can then sell. There is teamwork involved. If the agent asks the author to tweak content or invest in a website, the author should take this into consideration. If the author tells the agent they can only write one book a year, the agent needs to listen. There needs to be open, honest and clear communication and expectations should be set early on.

 

AN: 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?

JG: I represent all romance (contemporary and historical and romantic suspense), speculative, fantasy, straight suspense, true crime, YA and NA and some non-fiction.  I do not represent horror as this is not a genre I read and so I’m not familiar with what makes a great horror novel. I would love to see great romance with smart, witty banter (either contemporary or historical). I would like to see smart suspense that leaves me questioning ‘who dun it’ until the end. Cozy mysteries. Sports romance. Military. Unique ideas or plots with twists. I’ve seen a lot of dystopian, angels and demons, novels where the protagonist suffers from multiple issues (alcoholism, bulimia, abuse, homelessness).

 

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

JG: Research. Research who you are querying. Research how they want submissions. Research who your audience is (hint: it won’t be everyone). Research comparable titles (who is your writing similar too? What novel is similar to yours and yet different). Research your grammar and editing.

 

AN: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting? JG: Yes I’m open to submissions. Julie@TheSeymourAgency.com

 

You can find Ms. Gwinn on Twitter here.

You can find her on Facebook here.

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Interview with literary agent Mark Gottlieb.

Today, we have literary agent Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group on the blog. Thank you, Mr. Gottlieb, for being with us!

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AN: 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?

MG: With fiction, the voice or the writing itself is just as important as the meat of the story being told. In nonfiction it is less so the case since nonfiction is subject-driven.

It can take a long time for an author to build a voice in fiction, whether it be the voice of the narrator or the voice of the character. I find that reading one’s work aloud really helps. One author I know actually takes it a step further, in that he dresses up as the characters from his novels and speaks before a mirror, to get into the voice of his characters. When I heard that I thought it was a really nifty idea and true to the story form which began in the oral tradition by fireside.

 

AN: 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?

MG: Cardboard cutouts of one-dimensional characters are not relatable. Often a character that does not have any personal growth by the end of the novel is not relatable.

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?

High concept fiction would be more like what I like to call “big idea fiction.” An example of a big idea in fiction would be from the forthcoming graphic novel by William Neal McPheeters:

On the lower level of an eight-hundred-year-old building, among the cannibalized scraps left over from the robot war, is discovered a crated, unassembled, untested time machine that the robots were building at the time they were defeated. Among other oddities, there’s an assembled, but inactivated, very human like “Companion Robot.” In secret, the city’s best scientific minds assemble and test the time machine and finally establish that it is designed to transport robots only—humans, or any living organism, will not survive transportation through time. 

Low concept fiction would concern more of the day to day life of characters in a book, so that robot’s interactions or life drama with other characters.

 

AN: 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?

MG: A few things:

-Learn to speak of your work in one breath or two sentences. This is also known as the elevator pitch.

-Starting out, a writer should focus on keeping their work at 80,000-120,000 words.

-Include a one-paragraph author bio with your queries that contains relevant writing experience.

 

AN: How did you become an agent?

MG: I’d like to say that I was publishing from the womb, but that’s just not the case. Truth be told, both my parents got their start in publishing. Currently, my father is the chairman at Trident Media Group, the literary agency where I work. My parents fostered in me an interest in storytelling and publishing from a very young age. While at Emerson College, where I studied writing, literature and publishing, I established a small press called Wilde Press. They publish four chapbooks per year now and are a mainstay of the Undergraduate Students for Publishing.

 

AN: 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?

MG: Every experience for a writer with an agent can be different as this is a subjective business and every work of writing is unique in what its need are. I could share a couple of pieces of advice, though…

Sometimes the submission/editorial process can be long and arduous since publishing is often slow-moving. Patience is a virtue.

In terms of what to expect from a good agent, their work should be entirely commissionable (instead of fee-based) as to keep their interests aligned with the author. That is why our work is commissionable, as opposed to a lawyer charging an hourly rate. In the lawyer’s case, it’s oftentimes in their interest to drag matters out since it’s more billable hours for their firm. In the case of an agent, their work is a service they do for their clients so it is entirely performance-based. Also make sure that your literary agency choice is legitimate and based in NYC, as book publishing is New York-centric.

 

AN: 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?

MG: I am looking for more military science-fiction and epic/military fantasy. I enjoy comedic writings from most every genre. I’d like to do some more celebrity memoirs, horrors, and thrillers.

I am getting too much dystopia, urban fantasy, paranormal romance/paranormal women’s fiction and personal memoir. The market is also tired of vampires and zombies at the moment, unless it’s a fresh new take on the genre.

 

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

MG: I am a practitioner of kendo (Japanese fencing) at the national level and hold a black belt degree. Much of the tenants of the martial art, which are grounded in bushido (code of warrior ethics), have informed my book publishing outlook as a literary agent.

 

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

MG: Don’t be discouraged by rejection and be prepared to ride the wild wave that is book publishing.

 

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

MG: I am open to submissions and Trident prefers to be queried via our site:http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/contact-us

 

You can follow the Trident Media Group Literary Agency on Twitter here.

You can learn more about Mark Gottlieb here.

You can follow Trident Media Group Literary Agency on Facebook here.

Interview with literary agent Laura Rennert.

Today, we are lucky enough to have literary agent Laura Rennert, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, on the blog. Thank you, Ms. Rennert, for being here with us!

Laura Rennert

AN: How did you become an agent?

LR: Books are a long time love of mine. I have a Ph.D in English Literature, and worked for a number of years as a professor of English Literature. When I moved with my husband to the San Francisco Bay Area, I got a position at a university, and I also began networking in the smaller but vibrant publishing community in and around San Francisco. I have a strong entrepreneurial side to my personality, and was drawn to agenting because it gave scope to my creative and editorial interests and also to my business interests. For a time, I continued to keep a foot in both academia and agenting, and then, when my daughter was born, I had to make a choice. I decided to agent full time because there was nothing more fulfilling to me than working with authors to develop the trajectory of a successful career and to fulfill their commercial and critical aspirations.

 

AN: 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?

LR: There are many things I seek. I think of myself as a literary omnivore, and have diverse tastes. For this reason, I focus on the essential qualities of a work, rather than on specific subjects, genres, or categories. There are many publishable works that come across my desk, but works that elevate the form in the ways I describe below are rare. I’m including some successful examples (my clients, not coincidentally) of what I’m talking about.

One of my special loves is writers who take an existing mythos and make it something original and uniquely their own. My client Maggie Stiefvater is one of the masters of this. Her novel THE SCORPIO RACES and her series THE RAVEN CYCLE draw on familiar mythologies — the Celtic legend of the water horse and the Arthurian and Welsh legends of Sleeping Kings — and transform them into something remarkably original, devastatingly powerful, and shockingly unexpected.

I am also passionate about works that use commercial tropes and give them surprising emotional resonance — some examples of this would be Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, a character-driven, emotionally wrenching contemporary YA that reads like a suspenseful mystery, and Kimberly Derting’s THE TAKING series, which takes the notion of alien abduction and uses it to explore both the teen fear of being left behind by one’s peers and the universal fear of the other in ourselves.

I have a soft spot for narrative risk takers in all categories, and have to mention the inimitable Ellen Hopkins, who writes remarkably honest, deeply insightful, and beautifully crafted YA in verse — her most recent RUMBLE just came out a few weeks ago — and Christina Meldrum’s dense, lush, literary-commercial YA MADAPPLE, as examples of this. Andrew Smith, who was a client with whom I worked over the course of seven YA’s (THE MARBURY LENS and WINGER, among others) is a wonderful example of this, as well. He is wildly original both in the writing and in the conception of his novels.

I’m also on the lookout for authentic, sensitive, diverse voices that open a window on less represented perspectives and characters. Mitali Perkins writes this kind of fiction (chapter books, mg, and YA) and talks about the need and requirements for it in a wonderfully eloquent, insightful way on her blog “Mitali’s Fire Escape.”

I also love middle grade with memorable, strong characters; rich, original world building; an authentic, kid appealing perspective; and lots and lots of heart. Matt Ward’s THE FANTASTIC FAMILY WHIPPLE and Shannon Messenger’s THE KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES series are fine examples of this.

As far as what I’m getting too much of, I feel like I see many projects that are derivative — that feel like they are chasing successful market trends.

Of course, the consistent element in all this is be original and authentic, surprise your reader with both your craft and your conception, and bring real emotionality and depth to your work.

 

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

LR: Hmmm … that despite my blue blood 19th century Brit Lit roots (my specialty when I was in academia), I have surprising tastes. I’m married to a NYT Bestselling political thriller writer who likes to live his fiction and was formerly in the CIA. As a result, I have an interest in forbidden knowledge, exotic locations, subterranean worlds and a fascination with martial arts and other kinds of self defense.

 

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

LR: Believe. In. Yourself. To me, this is about not only the passion and perseverance this industry requires, but also about being your wildly idiosyncratic, subversive, passionate, eccentric self in art and in life.

 

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

LR: I am always open to submissions and always hungry for that next amazing author who moves me, challenges me, changes me, and compels me. Like a shark, if I stop swimming (in the query box), I think I’ll die. The qualifier, of course, is that my standards are very high. The best way to submit work to me is to follow the guidelines on our agency website:

www.andreabrownlit.com — agency website

www.laurajoyrennert.com — my own author/agent website

I’d recommend reverse engineering your approach and trying to think like an agent. I do this myself — I try to think like an editor, when I’m pitching client work. It’s important to do enough research so you have a clear idea of what I, or any agent to whom you’re submitting, loves and seeks. Our agency includes representative titles under each of our bios to tip our hand in this regard.

I’m most drawn to queries that are clear, concise, and vivid. Strong queries convey what is compelling about a project. My short hand for this is: who (character), what (the story spine), where (the nature of this world, sense of place), and ‘why should I care’ (the latter references what the stakes are, what is special about this project that distinguishes it from the other work in the same space, what will draw readers to it). I pay particular attention when the author has an accurate sense of where his or her book fits in the market and seems knowledgeable. To me, this demonstrates that the writer views writing as his or her profession. It’s a bonus when I also get a sense of the interesting person behind the work.

Thanks so much for having me and for your great questions, Amy!

 

AN: Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to provide such insightful answers!

Interview with literary agent Cassie Hanjian.

Today, we have literary agent Cassie Hanjian of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency on the blog. Thank you, Cassie, for being here with us!

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AN: How did you become an agent?

CH: I started out as an international literary scout working with foreign publishers to help them acquire US-originating projects for translation. Being a literary scout is a lot like being a consultant: you’re constantly advising clients about the state of the US market, telling them which books match up with their lists and which books might not be the best fit for their program.  As my former colleague Andy Kifer has already said below, it’s a great first job: you have a bird’s-eye view of the entire marketplace at a given time and learn the ins and outs of what each publishing house, each imprint, and each editor is looking to acquire. I specifically learned a lot about the submission process and developed an editorial eye for commercial and genre fiction during my time as a scout, both of which have helped me tremendously in my role as an agent.

My time as a scout just happened to overlap with the release of 50 Shades of Gray, and, post-50 Shades, foreign publishers really started paying attention to self-published fiction. I spent a lot of my time after that culling self-published projects and using other resources to find indie authors that might do well in translation, often discovering potential projects before they had an agent attached. Finding that I was often ahead of the game, I started thinking that my knack for finding new and upcoming talent could be put to better use on the agency side of the industry.  It was also during this time that the indie community really started to explode with diversity, and it was exciting to experience this shift first-hand. As a scout, I also couldn’t specialize in the genres and areas I loved most — you have to report back to clients on the marketplace as a whole — so I felt like I was really following my passions by transitioning to the agency side.

After I made the switch to the agency side, I specialized primarily in foreign rights (because of my scouting background) and author support before moving to work at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency.

 

AN: 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?

CH: To me, the ideal author/agent relationship is one that feels like a partnership. Both parties are collaborating and exchanging ideas about what could make a project better, how to tap into their audience, and how to develop an identifiable author brand. Of course, with any partnership, each person has a clearly-defined role, to some extent. The author’s main job is to write and revise, and the agent’s main role is to sell the project and act as the author’s advisor during every step of the publishing process. I think the best agents want to be as involved as possible once they’ve signed an author.

It’s also important that you and your agent are on the same wavelength. Even if you don’t always agree with your agent, do you at least understand where they’re coming from when they make suggestions on your manuscript or offer advice on how to handle a certain situation? Do you feel they really understand your content and the market for your book? Are they speaking “your language” when they explain things to you? Having someone who truly understands you, your vision, and your content will make them a more effective advocate for you in the long-run.

 

AN: 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?

CH: I’m incredibly passionate about commercial fiction of all types, especially New Adult and commercial women’s fiction. In New Adult, I’d love to see something with a little bit of an edge that’s not afraid to depart from what’s currently considered New Adult. I will say, however, that I think of New Adult projects as genuinely commercial novels with an amazing story at the center. My favorite New Adult novels also include a strong romantic element (whether it be sexy or sweet) that tugs at the heartstrings. In commercial women’s fiction, I also want something plot-driven that focuses on overcoming some sort of really difficult issue and will hopefully make me cry in the process.

I’m also looking for upmarket women’s fiction, historical fiction, contemporary romance, cozy mysteries, and psychological suspense. On the nonfiction side, I’m interested in seeing projects in the categories of parenting, mind/body/spirit, inspirational memoir, narrative nonfiction on food-related topics, and a select number of accessible cookbooks.

I seem to be getting a lot of traditional thrillers, science-fiction/fantasy projects, and literary fiction in my submissions box. I’m only representing psychological suspense and cozy mysteries in the suspense world, which both have very different definitions from a traditional thriller or espionage thriller. I also don’t represent science-fiction, fantasy, or literary fiction at all. I highly suggest authors thoroughly research each agent they plan to query. Agents build their areas of specialization by thoroughly understanding that segment of the market and cultivating relationships with editors who are also passionate about those areas.  If it’s not listed under their areas of interest or representation, don’t query them.

 

AN: 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?

CH: A lot of beginning writers spend too much time in the first few chapters setting up their story with exposition. When I start to read a manuscript, I want to be sucked in by an active beginning that’s not just setting up the protagonist’s environment or background. The protagonist and other characters should be engaging in dialogue and doing something active in these first few pages. We can get to all of the nuts and bolts later in the novel, but the reader needs to be really engaged in your story from the start to keep them turning the pages.

 

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

CH: I am! If your project fits in any of the categories listed above, please send me your query letter along with the first 5-10 pages of your manuscript or proposal in the body of the e-mail to cassiesubmit [at] waxmanleavell.com.

 

You can follow Cassie Hajian on Twitter here.