In the months between now and Colorado Gold, my guest posts here at the RMFW blog will take a lawyer's eye view at some issues that may be relevant to authors trying to choose a publishing path or figure out who (and how) to pitch their work at conference. Today, we'll kick that off with a little introduction to some the things agents do...and a few they don't.
Mismanaged (or mismatched) expectations are a fundamental cause of problems in the author-agent relationship. Before signing an agency contract, authors should understand the business and try to establishrealistic expectations about the author-agent relationship.
Know What Agents Do … and What They Don't.
A literary agent can fill many roles in an author’s world. Some of the common ones include:
- Line editing client manuscripts ("editorial" agents do this, but not usually at the first draft stage).
- Pitching manuscripts to publishers, and negotiating contract offers.
- Consulting with authors about new ideas and series development.
- Discussing short-term and long-term plans for the author’s writing career.
- Marketing advice (but they don't do the marketing - that's the author's job).
- Mentioning clients' work on the agent’s social media feeds.
- Acting as an intermediary between the author and publisher (especially when conflicts arise).
- Selling foreign, translation, and other subsidiary rights, either directly or through sub-agents.
Not all agents fill all of these roles.Investigate agents before you query, and talk with an agent who offers representation (before you sign!) about his or her preferences and business practices.
All agents should review client’s manuscripts, pitch and negotiate deals, and act as an intermediary with publishers on some level (some do more, and some do less). Beyond that, your mileage may vary.
Know What You Want YOUR Agent To Do (Within Reason)
Consider the list in the heading above. Do you want an editorial agent? Someone who’s active on social media? How involved do you want the agent to be in your long-term plans?
Beware the temptation to say “I want it all” (or "I don't want any of this") without more thought. Publishing is a business, and authors need both a business plan and a solid concept of how an agent fits (or, in some cases, doesn't fit) within it. Make a list, and be reasonable...it doesn't much matter whether or not you want your agent to give you a magical glitter-and-book-deal farting unicorn. You're not going to get it.
Do Your Research, and Find an Agent Who Matches Your Expectations
After you know what you want from your agent, you need to focus on finding an agent who matches your expectations. If you only query agents who aren't editorial, you have only yourself to blame when the agent you sign with doesn't edit your manuscript.
It can be difficult to determine, with certainty, whether an agent's business model matches your own before you receive an offer of representation. That’s okay. “The call” is a perfect time to talk about expectations—the agent’s, as well as yours.
Obviously, authors only get to choose from the agents who actually offer representation. That’s why "doing the research before you query" is such a critical step.
If you're planning to pitch agents at conferences (including this September's fabulous Colorado Gold - registration is open now!) do your research in time to choose your pitch appointments wisely. Don't limit yourself to the conference website. Google the agents and editors, visit their websites, and find the ones who seem like a match for your preferences and your work.
Realize: There is No Magical Ring to Rule the Publishing World. You Won't Get One - And Your Agent Won't Have One, Either.
No matter how well an agent matches the author’s business expectations, we have to remember that no one can guarantee an offer, a publishing deal, or a place on the bestseller list. Sometimes a manuscript doesn't sell, no matter how hard an agent works. Sometimes publishers drop a talented author.
Publishing failures often aren't the agent’s fault - and the possibility of failure even if you do everything correctly is a sad but real expectation authors need to manage.
On the other hand, if the agent isn’t living up to the author's expectations, authors have the right to consider a change. Just make sure, if you make the decision to terminate an agency contract, you make it on the basis of an objective, honest evaluation—what the agent has done (or not), in comparison to industry standards—not on the basis of emotion or unreasonable expectations.
Managing expectations in publishing is a lot like herding cats or nailing Jell-o to a tree. It's a constant process, and it's going to get away from you at times.
Even so, it’s worth the effort. The better you know the industry, and treat publishing as a business, the more likely you are to find an agent who meets your needs and becomes a beneficial partner in your publishing career.
What do you expect your agent to do for you? How do you manage your "agent expectations"?
So I was sick of it all. Sick of the rejection. Sick of editors. Sick of my stupid Amazon ranking. Sick of the current project, which was completely unmarketable. Like any publisher is going to want a young adult sci-fi/western, steampunk, biopunk, family drama, dystopian epic. Epic I tell you!
Sick of it all! Sick to death.
In December of 2012, when Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II came out, I watched all five Twilight movies, and I was really moved by the experience. You laugh, but I was. I left and bought Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” and listened to it over and over. The song is on the soundtrack. Google it, if you don’t believe me.
I wanted to write something simple, something completely genre, completely marketable, a perfect example of a young adult romance. I studied the genre. I read broadly. I outlined the story. I kept the characters relatable, and I worked on streamlining the language. I hired an editor, took it through my critique group, used beta readers, did a final polish.
In the fall of 2014, I started querying my young adult romance. The rejections were slow in coming. Several agents read the whole thing. I was closer than ever! My hard work had paid off!
Last week I achieved the ultimate victory! I got a rejection from a big-time literary agent who complimented my story structure and called my writing commercial. However, she basically said my book was too genre; it wouldn’t stand out.
Which is exactly what I wanted.
I am not sugar-coating this rejection. I really do feel a sense of accomplishment. When I was querying my epic, I had a lot of agents and editors scratching their hands. One laughed when I pitched it as a post-apocalyptic cattle drive, and she asked me if I was serious. Yeah, I was. The Hunger Games with cows. My epic finally found a home with WordFire Press and will be out in the fall.
So the book I adored, my cross-genre sci-fi/western, has a publisher. So far, the YA romance I wrote for the market hasn’t. What does this tell me?
There are no rules. There is no manual on writing the perfect book. It’s all very subjective, and in the end, I need to write books I’m proud of.
My YA romance will one day see the light of day: either through a traditional publisher or self-published.
But do you know what?
If it goes through my Indie press, I’ll take my little YA romance, which is too genre, and I will Aaron Michael Ritchey the hell out of it.
‘Cause those are the books I’m proud of. My books.
Pooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging and satisfied her craving to work with books. In the fall of 2012, she began taking on her own clients. As a relatively new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She represents fiction and non-fiction for both Adult and YA markets, and is searching for writing that has an easy flow, timely pacing, unique perspectives, and strong voices.
In Adult fiction, she is looking for upmarket women‘s fiction, literary/commercial fiction, thrillers, mysteries/suspense, historical and multi-cultural fiction. In YA, she is looking for strong voice-driven contemporary fiction (from the light/romantic variety to fiction dealing with darker themes and subjects), horror, mysteries/thrillers with psychological twists, fantasy, historicals–all of which need to be uniquely spun, fresh, with voices that are strong and multi-layered. She‘s also looking for multi-cultural fiction that is either set abroad or is set in the US with characters from a different culture or background.
Pat: Welcome to the RMFW Blog, Pooja. Could you start by telling our conference attendees (and potential attendees) about your educational background and experience and what specifically led to your literary agent position?
Pooja: Of course! I went quite the linear way to be honest. I always knew I wanted to work in publishing. At the time, I envisioned more of an editorial role when I thought of jobs. I planned on moving to NY and trying to get into one of the Big 6 (at that time) and working my way up. So I did my BA in English Literature from England and then, because I loved to write, I did an M.F.A from Otis College of Art and Design in LA, which was really great because it’s a small program and we’re all very collaborative (the professors and the students) and they have a publishing module/program where they release a select number of literary books each year--each of us learnt what goes into publishing a book while working on these.
Once I finished, however, life changed direction and I got married and my husband’s job required me to be in the Bay Area. So I began looking at other options and found Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I’ll be honest, until that point I didn’t know much about a literary agent and nor did I consider it a career option because I had thought of something else all along. But once I learnt more about it, I applied for an internship with Kimberley and I interned and assisted with her for a year. I realized that the job offered me a ton of freedom with the kind of projects I wanted to work on, offered me the freedom to work with the kind of people I wanted to work with, and I got to do more than an editorial role. Agents wear a lot of different hats and I enjoyed learning about all these various hats. Then in the fall of 2012, Kimberley asked me to join and I jumped at the chance.
Pat: Have you attended many writers’ conferences since you became an agent? If so, tell us a little about your conference experience, what you like most and least. If you haven’t been to many conferences, please describe your expectations, especially about the author pitch sessions.
Pooja: I did, actually. This year has been conference heavy! I attended a couple of local one day and weekend conferences, went to San Miguel in February, Houston in April, Boise in May, this July it will be my second time at the PNWA conference in Seattle, my first at Colorado Gold (so excited), quite frankly, I’ve attended quite a bit and really enjoyed them. I love meeting new writers who come to me bursting with ideas for their projects; I enjoy talking to them about their work and how far they’ve come and where they got their inspiration from. I love hearing about how active in the writing community they are—attending conferences and writing critique groups, doing readings, learning up on the industry, etc (this kind of a writer makes me a very happy agent). It’s really great.
What I like the least is when I meet people during pitches who’ve come to talk to me about their work but won’t take a word of criticism/suggestion/advice without getting irked or defensive. This industry requires people to be open and willing to learn and edit and revise, requires people to be tough skinned when getting critiqued. It also bothers me when people don’t respect the idea of space. I’m very aware that they’ve spent money to be at conferences and they’re eager to learn, but when an agent goes to the restroom or finds a moment to have lunch (unless it’s a lunch/informal pitch session), that definitely is not the best time to pitch your work. Respect boundaries and space. That’s what I think authors (definitely this is a minority) can work on.
Pat: The bio at the beginning of this interview has a pretty long list of fiction genres that you might be interested in representing. RMFW is all for and about fiction writers, so please elaborate a bit on your favorite genres, what you hope to find in the pitch sessions, and which genres are least likely to excite you. Are you interested in the New Adult genre?
Pooja: In terms of what excites me the most, I’m very fond of multi-cultural fiction that deals with family, love, boundaries, etc within a larger framework or plotline. Think of Khalid Hosseini or Jhumpa Lahiri or Adiche Chimamanda or Isabel Allende or Amy Tan or Ann Patchett or books like Shadow of the Banyan Tree and The Tiger’s Wife. Literary fiction that has strong commercial appeal. Now, by all means, not all stories have to be set in multi-cultural settings. I enjoy literary fiction and commercial fiction of any kind, set anywhere as long as the concept is fresh and unique: The Night Circus, The Orphan Train, historical fiction by Sarah Dunant, mysteries or thrillers by authors like Tana French and Kathy Reich’s, or ones that are off-beat (Gone Girl, domestic thriller that’s off-beat and dark and set in a suburb or Alexander McCall, polar opposite, for instance) from the norm.
Frankly, aside from romance, epic sci-fi and fantasy, military fiction, and light frothy beach reads (not overly fond of these), I’m open to anything unique and different. I’m hoping to be surprised and meeting authors’ at pitch sessions is usually the perfect way to be surprised. Many a time, even though I might not generally read books in a particular genre or category, I might make an exception if the writing and the characters are THAT strong and have moved me in some big way. So be ready to bring me your best work!
Pat: What advice do you have for the authors who pitch their work to you at conference?
Pooja: Be calm, be professional and courteous, and prepare your pitch and practice it before coming to a conference because agents would prefer you to pitch them face to face in a conversational manner as opposed to, a) reading off a page b) rambling on and on about your story in an attempt to tell us your whole story in four minutes.
Prepare a one minute pitch, a three minute pitch, a four minute one, depending on the pitch times for the conference you’re attending. One minute pitches regardless because if you’re pitching to an agent over drinks in an informal setting, you want to capture their attention at once, then a strong, intriguing one minute or shorter pitch would be the key. Also, practice on your spouse or friend or parents or partner until they think you’re doing it organically and until you think you are confident enough.
Lastly, we’re just people looking for an amazing story. We’re there to meet you because we want to be and because we want to find stories that make our hearts race. So don’t be nervous. What’s the worst that can happen, really? Practice makes perfect and if you didn’t click with one agent or made mistakes at one conference, there are plenty more for you to try at or learn from. It’s never a waste!
Pat: What changes is your agency experiencing because of the rise in self-published books? Do you see any differences in the quality and genre of submissions you receive?
Pooja: First off, I have to say, the explosion of self-published books hasn’t affected us as much. Mainly because books that are self-published and have sold millions of copies have been the exception, not the norm. We get queries all the time from people who’ve gone the self-published route and then learnt that a lot goes into it to take it off the ground and they would rather focus on writing and have agents take care of that bit, Unfortunately, once a book is put out and if they don’t garner enough sales or attention, there isn’t much an agent can do for them.
In the case of books that do well, people have asked us why they need an agent, and my answer is that if that’s the case, we can still get them a better deal. For instance, if an author has millions of e-book sales, an agent can get them a great print deal with a big publisher, better distribution and packaging deals for print books, movie or TV deals, work on getting an aggressive deal on other subsidiary rights, so many things an agent can do for that author while allowing the author to keep the rights of the e-books he’s sold on his own. So, in essence, agents move and evolve with the industry and our roles get more and more complex, but never less necessary or important.
Pat: The website states your agency is open to emailed queries that include a one-page synopsis and the first fifty pages of the manuscript. When you open one of these queries, what most encourages you to read on, and what makes you stop reading and reject the submission?
Pooja: A stellar query makes me want to read more. Even if a query isn’t so stellar, I still do read the first ten pages at least if I feel like the story has potential or perks my interest in some way. It’s all based on the writing for me, if I feel like the story doesn’t capture me from the first page, I would still read a few more pages in, but if I still feel like I have to force myself to keep going, that would be an easy decision for me to make. When we go through the edits with our clients, we sometimes end up reading that manuscript a dozen times! If I struggled to read it the first time, it will be a painful process indeed to get through it even a second time around.
Pat: When you like what you hear during a conference pitch session, what would trigger a request for the full manuscript?
Pooja: Usually I stick to asking from 25-75 pages based on how well the pitch is put forward or how intrigued I am by the story. I never request a full because I’ve seen a lot of manuscripts fall apart in the middle, so I prefer the cautious and bit by bit approach.
Pat: We know that literary agents spend a lot of their “spare” time reading manuscripts, but what else do you do for fun? Do you have any interesting hobbies, quirky pets, or unusual weekend activities?
Pooja: Ah fun! Well, there was a time when I used to work every day even through the weekends and quickly realized that’s a recipe for disaster. I was getting burned out and my family wasn’t too pleased by it. So I’ve scaled back a lot.
I love reading for pleasure, so I still try and find time for that. We do a lot of hiking with my dog (my quirky goldendoodle) and meet up with friends and watch plays/musicals/movies, I try and fit in working out in there somewhere despite my dislike for it, I do love dancing so I’ve been toying with the idea of signing up for classes. Ditto with wanting to learn how to bake and cook Thai/Ethiopian food, though I have to find time for it. Love to travel, so we try and do a lot of local trips if we can and go outside once a year at least. I also love trying new cuisines so we go around in the city and out of the city in search of food.
Thanks so much for answering our questions, Pooja. We look forward to meeting you at Colorado Gold.
Signing with a literary agent is an early career milestone for many authors. Finding the right agent is, I submit, essential to an author’s long-term success and happiness. Having chosen both badly and well in my brief writing career, I thought I’d share both experiences, as a kind of authorial teaching moment.
When I finished the first draft of Hush Money – my debut legal mystery – in 2008, I proceeded to amass an impressive stack of agent rejections over the course of very few months, until finally hitting the jackpot – or so I’d thought – in the form of a request from a veteran New York agent (we’ll call her Natasha) to read the entire manuscript. My telephone rang several weeks later, and Natasha and I were in business together, our partnership memorialized in a two-page written agreement. Hush Money, she told me, while still in need of some minor fine-tuning, had tremendous market potential.
Several weeks passed while Natasha’s summer intern took a blue pencil to my magnum opus. When the line-edited manuscript was finally ready, I took a notion to fly to New York and collect it from Natasha in person, only to find that her address was a shared suite in a seedy section of Broadway that would have given Max Bialystock pause. Needing privacy, the four of us – Natasha, her husband, the intern, and I – squeezed into an office so small it required the intern to perch, knees to chin, on the radiator.
I flew home with the line-edited manuscript and a growing sense of unease. When I returned the tightened and polished manuscript to Natasha a month or so later, having reluctantly changed its ending and generally accommodated ninety percent of her editorial suggestions, she said she was pleased with the result, and promptly set out to test the fickle waters of commerce.
After several more months and a handful of editorial rejections, I flew to New York again, this time meeting Natasha and her husband for cocktails at the Algonquin (where I got stuck with the check.) At her insistence, I agreed to undertake another round of edits. Length (then 120,000 words) was, she said, our biggest problem, and so I tightened the manuscript even further, to a muscular 112,000 words, and sent it off for her final blessing. Meanwhile, I’d finished the first draft of Hard Twisted, my second novel, and sent her that as well.
She abhorred Hard Twisted, stating that the thirteen-year-old protagonist was “impossible to root for.” As for the new and improved Hush Money, she refused to even read it, calling it “unsaleable” unless and until I could pare it to fewer than 100,000 words. At that point I thanked Natasha for her efforts, and terminated our contract.
Newly rudderless, I submitted both manuscripts to the 2010 SouthWest Writers International Writing Contest in Albuquerque. From a field of over 680 entrants, Hush Money won Best Mystery, Hard Twisted won Best Historical Novel, and Hush Money won the grand-prize Storyteller Award, with Hard Twisted coming in second.
I soon had offers from several New York agents, and a second bite at the Big Apple. Should I again sign with a grizzled industry veteran, or should I go with the hungry young newcomer who professed undying love for both novels? I called an author-friend for counsel. He said, “Sign with whoever will still return your phone calls if the books haven’t sold in a year.” It proved to be some of the best career advice I’ve ever received.
Within a few weeks, Antonella Iannarino of the David Black Agency had sold Hush Money – still at 112,000 words, but with its original ending restored – to St. Martin’s Minotaur in a multi-book deal, after which she sold Hard Twisted to Bloomsbury. Hush Money – the novel Natasha had called “unsaleable” – would go on to receive starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, would be a Critics’ Pick from Kirkus, and would be a finalist for several national honors including the Shamus, Rocky, Reviewer’s Choice, and Audie Awards. Hard Twisted, the book with the “impossible to root for” protagonist, would be hailed as “a taut and intriguing thriller” (London Sunday Times) and “a gritty, gripping read, and one that begs to be put on film.” (Los Angeles Times)
So what did I learn from these very different experiences?
First, that reading is a highly subjective endeavor, and one should never be discouraged by the opinions of even a few so-called experts.
Second, that you should think long and hard before committing to an agent whose commitment to your work is other than unequivocal.
Third, that while parting with your agent might seem like a giant step backward, it is sometimes the only way to move your career forward.
Chuck Greaves has worked as a bartender, a construction worker, and a librarian. He spent 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer before becoming a novelist (and sometimes vigneron) in southwestern Colorado, where he lives with his wife, four horses, and two German shepherds. THE LAST HEIR (Minotaur), his fourth novel, and the third installment in his award-winning Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries, will be in bookstores on June 24, 2014. For more information on the series, or on his literary fiction written as C. Joseph Greaves, you can visit his website, or get the latest updates here on Facebook.
BOOK GIVEAWAY NOTICE:Readers who leave a comment on Chuck's post before noon U.S. Mountain Time on Sunday, June 22nd, will earn an entry into a drawing for a signed copy of The Last Heir. The winner will be announced here on Sunday afternoon.
I recently read a blog where the writer talked about her friend who had an agent that was unresponsive. Her point was that it was time for her friend to "divorce" her agent and find someone new.
I get it. In the past, I've had unresponsive agents myself. The waiting to hear back is excruciating. First you query agents and wait forever to get a response, which is tough enough. But then to actually sign with one who won't communicate with you is sheer torture.
The key word here is communication. The blog I read stated the agented writer had lost confidence in her own writing, thought the agent no longer believed in her, and was even thinking about ending her writing career. My first thought was that there are two sides to every story and this post didn't share the agent's side. There's no point wallowing in a pit of despair if you don't talk to the person responsible for pushing you into that pit in the first place.
I'm not excusing the agent for ignoring her client, but I do feel the writer/agent relationship is a two-way street. Neither can possibly know what's going on with the other without asking. I think it was C.J. Box who regaled us all with a story during his farewell luncheon speech at a Colorado Gold Conference several years ago. His first agent had ignored him for an entire year and he was pretty upset about it. Finally, he called the agent to fire him and found out his agent was dead. The fault here is with the agency for not dealing with all the dead agent's clients, but C.J. acknowledged that if he'd called sooner, he wouldn't have had to go through months of agonizing silence.
The problem with a lot of writers (not C.J.) is that after months of pursuing the attention of an agent and then finally landing one, we're reluctant to rock the boat. We hang onto that agent for dear life because if we lose him or her, we'll never get another one. Obviously, that's not true. However, it can be like staying in a bad marriage (I've been there, too) because you think you have no choice. You do have a choice. Depending on the circumstances, at some point you have to fish or cut bait. If you're not happy with a situation, get out.
So how do you know whether or not to stay or go? Just be sure to get in touch with your agent. Initial contact might have to be through his or her assistant, but ask for a "come to Jesus" meeting by phone so that you can hash things out. No emails or text messages, but a good old fashion verbal discussion. Chances are the silence is legitimate, and if so, make sure your agent is aware of how it's affecting you. It might be time to switch to another agent within the agency. Or it might be time to leave altogether. Or it simply might require more patience on your part.
My point is that in order to make an informed decision about whether or not to fire your agent, you need to have all the answers. Talk it out before letting the silence do you in.
Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.
Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.
I recently had the good fortune of chatting with literary agent Margaret Bail (@MKDB) of Inklings Literary. She'll be one of the agents attending the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference.
KD: How and when did you become a literary agent?
MB: I’ve been an agent for a couple of years, now. I started out by doing an internship with an agency and when that was over, I signed on with another agency as a junior agent and started the learning process. I ended up at Inklings because I’d met Michelle and Jamie during my internship (they were interns too), and when they opened Inklings and Michelle invited me to join them, I jumped at the chance.
KD: What fiction genres are you looking for this year? Is there anything special you’d love to see?
MB: I’m always looking for romance in all subgenres except Christian/inspirational. I also like science fiction, fantasy (though I’m really picky about this genre), historical fiction, western, mystery, thriller.
I’d like to see a fresh take on cozy mystery; a time travel romance; a good epic fantasy that doesn’t include a dozen (or even half dozen) points of view, or names I can’t pronounce, or every mythical creature ever imagined, or magic (think Dark Tower, which admittedly has a few of those elements but is so awesome it doesn’t matter).
KD: Is it harder these days to place authors/novels with the larger publishers? How does the increase in smaller and/or regional publishers, especially those who also take unagented submissions, impact your job?
MB: I don’t know if it’s harder per se to place with larger publishers, but the increase in mid-sized and small publishers, especially digital-only presses, means that advances from larger publishers are lower, and often publishers will acquire to their digital imprint before or rather than print imprints because there’s less cost and risk involved. They can offer even lower advances, and in many cases no advance at all, for digital-only or digital-first acquisitions.
As far as my job is concerned, this means often I’ll receive offers for digital-only with no advance when what we really wanted was print. However, were it not for their digital imprint, the publisher may have rejected outright, so at least the digital imprint gets an author’s foot in the door and gets them a publishing credit.
I don’t think that publishers who take unagented submissions affect my job at all. Generally, those publishers have laxer guidelines (than the larger publishers) as far as the quality of the work they accept and publish, so often they end up taking work I would have rejected, so it saves me the time of going through those queries. I know that sounds insensitive, maybe even brutal, but that’s the truth of it for most agents.
KD: Has the increase in self-published books had an effect on your agency? If so, what?
MB: With regard to self-published books, publishing companies are wary about taking those on unless they’ve had phenomenal sales. Once something is published – even self-published – it’s ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED, so a publisher doesn’t want it unless they can make oodles of cash off something that’s really taken off.
This affects our agency because authors don’t understand that publishing requires infinite patience. If you self-publish and your sales are bleak, or not what you expected, and then you go back to querying agents in hope of still going the traditional publishing route, you’re crippled yourself with the self-publishing. Most agents won’t touch a self-published book unless it’s had outstanding sales, which doesn’t happen often. I get many, many, many queries from authors who have self-published, but are still querying agents. I can’t sell those books, so I have to reject.
KD: What gets you excited in a query letter? What makes you hit the delete button?
MB: Excited: Concise, well organized, outstanding voice, great story and characters.
Delete: If you don’t follow submission guidelines; if you attach information instead of pasting it into the email; if the query letter is long, rambling, incoherent; if you’re querying a genre I don’t represent; if you spend paragraphs tooting your own horn and then the writing is atrocious; an incomplete manuscript; work that isn’t fully edited and polished.
KD: Writers are often advised to have a web presence before even selling their first manuscript. Of the following web and social media opportunities, which do you consider most important for the debut author: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there any others you recommend to your authors?
MB: “Platform” is more important for non-fiction than fiction, but a “presence” is always valuable. However, I don’t think that having an active web presence is absolutely necessary for fiction authors. I’ve sold authors who barely have any presence at all. In my opinion that whole presence thing is over-hyped for fiction. But that’s just my opinion. Other agents will likely tell you otherwise.
KD: How closely do you work with the authors you represent? Are you editorially involved, or do you prefer only to handle the business side of things?
MB: I work very closely with my authors. I tend to be laid back and casual, and end up developing great working relationships with my clients. Communication is very important to me.
As far as editing, I try to take on work that requires as little editing as possible because I just don’t have oodles of time to be an editor. It’s the author’s job to do all that before they query. That being said, I do a thorough developmental and copyedit for everything I take on. I probably do more than I should, actually, but the English professor in me just can’t help it. And I have taken on a couple of projects that needed significant work, but were so outstanding I couldn’t turn them away. I try to stay away from those, though, because they’re so time consuming.
KD: If a manuscript piques your interest, what's your next step? How often do you request revisions on a manuscript you want to represent? Do you offer representation before or after revisions are made?
MB: If something piques my interest and it needs very little editing, I’ll just offer representation. If it’s something I like but needs some work, I’ll ask for revisions. I don’t do that often, and if I do I wait to read the revisions before (and if) I offer representation. Just because an agent asks for a revision, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an offer to represent, though.
KD: When reading the beginning pages of a manuscript, what's an immediate turn off? Consequently, what gets you excited about those first few pages?
MB: Immediate turn offs to me are:
1. Badly copyedited writing – word clutter, passive or incomplete sentences, grammar/spelling/punctuation issues.
2. Cliché openings like characters waking up, descriptions of weather, long exposition, back story, flashbacks, etc.
3. I really don’t like prologues and I don’t even read them. In pre-published work I’ve found that 99% of prologues are unnecessary.
Immediate turns offs don’t mean I stop reading immediately, but often they end up meaning rejections.
What gets me excited in first few pages:
1. Strong voice which is, admittedly, difficult to define.
2. Action with necessary exposition/back story woven in sparsely.
3. Clean, concise writing.
4. Clear setup of the story and characters.
KD: What are your thoughts on the current market for fantasy romance and paranormal romance? What areas of this genre do you think editors consider over done?
MB: Unfortunately both urban fantasy and paranormal romance are really glutted markets right now, and editors at big houses aren't buying those genres as furiously as they were not so long ago. Stories in these genres now need to be very unique and stand out against everything else in the genre. Frankly, I'm sick to death of vampires and werewolves. I don't know that anything new can be said about them anymore.
I think there's still room in the market for both genres, but there's got to be really unique angles and/or twists on it.
KD: What are your thoughts on New Adult? It's very hot right now. Do you think it's a fading trend like chick-lit was?
MB: I think NA is definitely hot and on the upswing. It started out as what Michelle (my co-agent at Inklings) calls "college f**k fiction" meaning that it was just stories about college girls getting laid. But it's developing into a genre similar to YA in that it's all about people in this age group finding themselves, learning how to live in an adult world, and dealing with adult issues, and it's spreading into all genres. Personally, I don't like the college student stories, but I would like to see NA stories in any genre that deal with people that age. I don't think it's fading at all, and I don't think it will.
In fact, I just talked to an editor not too long ago at St. Martins who said that although paranormal is kind of dying now, she sees NA paranormal as a growing market, which kind of ties both your questions together!
KD: How often do you communicate with your clients?
MB: Like I said earlier, I’m very laid back and often end up chatting with clients frequently either by email or social media.
KD: What do you do for fun when you’re not working? Any unusual hobbies?
MB: Not working? There are people who actually do that????
KD: What advice would you like to give authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?
Make sure the novel is complete and polished – then polish it some more. Get help if you need it, but not from your mom/brother/uncle/cousin/BFF.
Be sure it’s a genre I represent!
Relax some more – I’m a person just like you, and I write, too, so I know how you feel.
I hate the term “elevator pitch” but be able to describe the essence of your story in a few short sentences.
Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight's Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna's 'Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013. She released a romantic suspense novel, Desert Guardian, that she published herself in June of 2013.