QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 24, 2014

Report from the Trenches: The Agent Panel

On Saturday, March 15, I attended the Liberty States Fiction Writers Annual conference in New Jersey and sat in on the agents’ panel (where I paid strict attention and took careful notes!) so I could come back and report their secrets to QT-ers. The agents began by introducing themselves and then responding to the following questions: What do you want more of? What keeps you reading? What stops you from reading? Could you talk about the author phone call? Any other advice for writers?  Here’s a summary of what they said:

Marisa Corvisiero: Regarding trends, she said it’s important to know what the trends are, in case you already have a book that fits the market in a particular way. She also reminded us that trends come and go, and one that might have been dead five years ago could have a revival. When asked what would stop her reading, she said scenes that serve no purpose except for shock value, but “a good voice and rich characters” keep her engaged.

Louise Fury: Indicated she has a good understanding of digital publishing; becoming focused on hybrid authors: “I like taking a new author and building a career; I like taking a mid-career author and building a hybrid.” Loves romance and thrillers (“creepy stuff”); is interested in pop-culture non-fiction and parenting books. She stressed the importance of pairing a book with the needs of the market. As she put it: “How can we take a book and monetize every aspect of it?” Regarding trends, she said that you can catch a trend depending upon how quickly and skillfully you write. She used John Green, whose YA books focus on ill or troubled teens, as an example of a hot trend, but said, “In two years, people might be done with crying.” Regarding pet peeves, don’t send her a book with “a prologue that turns out to be a dream,” or a book that starts when a character wakes up, saying “the day starts when they wake up, but that’s not when the story starts.”

Emily Keyes: Advised reading widely in your chosen genre and then “Write the book you wanted to read and couldn’t find.” When asked what would stop her from reading, she said writing that is more about building a world than building a story.

Emmanuelle Morgen: She indicated that romantic suspense, mysteries and thrillers, and dystopian erotica are all trending now. She added that there’s always a market for memoirs that are “startling” in some way. She’s put off by queries that are too derivative, particularly anything that sounds like The Hunger Games.

Bob Podrasky: Looking for non-fiction; the main commercial fiction genres; prefers epic fantasy to urban fantasy; women’s fiction. Added: “I love serial killers.” On trends: “The next trend in publishing is QUALITY.”

Lori Perkins: Welcomes submissions across a variety of genres. Regarding trends, she said she believes writers can catch a trend, particularly in the digital arena. She suggested using shorter pieces, such as novellas to grab a market trend. She also stressed figuring out where your book fits in the market. In terms of what keeps her reading a manuscript she said “a layered world” and strong storytelling.

Lois Winston: Advised against writing to trends—“You want to write your own trend.” If you self-publish, she strongly advised hiring an editor who’s worked in your genre. When reading, she warned against too many pages of description in the beginning of the manuscript. If your girl has a guy’s name, establish her gender early on to avoid confusion. She also mentioned that she gets work that has a highly polished beginning and then falls apart. As she put it, “Your whole book has to be as good as the first three chapters.”

Michelle Wolfson: “I challenge you to make me fall in love with your work.” In terms of reading, she indicated that for her, voice is the most important element. She’s put off by descriptions of characters looking in the mirror. Winston chimed in here to say that the POV character should not be describing herself or himself. In terms of communication with her authors, Wolfson said that communication is crucial: “I can’t fix problems I don’t know about.” She also warned against authors putting out public complaints on social media before talking to their agents about them.

Regarding “the call”: Every agent who addressed this question reminded the audience that a phone call does not necessarily mean an offer. They use the phone call to determine if an author would be easy to work with and if they and the prospective client are a good fit. Also, are the author’s expectations reasonable? A couple of agents said that authors had asked them to lower their commission rates, for example, something that is not negotiable. Most importantly, agents and authors have a business relationship. As Fury put it: “We’re your agent, not your therapist.”

Well, kids, I hope this was helpful! See you next time.

photo credit for desk image: mugfaker via photopin cc

A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, was named a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. The second book in her series, The Wedding Soup Murder, is schedule for release September 2. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean  in central New Jersey, with her husband and two of her three sons.


Anonymous said...

These are great insights. Thank you!!

Rosie said...

You're very welcome! I learned a lot myself; I think this is good advice for writers at any stage of their careers.