Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dog Ate Your Homework? No Problem!

We’ve all heard the phrase: ‘Do your homework’. Easier said than done in the literary world – unless we’re willing to sift through a mountain of dry facts in publications like The Writer’s Market, or spend untold hours surfing the Internet, how do we know 'which' literary agent wants ‘what’, and exactly how they want it?

Six literary agents were on hand October 7th at the NJRW’s 2006 Put Your Heart In A Book Conference to share their likes, dislikes and personal style. For those who were unable to attend, I thought I’d share the experience, and hopefully save you a little homework. :)

Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary is young, hip and cheerful. Her dark hair is short and curly, and she wears cool glasses, a black t-shirt and jeans. Nadia started Firebrand in September 2005 at the age of 24, and has a special interest in Young Adult fiction. She accepts e-queries only, and will ask for more material if she’s interested. When it comes to writing, Nadia emphasizes ‘quality vs. quantity’, but prefers both – excellent writers who are fairly prolific.

Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency is also young, hip and cheerful, with wavy auburn hair just brushing the shoulders of a fashionable brown suit. The Rotrosen Agency has been in business for over 30 years, and Christina has worked there since 2003. Christina is looking for mysteries, thrillers, and young adult, but stresses that she’s not limited to those genres; she’s searching for well-told stories written in excellent ‘voice’. Her submission preference is a one page query letter, with a synopsis and first 3 chapters (snail mail only). It should be noted that Christina is the only agent at the Rotrosen Agency who is currently accepting unsolicited material.

Christine Witthohn formed Book Cents Literary just a little over a month ago, and has a preference for murder mysteries and thrillers. Christine lives in W. Virginia, has a pleasant, professional style, curly blonde hair and a background in medicine. She would like to see a short query letter, a synopsis and first 3 chapters.

UPDATE AS OF 10/28/06: Christine Witthohn has provided her agency's website address. Visit Book Cents Literary at Thanks, Christine! :)

Natalia Aponte is a former editor at Tor who has gone on to form her own agency, Aponte Literary. With short, dark hair and a no-nonsense manner, Natalia has no particular genre preference, but is always looking for strong writing. She prefers to correspond by email, and likes to see a query, synopsis and the first 50 pages.

Miriam Kriss is Vice-President of the Irene Goodman Agency, an agency which has been in business over 25 years. A young woman with glasses and a mane of curly brown hair, Miriam emphasizes that while she loves women’s stories, strong voice and good writing, her focus as an agent is always on author career planning. She likes to see a query letter, synopsis and the first 1-3 chapters, by snail mail only. No e-queries.

Mary Sue Seymour of The Seymour Agency is her own boss, representing about 40 clients. Long blonde hair and soft-spoken manner, Mary Sue is especially interested in Christian-themed books, romance and non-fiction only. Her submission preference is a 5 page synopsis and the first 50 pages by snail mail. No equeries.

As a group, five of the six agents (Nadia being the exception) stated that the synopsis is a very important part of any submission, and is usually what they read first. A synopsis should tell the beginning, middle and the end of your story, and should reflect the ‘tone’ of the manuscript itself (i.e., if your story is a romantic comedy, your synopsis should be entertaining; a romantic suspense would read as darker, grittier, etc.) Requested materials are always responded to faster than unsolicited materials, and when it comes to author follow-up, Miriam Kriss offered this gem of advice: Follow up by ‘how the agent contacted you’. In other words, if you received a phone call asking to see more of your work, you can follow up with a phone call after a reasonable amount of time has passed. if you were asked to submit material by letter, follow up with a letter. If you were emailed, feel free to email back. However, if you were not asked to submit, and sent unsolicited material anyway, then you should simply be patient, no matter how long it takes. Slush piles are large, and agents don’t have time to sift through them to follow up on an unsolicited submission.

When it comes to current trends, it appears that both ‘sexy’ and ‘spiritual’ books seem to be on the upswing. The general consensus was that Chick Lit was no long quite so ‘hot’, unless the story itself has that elusive ‘something different’. Vampires seemed to have glutted the desks of editors everywhere and drained the market dry (sorry, couldn’t resist), while the field of Sci-Fi is growing. Young adult novels are increasingly popular. All six agents agreed that knowing the market and staying ahead of trends are the best strategies to follow, and that good writing is always the key.

And the final and most consistent piece of advice? Do your homework.

Which you just did. :)

Instead of a gold star, you now get to pick your dream agent... doesn't have to be one on this list. If you could choose anyone in the world to represent you, who would you choose?


Gina Black said...

Thanks for this (including the fashion notes). :) You answered an important question I had...

Terri said...

Glad to help, Gina! :)

MarlyMathews said...

Thanks for this, Terri! Great blog entry!


Shira said...

aye, 'do your homework'. This has always been a treat for me, trying to get information from/about an industry that treats you like a case of syphilis. Making those research phone calls can be so stress producing. About a year ago I had an editor hang up on me because I transposed numbers and called the wrong person! I recently had to find out if an editor was male or female, (the name was just too generic) and her own publishing house spent 15 minutes trying to locate someone who knew!
So, THANKS for the info. Every little bit helps.

Ellen said...

Thanks, Terri! Great information.

Judy Soifer said...

Thanks for doing this Terri. It's a great blog.

I couldn't find the Aponte Agency listed anywhere. Do you have Natalia's email, or the website of her agency?

Terri said...

Sorry, Judy, but I didn't think to ask Natalia for an email address as I assumed it would be easy to find through Google. Apparently, it isn't. :( Neither she nor Christine Witthohn have a website up yet. (Rotrosen Agency doesn't have one, either.)

Christine Witthohn said...

Terri -

It was very thoughtful of you to post this for everyone.

One correction though...
My agency's website has been up since the beginning of September.

Book Cents Literary Agency, LLC

Thank you for the compliments.
Christine Witthohn

Terri said...

Thanks for the updated info on your agency's website, Christine! I've updated the article and posted the link. :)