Agent Advice: Adam Chromy of Artists and Artisans Inc.

2013 UPDATE: Adam Chromy is now with the agency
Moveable Type as of 2013. You can find more information
at the agency website here.

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Agent interview by
blog contributor Robin Mizell:

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Adam Chromy of Artists and Artisans Inc.—now with Movable Type in 2013) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features literary agent Adam Chromy, founder of Artists and Artisans Inc. As a screenwriter, he has established connections in the film industry, and his book deals have led to one New York Times bestseller. In 2002, he established Artists and Artisans Inc., a literary management company in New York City, after spending a decade as an executive in the technology industry and then turning to screenwriting. He previously held a position with another well-known literary agency.

He is seeking: “exceptional fiction and narrative nonfiction.” The many genres he accepts can be found on Publishers Marketplace.



GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

AC: I have sold some interesting projects lately, and some of the harder ones to sell are the most satisfying when you find them a home. I am very proud of two novels I have coming out this year. Novels are getting tougher to sell. World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, a well known nonfiction writer in the field of urban development and peak oil, was just published by Grove/Atlantic. This book will deservedly break him out as a significant novelist. And Burial of the Dead by Michael Hogan will be brought out in August by Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books. It’s a beautifully written literary mystery from one of my favorite authors and the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet in your life.

GLA: You’ve said you’re looking for fiction or nonfiction that’s unique and challenging. What specific kinds of manuscripts are you currently seeking? What topics interest you at the moment?

AC: I like novels that surprise me with a new world to explore or a new way at looking at a world. So, I am looking for multicultural fiction as well as unexpected takes on familiar places and themes.

GLA: You’re a screenwriter. Do you represent many screenwriters? Do you usually look for manuscripts that can be adapted as dramatic works?

AC: Selling spec scripts is very difficult, as Hollywood is more apt to acquire a property that has worked in some way in some other medium, such as a book, a magazine article, even a previous movie from which to develop a sequel, prequel or remake. We almost always suggest that the writer write a novel first, and then after we get a book deal, we can approach the issue of getting a film made. It is nice to read a book that you can see as a movie, but getting any film made is such a long shot that it is not much of a deciding factor in signing projects.

GLA: Do you take notice of writers who win contests or whose work appears in any particular literary journals? What kinds of writing credentials would make a favorable impression on you?

AC: Sure. I will take a look at sample material, if the author has gained some attention, but I still have to decide if it works for my taste.

GLA: How would you describe the prospective client with an ideal platform?

AC: As I mentioned before, James Howard Kunstler is a bestselling author whose previous books include The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency, and he has written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and many other magazines. He speaks frequently, has a popular blog and has been featured in a number of magazines. He has become one of the leading voices in the peak-oil conversation and that makes his books—both fiction and nonfiction—easier to sell.

GLA: What’s your favorite story about acquiring a new client?

AC: I have had a couple of clients talk me into signing them after I tried to pass, and then I went on to sell their books. (Note to readers: Don’t call me and try this gambit.) This only works if I call you to reject you even while feeling uncertain about it. If I e-mailed or sent a note, then it’s a definite pass and I would rather not discuss it with you.

GLA: How do you prefer to be contacted by writers seeking representation?

AC: An e-mail query is best, though I only respond if interested. Next best is a letter with SASE. I do respond either way, but postal mail is slower.

 

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GLA: What’s the best way for a writer to get to know your tastes, preferences, and pet peeves? Should your nickname, “Snapper,” be a warning?

AC: “Snapper” should be a warning for anyone who calls me as though I were a friend or in business to explain how the book industry operates. My deal history—a good indication of my taste—and my submission information are on my website, www.artistsandartisans.com. Anyone who contacts me and is ignorant of the basic details is either lazy or arrogant and probably not going to be a success in this business, so I tend not to take them seriously.

GLA: What would you do if you received a promising submission that was outside your areas of interest?

AC: Any adult book I like and I think I can sell is in my area of interest. I do sometimes run into people with material that might work better in other media or experts that have expertise in need of a business plan different than publishing books. I will usually give them advice on where to go.

GLA: You’ve launched and managed technology companies in the past. How did that experience prepare you for this business?

AC: Actually, the last couple of technology companies I managed acted as agencies for technologists, so I gained experience that helps me every day to manage authors.  And the software licensing agreements I worked on are pretty similar to the publishing agreements. So in many ways, I was preparing for his career without realizing it.

GLA: How do you use Internet technology to facilitate your work as an agent?

AC: The last five years I really spent learning the publishing business and learning about the process of writing and editing. I did, however, implement a database from day one that tracks editors and their tastes, and it still works very well. But recently, my previous experience has been making more of a show in my work, as I am developing innovative Web sites and viral campaigns for my clients that leverage the latest technology. I am excited about how these two areas are coming together for me and my clients.

GLA: Do you read any publishing industry periodicals or blogs that might also be helpful to prospective clients?

AC: I read Publishers Weekly, Variety, Publishers Marketplace, and I use mediabistro’s newsfeed to keep on top of GalleyCat etc. I also read the Times and Page Six to stay on top of what’s happening.

GLA: Will you be attending any conferences or events in the future where writers can meet you?

AC: Sure. I attend conferences and quite enjoy them—especially meeting interesting people. I’d attend more if asked. So, if you run a conference, drop me a line.

GLA: Can you offer to writers any advice about something we haven’t mentioned?

AC: Unless you have a burning desire to write, find another job. It’s a tough business to make money, or even survive, if you are not fully committed to it. And to make it as an author, you have to spend half your time writing and the other half promoting your writing. Publishers aren’t looking for you in your home as you wait to get discovered. They want to pick up a book from a writer who has been discovered in dozens of little ways—from being a popular reader at your local coffee shop, to being published in a journal, to being a popular prospect at a writers conference. Not too many people realistically think they can take up basketball and start playing for the Knicks. (OK, maybe the Knicks, but not a good team.) Yet people think they can just start writing and get published by a major publisher. Work hard and work your way up the ladder and you might have a chance to make it to the big time.


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