Agent Advice: Jeff Gerecke of Gina Maccoby Literary

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Jeff Gerecke of Gina Maccoby Literary) 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 Jeff Gerecke of Gina Maccoby Literary Agency. In his publishing career, Jeff has worked at the University of California Press and also as a foreign scout for publishers like Hodder & Stoughton in England and Wilhelm Heyne in Germany. He spent 17 years at the JCA Literary Agency, and has been out on his own, while affiliating with the Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, since 2005.

He is seeking: Commercial and literary fiction, including chick lit, true crime, mystery, historical fiction, and thrillers/suspense.  His nonfiction tastes include: history, sports, politics, business, finance, technology, journalism, and pop culture. He does not accept: screenplays, sci-fi/fantasy, or romance.

GLA: How did you become an agent?

JG: I was already in publishing when I realized that lots of my friends were writers and that I sympathized with their circumstances more than those of the publishers I worked with, so wanting to represent their interests came naturally to me.

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

JG: Over the summer, I sold a travel memoir by a British writer named Nick Jubber, who had spent considerable time in Tehran hanging out with students and living a life that couldn’t be further than the idealized Islamic Republic would accept. It’s called In the Shadow of the Shahs and DaCapo will publish it in the spring next year.

I had only just made the deal when the elections happened and those very same students went on a massive campaign to bring real democracy to their country. It was one of those truly inspiring moments, but also frustrating from a publishing point of view because we knew there was no way to get the book out in time to really capitalize on the situation while it was still on the front pages.

This just brought to the fore the difficult issues that publishing has of being timely when the world has begun to move so quickly. People are now doing books on Kindle directly for the simple reason that it’s possible to get them out very quickly, and this seems like something that the publishing world needs to get a handle on if we are all going to remain relevant.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

JG: The hardest thing to write these days is a really good thriller. There’s lots of writers out there who are just doing the same old thing, and I read a lot of stuff that’s okay, but just not galvanizing. Little Brown did a novel called Beat the Reaper earlier this year that was about a hit man turned doctor that struck me as a really sharp commercial idea and not the umpteenth iteration of Dan Brown.

GLA: Do you notice any trends in what you tend to represent? Subgenres or elements that particularly grab you?

JG: The biggest thing I’ve been struck by is the extension of the chick-lit/romance world into more mainstream publishing. This happened first when authors like Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich went from writing romance to romantic suspense, but now we have all kinds of books that are chick-lit variations.

I’ve got a writer who just finished writing a three-book mystery series about a cosmetologist in a funeral parlor (Fran Rizer) who ends up dating the suspects in the murders, and I thought that was a brilliant way of broadening the audience.

GLA: Anything you’re not interested in?

JG: I just can’t get into straight fantasy or romance.

GLA: Your bio says you seek academic subjects with commercial spins, which reach audiences outside academia. Can you give a few examples of books like this you’ve repped so writers can get an idea of what to send (or not send) you?

JG: I sold a book by a Palestinian-American history professor named Ussama Makdisi to Public Affairs, which will be about the sources of anti-Americanism in the Arab world. He’s done scholarly books on the same subject, but this will be an attempt to reach a broader audience in a country where the Israeli point of view is generally taken as gospel. In general, though, the idea is to turn an academic thesis into a commercial one by focusing on narrative and personalities, rather than just ideas.


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GLA: Where do you notice most new writers fall flat in chapter one?

JG: Especially in thrillers, there is a tendency to try to start with action by creating a scene with a character whose only role is to be killed. These efforts almost always end with the awful cliché of the victim’s vision turning to black. I don’t believe anyone should ever start a book that way. If you’re trying to write about the killer, then it should be from his point of view.

One of the greatest thrillers I ever read is a book called Blood Music, by Jesse Prichard Hunter, in which the prologue shows a killer in the bushes of a park watching a woman and her baby sitting on a bench and waiting for the moment when he hears the internal music, which sets him off to do his thing. The real gotcha about this is that the scene she described was precisely the scene in which she sat frequently in real life, writing her novel with her baby at her side.

GLA: How do you prefer to be queried?

JG: I really only want to get e-mails. There are many agents who resist being queried this way, but my life is on my computer, and paper just gets lost too easily in my cluttered office. I want a very straightforward letter, describing the market for the book, the author, and giving a short paragraph of plot summary. I think everyone should paste in a sample. It’s a waste of time not to, since the writing is ultimately what sells anything. Put “QUERY” in the subject line, and send to jeff.gerecke[at]verizon[dot]net.

GLA: What is the one thing you’d like to tell authors pitching you in person at a conference?

JG: Know your market. It seems strange, but many writers turn out not to be very interested readers. That means they have a very limited idea of what is out in the publishing marketplace. It is very important to me that a writer have passion for the kind of writing they are doing, and that means there should be writers that inspire them—and that’s what I want to know more than anything.

All books are sold in the biz by making comparison to some past book or combination thereof as in Stephen King meets Janet Evanovich (tee hee) or something like that.

GLA: Speaking of conferences, will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

JG: I may be at Killer Nashville. I guess that opens me up to a flood of invitations.

GLA: What would writers be surprised to know about you personally?

JG: I’m not sure if they would be surprised, but in my own Private Idaho, I am quite a computer geek and fan of ’70s punk rock.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

JG: I’ve been saying it for years, but it’s even more true now. Self-publishing used to be bad, but now it’s different, because publishers are, on the whole, so undermanned that it is essential that authors have a strong DIY personality and find a way to market their books themselves—outside the business—to build up a platform that publishing people will recognize.

This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

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