Agent Advice: Sammie Justesen of Northern Lights Literary Services

UPDATE: Enjoy the interview below, but just as a heads up,
know that agent Sammie Justesen closed her agency as
of 2013. Do not query her / Northern Lights Literary.

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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Sammie Justesen of Northern Lights Literary Services) 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 Sammie Justesen, of Northern Lights Literary Services, LLC. She represents genre fiction and all areas of nonfiction.

 


GLA. How did you become an agent?

SJ. I began my career as a nurse and moved into publishing as a clinical editor for a medical publishing firm.  From there I began editing non-medical books, including fiction.

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

SJ. I’m working on a two-book deal with Wiley for Frank Rumbauskas Jr. These will be follow-up books to his business bestseller, Never Cold Call Again.

I’m preparing to sign a contract with Sterling Publishing for Thank You For Firing Me, by Candice Reed and Kitty Martini: a practical and inspirational guide to rebuilding one’s career after being fired.

GLA. You look for a lot of nonfiction.  What are you seeking right now and not getting?  What do you wish would turn up in the slush pile?

SJ. I’m open to any topic that will interest to readers and has a wide market. I’ve accepted books on everything from Hip-Hop music to sustainable agriculture. I’d love to see more queries from authors who’ve done their homework and prepared a great proposal.

GLA. Fill in this sentence.  “If a book proposal doesn’t _________ , I can’t do anything with it and say no to the author.”

SJ. If a book proposal doesn’t address a wide enough market, I can’t do anything with it and say no to the author.

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GLA: Your fiction interests seem to be mostly genre – romance, women’s, mystery, suspense and historical.  What draws you to genre categories? 

SJ: I lean toward representing the kind of books I enjoy reading, because I have a better understanding of those genres. Also, I find genre titles are easier to sell.

GLA: Do you find that people mis-categorize submissions to you?  Do you get “romance” that’s really not romance at all, for example?

SJ: Usually the queries I receive are correct with categories, but authors sometimes try to combine categories in a way that won’t sell to publishers. For example: a steamy romance novel combined with a violent spy story. Where would it go in a bookstore?  Who would read it? Bookstores need to know exactly where books will be shelved.

GLA: Suspense is a genre we’ve never really talked about on the blog.  Can you throw out a few things that you believe are integral to a good suspense genre book?

SJ: These suggestions come to mind:
1. Learn the formula by reading and studying this genre. (Of course, you won’t let your readers know you’re following a formula). Analyze your favorite book to see how the writer adds suspense, to the book in general and individual scenes.
2. Your central problem or issue must be serious enough to engage readers’ attention.  What’s at stake?  Don’t go overboard (like saving the earth from giant insects), but make sure your protagonist faces a life-changing threat. Make it personal for the hero.
3. You’ll need a sympathetic protagonist, complete with flaws, quirks, and a reason for us to care what happens to her.
4. Have a great ending in mind before you start the book.
5. Your bad guys should be interesting, entertaining, and smart.  Don’t use cardboard villians.  The hero should be fully tested by his adversaries.   

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where people can meet and pitch you?

SJ: We plan to attend the Writers of the Pacific Northwest Conference in Seattle (July, 2009), the Jackson Hole Writers Conference (June, 2009), and the South Carolina Writers Workshop in Myrtle Beach (October, 2009).   

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice regarding something we haven’t discussed?

SJ: Publishers are struggling to cope with the volatile economy.  In 2009, writers and agents must go “lean and mean.”  We need to work harder at creating books that are well written and attract a wide audience.  Before you send queries, focus on creating a platform and marketing plan.

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