Literary Agent Interview: Stephany Evans of FinePrint Literary Management

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Stephany Evans of FinePrint Literary Management) 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 Stephany Evans of FinePrint Literary Management. Stephany is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, the Women’s National Book Association, and Romance Writers of America, and member and former co-chair of New York Women in Publishing. She has served as ghost writer on five published books in the categories of memoir and spirituality. She splits her time between her offices in New York City and Marfa, TX.

She is seeking:
health and wellness, spirituality, lifestyle (including home renovating, decorating, food & drink, and sustainability), running & fitness, memoir and narrative nonfiction. In fiction, she represents a range of women’s fiction, from literary to romance, including mystery, paranormal, historical and romantic suspense, and the occasional novel not aimed at chicks.

 

 

GLA: How did you become an agent?

SE: For the first ten years I was in New York, I was more involved in the lively and creative arts—I’d been part of a theatre company, made a few films, was a represented painter with gallery shows and commissions. But I had many small talents and no grand overarching passion. In a writing class I was taking, I met a guy who’d recently been made editorial director of Simon & Schuster Audio, who asked me to be his assistant. I liked working with him, but did not like being “corporate” and, frankly, audio did not grab me. I ended up staying less than a year, but we remained friends. Some time later, he’d moved on to Harper Collins in another capacity and threw a party at which there were a lot of book people. I met a woman who’d been working for a short time as an agent. As an avid lifelong reader, her job really appealed to me and I went to work for her. Two years later, I went out on my own and have never been bored since.

GLA: Tell me about a project(s) that you’re excited about that just came out.

SE: Chris Cooper’s Long As You May Run: All. Things. Running. has just come out from Touchstone—it’s a seriously juicy read (sort of a Dangerous Book For Boys for runners) with all kinds of tips, inspiring quotes, training advice, little known and exciting races and “must do at least once” recommendations from top runners. My “to do” list as a runner definitely grew while I was working on this with Chris, and the response from running readers has been tremendous. It’s the perfect gift book for any runner. On the fiction side, coming out next year from Mira, I have Rebecca Coleman’s The Kingdom of Childhood, which I’d call literate commercial fiction; it has an issue at the heart of the story (a teacher who has an affair with a student) a la Jodi Picoult, but edgier, sexier. It’ll be great for reading groupsevery single woman to whom I’ve described the plot of this novel has had a strong opinion or a personal storya sign of a book that’ll make waves!

GLA: You’ve been agenting for a while. How do you see the publishing industry changing right now? What do writers need to know?

SE: Well of course the big story is technology, especially given the downsizing publishing has experienced over the last few years. As mainstream houses are continuing to go after what they perceive as the biggest books, lots of other projects are finding their readership via the plethora of alternative publishing solutionseverything from print on demand to e-books to apps. There’s a lot of uncertainty and confusion for authors and a lot of unevenness for the end users, the readers. There have been some savvy early adopters who’ve done very well, but lots of others who have had mixed results. I think this will take a few years to shake out and become more clear what the pluses and minuses will be to each available option, but I see agents continuing to play a role as important as ever in helping writers develop their ideas and manuscripts, guiding them through the process from editorial to production to promotion, overseeing the exploitation of subsidiary rights and so forthwhether or not there is a traditional publisher involved. There’s such a range of options for authors, from “pay and post” to a much more controlled and selective process. We’re all working hard to educate ourselves, to become knowledgeable and thereby an asset to our authors.

GLA: What you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

SE: Smart, super engaging writing, of course, is paramount, and more often than not, this level of writing (or its absence) is completely obvious from the first lines of the query letter. In nonfiction, I’m looking for a fresh perspective from an author who is immersed in the world they are writing about. My core categories are health and wellness, spirituality, lifestyle, memoir and narrative (these last two can cover quite a range of subject matter), so I’m more interested in the author who has a large and solid platform built over time as they’ve deepened their experience and presence in these areas. In fiction, I want to find stories that touch some real emotion. Funny, scary, sexy, sadwhateverI want to really feel it. I’m looking for three-dimensional characters, real relationships, a fresh, interesting plot—even in genre fiction. C’mon, people! It’s a form, not a formula.

GLA: In my time critiquing people’s work (editing services), it seems to me that whenever I’m reading a women’s fiction story, it’s a lot of the same: thirtysomething woman is leading a lackluster life and feels stifled. Crazy adventure befalls gher. She gets mixed up with a crazy crowd and feels alive. As someone who reps and seeks women’s fiction, do you find this, as well?

SE: Chuck, I didn’t know you read women’s fiction! Or are writers actually pitching these stories to you? Yes, I agree. There are just a ton of submissions that are the girl whose “life is turned upside down” when A) she loses her job, B) her fiance is caught with her best friend on the eve of their wedding, or C) she just gets fed up with her boring existence and chucks it all to join the circus. Oh, and how often does that eccentric relative that you’ve never before even heard of leave you the haunted estate in their will? I don’t have any hard and fast rules on any of these too typical scenariosa good writer can spin gold out of straw. But clearly if you opt for something I haven’t seen before, you already stand out from the rest. That doesn’t mean your protagonist has to join a circus on Mars.

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GLA: I know you run a lot. Are you always looking for books about running? What about novels that have running in the plot?

SE: I do personally like reading books about running, and these books can work well commercially since runners overwhelmingly seem to be the nicest kind of nerdscurious about every aspect of the sportand passionate. The combination of the two can create a big demand for the right book, and the category might include anything from physiology (form and fitness) to psychology (training, strategy), to food (fueling), to inspiration, etc. So yes, I’m definitely open to these types of project. In fiction, it all depends. A character might do a daily jog, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with the plot. If the character does marathons I’ll have certain expectations about their level of fitness, personal strength and fortitude and will assume it’ll have something rather central to do with the story, it’ll be an ability the character can draw on in difficult circumstancesbut it better be true-to-life or I’ll be hypercritical!

GLA: Concerning nonfiction projects, do you get submissions coming in through the slush pile, or do you find yourself often hunting down talented people to write books?

SE: I’ve been fortunate to receive some very good projects via submissions (meeting authors at conferences and having so much information about what I’m looking for in various directories in print and online make it easy for the projects I’ll like to find me), but on occasion something I’ll read or see or hear about stands out to me as such a good idea that I will look for the right expert/writer to do it.

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

SE: Next year (2011) I have a few on the calendarI’ll be visiting a group of expat writers in Geneva, Switzerland, and romance writers in both Salem, Massachusetts and Denver, Coloradoand we do post where all FinePrint agents will be on our news page online.

GLA: Best way for writers to pitch you?

SE: I accept both snail mail and e-mail queries. Just send the query letter to start with, and no unsolicited attachments, pleaseif I’m interested I’ll invite you to send a proposal or chapters as an attachment. Send queries to Stephany [at] fineprintlit [dot] com.

(Learn how to write a query letter.)

GLA: Something personal about you that writers may be surprised to know?

SE: I think it’s pretty hard to surprise writers. But how’s this: I secretly adore the commercials for the Sweet Million lottery with all the bunnies, kitties, puppies, piglets and peeps riding on amusement park rides and sleeping in their little PJs (until the roof falls in). See one here and then another here.

GLA: Best pieces of advice we haven’t talked about?

SE: Don’t be in a hurry, and be real. Some authors writing genre fiction will be consistently producing more than one book a year. But aside from these talented and super-speedy folks, do take the time necessary to craft and polish a better book. While you are crafting and polishing, work on your promotional networks—online and off by being a contributor to your natural communities. Social network experts are always saying that your relationships must be authentic; this is very true. You need to engage from a point that is real to you, not simply to gather a bunch of names you can pitch stuff to. Same goes for relationships with your local bookstores, libraries, schools, bistros, and other places that are natural homes for you and your book(s).


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