Great Agent Advice from Pennwriters

This was my fourth year speaking at the wonderfully run Pennwriters annual conference. I gave a workshop on building platform, critiqued nonfiction with editor Matt Holliday (Pennsylvania magazine) and agent Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency, and participated on a nonfiction Q&A panel with Matt.

Aside from Uwe Stender, other agents in attendance were:

You can read an account of the conference by one of the agents, Lucienne, who has a blog and posted here. (Colleen also blogs; if she decides to post, you’ll find it here.)

Below are my notes from the agent panels (which are adapted from my live Tweets of the event):

Queries/submissions and what they’re looking for

  • Paige Wheeler gets 35 e-queries/day. Stender gets 135 queries/day. Colleen Lindsay is closed to submissions. Becca Stumpf and Lucienne Diver get queries through an agency system.
  • Lucienne Diver: Only thing that matters is VOICE and characters to deeply care about. This can and should come through in the query letter.
  • Colleen Lindsay looks for amazing characters she can get excited about every time she reads the story. No self-indulgent navel gazing.
  • Colleen Lindsay says granting exclusives can be bad for your career. You can say no. If you say yes, limit to short period (e.g., a week and not a month).

Industry trends

  • Uwe Stender has noticed an impact on business due to changes in the industry: two YA books would’ve sold without a problem a year ago, now there is hesitation and revision before an offer.
  • What’s? hot: romance!! Harlequin is doing very well.
  • Editors seeking middle-grade books suitable for boys (boy voice/protagonist, still accessible for girls)
  • Plentiful interest in urban fantasy from publishers
  • Market has compressed for mystery. Really need great hook or high concept that WOWS – people MUST read when hearing it.
  • Romantic suspense still popular, but tough for a new writer to break in unless you can really blow the agent away.
  • Trend is toward DARK and sexy. (Or the polar opposite: inspirational)
  • Platform is particularly important for anyone writing literary fiction. You need street cred, placement in great journals and magazines.
  • Biggest seller of books is word of mouth, which is often driven by author platform rather than publisher’s publicity. (And Jane says: A great author platform spreads word. Platform is developed over life
    of career, not a one-time act, not overnight occurrence. A good
    resource for platform building? Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz.)

Tools

  • Colleen Lindsay recommends Online SF&F Workshop as a fabulous writing group with lots of success stories. Run by a former book editor.
  • Online reviews for genre fiction are key. E.g., Dear Author and Smart Bitches are two of the greatest review sites for romance.

My heartfelt thanks to the conference organizers for another wonderful year, and also to the agents/editors who I had the chance to meet and chat with (and graciously put up with my constant sneezing, sniffling, and tissue trails).

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