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Literary Agent Interview: Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency

This installment features Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. A freelance copyeditor, Dawn reviewed mysteries for years before starting Blue Ridge Literary Agency in January 2009. She lives in Lynchburg, Va., where she also facilitates a local writers' group and is very active in her church. Although she read mysteries for fun, she handles most types of fiction and children's fiction. She also blogs and Tweets. She is seeking: mysteries, cozy mysteries, thrillers, urban fantasy, romance (no erotica), sci-fi, women's, general, historical, Christian, young adult, middle-grade, and young readers. She does not seek: poetry, scripts, short stories, children's picture books, memoirs, nonfiction, or screenplays.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency) 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 agencies.

This installment features Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. A freelance copyeditor, Dawn reviewed mysteries for years before starting Blue Ridge Literary Agency in January 2009. She lives in Lynchburg, Va., where she also facilitates a local writers' group and is very active in her church. Although she read mysteries for fun, she handles most types of fiction and children's fiction. She also blogs and Tweets.

(Hate writing synopses? Here are nuts & bolts pointers for you.)

She is seeking: mysteries, cozy mysteries, thrillers, urban fantasy, romance (no erotica), sci-fi, women's, general, historical, Christian, young adult, middle-grade, and young readers. She does not seek: poetry, scripts, short stories, children's picture books, memoirs, nonfiction, or screenplays.

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GLA: How and why did you become an agent?

DD: I was a freelance editor and ran a mystery website promoting mystery books for authors. I like helping authors. One of my friends had me edit her manuscript. I really enjoyed it. She queried it to agents. One day she complained about the agent’s response—a small piece of paper with her manuscript’s title written incorrectly—and how queries always have to be so perfect to agents. She said, “I wish I could just do this myself.” So I started wondering what it would take to be a literary agent.

I have learned most tasks on the job throughout my life, so I started investigating being a literary agent. I decided to start an agency in January 2009 and began making contacts. Now I have mentors as well as 2 interns and a Rights Director affiliated with my agency. I represent approximately 80 manuscripts and have approximately 30 of those under contract with publishers. [Recently,] The Armageddon Chord by Jeremy Wagner, published by kNight Romance Publishing, became a best seller on BN.com. It was rated #6 in sales!

(Should you mention your age in a query letter?)

GLA: What's something you've sold that comes out now/soon that you're excited about?

DD: Paradise 21 by Aubrie Dionne came out August 5. I am very excited about this science fiction romance. When she queried me, I read the synopsis and was confused. I decided to read a few pages to see if the writing was good. I read every page of the three chapters she sent and wanted to know more. I immediately contacted her to offer representation. She is my first author signed with Entangled Publishing, a newer publisher. I’m very excited about this new publisher and this first book in her new series. There are two more books publishing in this series, Tundra 37 publishes in December and Haven 6 in April.

GLA: Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

DD: I’m always looking for a well-written cozy mystery. These are what I read for fun, so I’m always looking to work with writers of cozies. I’m also on the lookout for a good edge-of-your-seat thriller. I am always looking for a good romance. I work with many subgenres of romances: contemporary, historical, paranormal, suspense. I’d also love to get a steampunk.

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GLA: On the flip side of that, what are you tired of seeing? Any specific topics or subgenres?

DD: Vampires, science fiction, thrillers that aren’t thrilling and historicals.

GLA: You run a writers’ group in Lynchburg, Va. Tell us a little bit about it (i.e., What does the group do, what was your purpose in creating it, is it made up of your clients, etc.).

DD: I do have a few clients in the group, but it is made up of anyone in the area who likes to write. We actually have two groups now. I only attend one, as I don’t have much time. We do a lot of critiquing and encouraging. We have a “book social” release party when one of our authors publishes their book.

GLA: What are 2-3 of your biggest chapter one no-nos? What makes you stop reading?

DD: Too much backstory or description. Not getting the story going. We do need to know something about the characters, but we also need to get invested in the story quickly. Catch my attention!

(Learn about pitching your novel to an agent at a writers conference.)

GLA: You require writers to include a marketing plan when they query you. What do you like to see here?

DD: I’m looking for the types of plans the author has to promote their book. It’s a tough business. Promotion is what will help your sales. Books no longer sell themselves. Authors can’t just write. If you’re not willing to promote your work, most publishers aren’t interested. I’m trying to find this out sooner.

GLA: Going one further, what should all new writers be doing—even before they snag an agent and/or sell?

DD: Get your name out there. Be on Facebook, blog, participate in online discussions. You need a platform to attract a publisher.

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

DD: None right now, but I did just attend The Write-Brained Network’s ���One-Stop Workshop for the Serious Writer” in Harrisonburg, Va., Saturday, Sept. 2011.

GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

DD: I met my husband through a phone ad I placed 25 years ago (long before the Internet). We were engaged 6 weeks later and married 4 ½ months after meeting!

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

DD: Spell-check your query. Follow all directions for queries.

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