Agent Advice: Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Management

This installment features Paige Wheeler a founding partner of Folio Literary Management. Prior to forming Folio, Wheeler founded Creative Media Agency (CMA) in 1997 and served as its president for nine years until she merged CMA into her new company, Folio, in 2006. She is seeking: Paige is accepts all commercial fiction and upscale fiction, as well as women's fiction, romance, mystery, thrillers, and psychological suspense. She is also interested in both narrative and prescriptive nonfiction in the areas of lifestyle, relationship, parenting, business, popular/trendy reference projects and women's issues.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring awesome agent Paige Wheeler of Folio 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 Paige Wheelera founding partner of Folio Literary Management. Prior to forming Folio, Wheeler founded Creative Media Agency (CMA) in 1997 and served as its president for nine years until she merged CMA into her new company, Folio, in 2006.

She is seeking: Paige is accepts all commercial fiction and upscale fiction, as well as women's fiction, romance, mystery, thrillers, and psychological suspense. She is also interested in both narrative and prescriptive nonfiction in the areas of lifestyle, relationship, parenting, business, popular/trendy reference projects and women's issues. She is not looking for children’s lit, science fiction, fantasy, or academic nonfiction.

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GLA: Why did you become an agent?

PW: I wanted to find a career that combined my love for great writing and my interest in one day owning my own business. I started out in publishing doing editorial services and just loved the industry. I knew I had found my calling. However, I still wanted to own my own company and I wanted the chance to work on a lot of different types of books. I decided to investigate agenting.

I ended up at an agency that actually didn't handle books but rather was an agency for writers, producers, directors and personalities for television. I added a book component to the mix but was totally wooed by the call of Hollywood and did very well—my clients went on to win Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the like. It was great. But my true love of books called to me. I decided to make the transition from television back to publishing, but to bring a broader view to agenting that involved the whole process.

I started Creative Media Agency and ran that until I realized that the company had grown quickly. In order to achieve my vision of an agency with a difference, I needed to reorganize and work with some partners. The result is Folio. Ultimately, I love being an author's advocate and being part of the process that gets a book published. It's, quite frankly, my dream job.

GLA: Tell us about some recent projects you’ve sold.

PW: I just closed on a deal yesterday for two thrillers for C.E. Lawrence. Her first book just came out a few months ago, and we have another one coming out shortly. She seems on a fast track to doing quite well.
I also sold some wonderful books by Sheila Roberts—her book, Small Change, a SMP trade paperback will be coming out shortly, and Snow Globe is scheduled to be a Christmas hardcover. Small Change is very timely because it focuses on three neighbors who are hit during the hard economic times. To cope, the neighbors create a club called the Small Change Club and the members decide to simplify their lifestyles and take control of their future. Homing in on issues many readers can identify with, the women search for practical solutions to a common challenge.

GLA: Are there any books coming out now that have you excited?

PW: Of course I'm excited about all of my author's projects, but a couple stand out. The Blueberry Years by Jim Minick is coming out in hardcover from Thomas Dunne Books in September, and it's just an amazing story. I tend to be drawn to wish-fulfillment projects, and this beautifully captures what I mean by that term. This memoir is based on Jim’s trials and tribulations as an organic blueberry farmer over the course of eight years. Ultimately, though, this book tells the story of a place shaped by a young couple's dream, how that dream failed, and how that dream and place shaped these people.

Through Jim’s writing, this memoir explores larger issues facing agriculture in the United States, issues like the rise of organic farming, the plight of small farmers, the fragile nature of our global food system and our nation’s ambivalence about what we eat and where it comes from. A story of one couple and one farm, this book shows how our country’s appetite for cheap food affects how that food is grown, who does or does not grow it, and what happens to the land.

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

PW: I hate to use this tired word (and it's ironic, I know), but I'm looking for something fresh. Either a fresh spin on a tried and true storyline, a fresh angle or viewpoint on a subject matter, or a fresh voice that sounds incredibly appealing.

For fiction, it's in the writing and the voice—it has to make me want to leave the office in the middle of the day to keep reading. For nonfiction, it's a fresh take on a subject by a person with fabulous credentials and the authority to write about that particular subject.

I'd love to find some upmarket women's fiction, some great prescriptive nonfiction, one or two fabulous memoirs, and a high concept female-driven thriller that can compete with the big boys.

GLA: What are you sick of seeing in romance queries that come across your desk?

PW: I'm tired of vampire stories that have been done to death (no pun intended). I'm looking for women's fiction, romantic comedies with a fabulous voice, suspense, and everything in between. I work on all types of romance.

(Find more romance agents.)

GLA: A subgenre you also seek is psychological thrillers. How healthy is this area at the moment, and why do you think this is so?

PW: I'm doing well with my mysteries and thrillers. I think it can be difficult to find a really, really good psychological thriller, but I'm up for the challenge. The market can be tough, too. Ultimately, the pacing, the writing, and the concept have to be exceptional. I really love intellectual thrillers and would love to find one of those.

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GLA: I read that you rep young adult, but your website specifies no children’s lit. Can you clarify this for us? Are you separating works of YA from those of middle-grade and below?

PW: Yes, I separate middle-grade from YA. I am very, very selective about the YA that I take on because there are so many other agents handling it at the moment—I have to totally fall in love with the material to take it on.

GLA: How should writers go about first contacting you? Should they send anything along with their queries?

PW: I only accept e-mail queries, and I like to see a query letter, synopsis and first five pages of text in the e-mail submission.

GLA: In your agency bio, you say you’re looking for books where the author has a huge platform. We’ve all heard writers need to have a Web presence (and it doesn't hurt if they have their own TV shows!), but what impresses you in terms of platform?

PW: This is especially important in nonfiction. If an author is a leading expert or on cutting ground of some research—that's great.

Other elements of a great author platform include—if an author speaks at a large number of conferences each year and can list his/her speaking engagements; appears regularly in local/national media; writes regularly for a national media outlet; has a website, Twitter account, blog, LinkedIn page, or Facebook page with a huge list of hits/friends, links, etc. Basically, I want the author to prove that he or she can get the word out and has a vehicle in place for reaching an audience.

For fiction, this isn't as important, but if the author is writing a thriller in which the protagonist is an engineer and the author is an engineer, so much the better. That author can reach out to the engineering community to promote the book. Same is true in upscale fiction and other commercial fiction. Is it pertinent? No. Is it helpful? You bet.

GLA: Do you have any advice on how writers can maximize their success in this changing industry?

PW: I would suggest that aspiring writers read current books by successful authors in their particular area of interest. It's important to pay attention to what's working at the moment as well as what's not working.

I also have been giving talks at conferences about the tactics of being a career novelist. I give out tips to writers, and here are 10 of them:

  • Learn the craft
  • Understand your specialization
  • Know your market
  • Find a partner (agent) for this process
  • Understand the publishing process
  • Develop a head for business
  • Realize your role in marketing
  • Prepare for some missteps
  • Be able to adapt to change
  • Learn how to handle success

GLA: Can you tell us about some of the upcoming writers conferences you’re attending? (See a list of upcoming writing conferences.)

PW: I've just returned from Sleuthfest and in May, I'll be at the Pen to Press conference in New Orleans. June finds me in Washington, D.C., at the American Independent Writers conference, July at the RWA conference in Orlando, and in October I'll be at the Emerald City conference in Seattle. Phew!

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

PW: I was on the Forensic Team (speaking and debating, not dead bodies) in high school and won a scholarship from Voice of America. Really, it's not about dead bodies.

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

PW: Know what you write and recognize your strengths and weaknesses. It is essential that you know what you are writing (cozy mystery vs. thriller; commercial fiction vs. literary fiction) as well as what part of the craft you need to polish and improve. Ultimately, it's all about the writing.

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