I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, FL—which was chock-full of awesome. The first afternoon of the intense three-day event (attended by over 2,000 people!), I went to the PRO Retreat, which included an all-star lineup of publishing pros.
Here’s a little Q&A from the agent panel, which featured the following reps:
- Holly Root of Waxman Literary
- Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency [now with KT Literary]
- Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
- Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency
- Emmanuelle Morgen (formerly Alspaugh) of Judith Ehrlich Literary [now with Stonesong]
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19–21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR RIGHT NOW?
Emmanuelle: She wants more historical and paranormal submissions. And contemporary, also—the market has opened up a little for small town settings, everywoman/man. It’s open in young adult, too.
Melissa: She wants great historical fiction. She’s not into paranormal or sci-fi/fantasy. She’s looking for women’s fiction, romance (erotic to inspirational), YA (not paranormal YA, but historical YA), and middle-grade. No nonfiction.
Sara: She's actively hunting for new clients—she loves debut authors. Loves romance—yes paranormal, yes erotica—no inspirational.
Kevan: Looking for historical fiction (commercial and romance). She loves contemporary—would love to find a contemporary romance. Is OK with paranormal, but struggles with the almost-sci-fi paranormal. It’s OK, though—if you can pull her into it. Doesn’t want inspirational. Is seeking new authors in a limited and selective way.
WHEN YOU GET A REQUESTED PARTIAL, WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT? AND DO YOU WANT A SYNOPSIS?
Kevan: Doesn’t need a synopsis—she wants to love the story. She says: Sweeten the way in the first and second chapters. She wants to be dying to ask for more. Captivate her.
Melissa: Does want a synopsis. She needs to know spoilers—wants to know how it ends. [She reads the ends of books and all spoilers for TV shows, etc.] Wants to be engaged with the pages.
Emmanuelle: The chapters should get better and better.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE "BRAND" BEFORE YOU SELL? WEB PRESENCE?
Kevan: It’s not an issue for fiction. It’s huge for nonfiction. Novelists should work on the book first—then work on the brand.
Sara: Says she’s the opposite. Your presence should be up—professional—polished—now. You should be involved in social media now. You don’t necessarily need to have it all, but you need to have some.
Melissa: “Just write me a really good book. I won’t Tweet—I’m sorry. I just want a great book.”
Emmanuelle: Wants a great manuscript. However, if you have amazing e-book sales, that can push it along.
Holly: She likes to see a basic, clean, professional website, but it’s not a deal-breaker if you don’t have one. You don’t need to spend a ton of money and energy on creating a brand (necessarily). Don’t dig yourself in before you have to.
CAN A WRITER QUERY A PREVIOUSLY SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK OR E-BOOK?
Melissa: Not a fan.
Kevan: If you’re asking her to sell that book, it’s really difficult for her to do. In terms of self-published books, etc., selling her on you as a client, she says the “big story” is one in a zillion. Unless you’ve sold 25,000-30,000 copies, the numbers are not meaningful to an editor. “Show me your next project.”
CAN A BOOK END WITH AN UNHAPPY ENDING?
Melissa: No unhappy endings! She’s a romantic at heart, but it depends. The ending doesn’t have to be “happy happy,” but it needs to be satisfactory.
Emmanuelle: The market prefers a happy ending.
Sara: She can take difficult endings, but they need to have redemption to them. Prefers that it’s happy overall.
Kevan: Wants to feel good about it—that it’s redeeming.
Holly: She’s okay with a bittersweet ending in women’s fiction. “It’s more about the catharsis than it is the wedding bands.”
IF AN AUTHOR WANTS TO CHANGE AGENTS, WHEN SHOULD THEY CONTACT YOU?
Holly: Contact me after you cut ties with your previous agent. Don’t stay with an agent out of fear that you won’t get another—be professional about it. Have the conversation. But don’t contact a new rep until you’ve done this.
Emmanuelle: Bring up your issues with your agent—try to iron it out. If that doesn’t work, part ways, and then shop.
Sara: [If you’ve parted ways with your agent,] it’s helpful to have a list of editors the project may have been submitted to when approaching a new agency. So no one’s time is being wasted.
SOME SAY AGENTS ARE BECOMING THINGS OF THE PAST. IS THE AGENT'S ROLE SHIFTING TO MAKE ROOM FOR E-PUBLISHING?
Sara: Their roles are shifting to include e-publishing and e-awareness.
Kevan: E-publishing opens up all new avenues for authors to reach new readers. Her role is to maximize that potential.
Emmanuelle: It’s tough to negotiate deals for your own work. Agents are irreplaceable. They know the ins and outs (with so many complicated rights, etc.). It’s their job to know that stuff; it’s the author’s job to write.