Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wednesday's Agent Q&A

Welcome to Wednesday's Q&A with agent Michelle Grajkowski of Three Seas Literary Agency. Before we get started, I just wanted to remind you of Bonus Saturday’s Q&A with Harlequin/Silhouette Editor Susan Litman (Saturday, 9/10) and Friday’s Author Q&A with Silhouette Special Edition RITA winner and Waldenbooks best seller Wendy Warren.

1) How has the market changed in the past few years, and has that changed the way you market your authors (e.g. what you’re looking for now that you weren't looking for two years ago, etc).

The good news is that the market is constantly changing. Today, paranormal romance and female-focused fantasy is hot, hot, hot. But, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room on publishers’ lists for historical or contemporary romance. In fact, publishers are always looking for the next big trend. The best time to hop on a wave is in the beginning, so if a hot new prospect hits an editor’s desk, they usually are willing to take a risk.

One thing that has always remained constant is the hunt for wonderful new storytellers. Western Historicals are probably one of the hardest sells these days, but that doesn’t stop me from representing them! I have a handful of authors who write the Westerns who are amazing! If you write a fantastic book with unforgettable stories, you will find a home on the shelves.

2) What can an agent do to help her author when the author’s line folds or her publishing house isn’t interested in continuing the relationship? So many authors are facing that challenge these days. Do you find other markets, suggest the author changes horses or reinvents herself? How can you tell if the problem is with the author or simply that it wasn’t a good match for her? How do you determine which authors can write something else versus which ones need to find a way to survive with what they are doing?

In this very tight marketplace, the key to success is to be adaptable to change. Even Harlequin/Silhouette is starting to “modernize” their category lines by looking for fresh new storylines and by eliminating romance clichés. Authors are being called to raise this challenge.

Remember, publishing is a business. And, with every business, publishers are trying to grow. In order to grow, they need fresh, unique, innovative products to sell. If an author is unable to adapt, unfortunately, they will be forced to move on. It’s my job as an agent to try to stop that process before it happens.

I encourage my authors to step out of their comfort zones – to try new things. It helps to keep them fresh and also helps them grow as authors. By trying a new cross-genre, it helps authors to gain insights on plotting and characterizations. It also gives us a back-up plan should we need one.

3) Many best-selling authors swear that every author must write for two houses simultaneously to ensure the survival of her career. First, do you agree with this? Second, how do you handle this, because many houses do not want to share their authors? How do you handle this differently when the author starts up with the first house and doesn’t have a second one yet, but you want to keep her options open, versus when you pick up the second house?

Actually, this really depends on the author. Each career is so different. Some authors are extremely prolific and can handle writing for more than one house. Others are better focusing on one series with one publisher. So, I evaluate each client on an individual basis.

You’re right, many houses frown upon authors writing for more than one house. From the publisher’s perspective, they are investing money in building an author’s career. The best way to manage her growth is to have control over what books are being published, and when. When an author writes for more than one house, it is important to communicate scheduling issues with both houses to make sure she doesn’t have more than one release in any given month. Otherwise, she is competing for herself for sales. Also, if the second publisher isn’t as aggressive in marketing, her numbers may fall slightly which could affect the sales figures on her original publisher’s next book.

Therefore, there are cases on each side of the issue. Your agent will help you to decide the best road for you to follow.

4) When an agented author is searching for a new agent, what is the protocol? The temptation is to agent hunt before severing ties with the previous agent in case she can’t find a better situation, but some agents say this is bad faith and some even claim they won’t consider authors who do this. What is your take on it?

In my opinion, the best first move is to talk to your current agent about your concerns. You may be able to clear the air and to get back on the right track. However, if that doesn’t work, then you should let your agent go. Remember, open, honest communication is the key to any relationship – your author/agent relationship is no different.

5) When you are considering a published author’s submissions, do you look at the author’s Web site as part of the equation? Do you do any other external research on the author before making your decision (e.g. doing a Google or Bookscan search)? Along those same lines, do editors?

Yes! I love to visit an author’s Web site to see what an author has been up to. You can tell a lot about an author by her site – what books she’s published, awards she’s proud of, quotes she’s garnered. Also, I like to see the personal pages, too. Seeing a picture and reading a nice bio helps me to get a feel for the kind of person the author is.

I don’t do a lot of external research on an author – I just poke around her Web site. Most of the information I do gather, though, is during our initial phone conversation.

And, yes, I think some editors do look at Web sites as well. I’ve had editors tell me they’ve visited some of my author’s sites. It’s really important to keep them updated and professional.

Don't forget to submit questions for next week’s Agent Q&A, either by posting a comment or e-mailing me at


At 6:55 PM, Anonymous stephanie feagan said...

Steph, you want I should call my old Uncle Sally? I'm thinkin' he could teach some manners to Mr. Anonymous.

Tell Michelle thanks very much for doing these Q&A's. Great stuff! And thank YOU!

And really - let me know about Uncle Sal. Mr. Anonymous can be sleeping with the fishes...

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Stephanie Rowe said...

Stef, you're the best! My good pal Trish deleted the comments from Mr. Anonymous for me, so save your Uncle for the next time we are wronged! I'm we'll need him...


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