AUTHORNOMICS Best-of: Literary Agent Laurie McLean
Laurie is giving away a three-chapter critique to a random commenter on this post! Comment by Monday, January 2nd to enter.
With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
Interview with Literary Agent Laurie McLean
At Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco, Northern California’s oldest literary agency founded in 1972, Laurie represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, nouveau westerns, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, etc.) as well as middle-grade and young-adult books. She looks for great writing, first and foremost, followed by memorable characters, a searing storyline and solid world building.
For more than 20 years Laurie ran a multi-million dollar eponymous public relations agency in California’s Silicon Valley. She is passionate about marketing, publicity, negotiating, editing and a host of other business-critical areas. She is also a novelist herself, so she can empathize with the author’s journey to and through publication.
Check out her blog, www.agentsavant.com, for tales of the agenting life, and www.larsenpomada.com for valuable information and links, plus her submission guidelines. Query her at email@example.com.
1. What is your favorite part of being an agent? What is your least favorite part?
First of all, I have to say, I love being a literary agent. I get to work with smart/creative authors who are passionate about their prose. I get to work with smart/creative editors who are just as passionate about making great books even better. And because I also enjoy marketing, I love helping my clients become better known so their books find their way into readers’ hands to change lives. I like the variety, pressure, intellectual stimulation, friendliness, support, the reading, the writing and pretty much most of what an average day entails for me.
My least favorite part, by far, is having to reject so many hopeful writers. The ones who have written something good, but not good enough (for sometimes capricious reasons), for me to believe I can sell the manuscript to a large New York publisher. I expect I will be coming back as a slug or ant in my next life because of all the bad karma I’m generating as a literary agent. (Writers I’ve rejected can at least take heart with that image in their mind’s eye!)
2. What is different now about being an agent than when you first started?
The disruptive force of technology. Digital publishing is transforming an industry that hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years. When I first became an agent seven years ago, the process was this: the client made six copies of a manuscript and shipped them to our office. I placed that manuscript in a box, created a custom cover letter, put it on the outside of the box, put a rubber band around the box and letter, stuffed all of that in a huge envelope, addressed it and shipped it off to an editor. On average, two months later, I received the smashed up box, wrinkled up manuscript and a rejection notice. Rinse and repeat. Today everything is done via email. The initial pitch to the editor, the manuscript “shipping”, the conversation about the project, even the deal memo (and sometimes the contract!) .
All areas of publishing have been affected by digitalization…from pitching to publishing to promotion. Social media, eBooks, production (I saw the Espresso Book machine while I was in New York in May and was astounded at the quality of the books it produced in ten minutes while I watched), everything. I am excited and terrified by the rapid rate of change this tradition-bound industry is attempting to absorb. But I come from a high tech background so I know that change is ultimately good, regardless how painful the process may be.
3. What is the most important part of submissions for you: the query, the synopsis, the manuscript, or the platform?
Since I handle adult genre fiction along with middle-grade and YA children’s books, I care the most about the writing. As in, the manuscript. But close on its heels these days is the author’s social media presence and proficiency with this new promotional technology. I just signed up a new client who had not even finished her first full-length novel. I found her through her comments on another author’s blog, tracked her back to her website, read some of her paranormal romance novellas (one was free the other was 99 cents), and then had a surreal conversation as I explained the benefits I could provide to someone who was making a nice chunk of change just by selling her eNovellas. It’s a conversation I won’t soon forget. But I did manage to convince her that I could help with expanding her audience to bookstores far and wide, negotiate foreign rights and movie deals and give her great career advice. We ultimately signed a contract that allowed me to handle her novel-length fiction while letting her continue to create and sell anything shorter than that on her own online. I think we’re both going to make a lot of money.
4. Do you have a favorite genre to read, and is it different from your favorite genre to represent?
My favorite genre to read is fantasy, with romance and science fiction close seconds. I work so many hours I don’t have much time to read for fun. But when I do, I prefer fantasy (that was said with the accent of the Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis commercial.) There’s something about the escapism that I adore. Plus my dreams afterwards are always great adventures.
5. What are some of the ways you work with authors and publishers that that make you such a successful agent?
First of all, I limit the amount of clients I have so I can spend a lot of time on each of them. I enjoy advising them on marketing and promotion as well as offering career counseling. And I have been an editor most of my professional career, so I believe I can always help an author make a book even better. I also like to think that I’m a nice person with a great sense of fun, so I’m enjoyable to work with. Publishers find me knowledgeable and fair.
6. If you had to give an aspiring author one piece of advice, what would it be?
Six words. Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.
7. As an agent do you consider self-published/print on demand books?
Absolutely. In fact I am in the process of creating two publishing companies for backlist books with two of my clients. Both will launch later this Fall. The first is Joyride Books with Linda Wisdom and will feature only backlist romance novels from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Closed door, sweet romance. The market there is older women. The other company is being named as you read this and my partner is award-winning children’s book author Douglas Rees. We envision that will be only backlist once again, but midlist children’s book titles that have long been out of print. We’ll give them a new life.
And for my agenting clients, I make sure that they each have a digital component (eBooks and POD) as a strong part of their career plan as an author. eBooks are great for testing the waters on new material, for shorter fiction, new markets, etc. We’re only dipping our toe in the water of what these new eBook capabilities will blossom into. I’ve very excited about digital publishing.
8. Are there any books you suggest aspiring novelists read?
Oh, dear. I’m so heavily into genre fiction I’m not sure I’d give any good advice to authors writing outside of it. But Stephen King’s On Writing, Orsen Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Deb Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict, and maybe Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life.
9. What does it mean when you reject a manuscript because you really did not fall in love with it?
It takes so much effort and blood, sweat and tears to sell a book these days, I have to be fully committed to see it through to the end of a deal. Ergo, I have to feel passionate about the book to transform it from a dream to a reality.
10. What genres are hot right now? Do you have any predictions for what publishers will be looking for in the future?
I absolutely hate telling authors which subgenres are hot or trending. Yet that is the number one question I get at writers conferences across the country. So, let’s see. In romance, contemporaries are on the rise, paranormals are still riding high, historicals in the Regency era continue to sell steadily while medieval romance is down a bit and romantic suspense is tanking. In fantasy, epic fantasy is coming up again after nearly a decade of being trod upon by urban fantasy (thank you Game of Thrones!). In science fiction, steampunk is the new darling, cyberpunk is nearly dead (some say because we have already integrated the computer into our lives so deeply), hard science fiction is small but steady, and space opera is also still popular. Westerns continue to struggle to find an audience. Historical mysteries, cozy mystery series with a unique/memorable/strong protagonist, all types of thrillers and suspense novels are trending up.
What will publishers be looking for in the future? How about this. More of the same, but slightly different. That’s what it seems like to me anyway!
11. How much are you willing to work with a potential author if you loved the plot but the book needs work?
I used to do more of it, grow my own bestsellers. But I just don’t have time to do a lot of that anymore. Especially in genre fiction. Usually I give them a bunch of tips if I think they’ve got something worthwhile, but I leave it up to them to either work with an independent editor or a critique partner or something to edit their own work.
12. What is the best way for a fiction writer to build their platform and reach their audience?
Social media. This is, bar none, the best way for authors to market their work and broaden their audience. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the best way for an author to get noticed.
13. I see you have a new service through Agent Savant. How does it assist writers?
While I am super excited about the potential inherent in self-published eBooks, I feel that if an author doesn’t market themselves through social media vehicles, they will not sell very many copies of their books regardless of how great they are. And since I spent the bulk of my professional career in marketing, I have created what I hope is a win-win scenario with Agent Savant Inc. (www.agentsavant.com, click on Agent Savant Inc.) I work closely with the author to discover their unique author brand, then create a marketing plan that they can implement to promote their books. I don’t do the work, I just create the plan for them to follow. Because with social media, it really doesn’t work if someone else does it for you.
The winner of Chuck Sambuchino’s 2012 Guide to Literary Agents is Julia! Thank you for reading our blog!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope Publishing and Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.