AUTHORNOMICS Best-of: Literary Agent Laurie McLean

By: Andrea Hurst

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 query@agentsavant.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.

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this post! It’s super helpful. I’ve been working on a sci-fi/paranormal YA for a couple of years now. Set in the fictional town of Elm, NY, The Sense Keeper is a paranormal/sci-fi novel about a teenage girl named Abby who discovers after her dad’s death that she is going to become the town’s keeper. As soon as Abby and her brother and mother, move from Morningside to Elm to be closer to her grandparents, Abby realizes that some people in the small town of Elm actually possess heightened senses and one person, the keeper (now Abby), possesses all five. Her father, a former keeper himself, was guarding a rare meteor stone that can actually reveal who they really are, and where their abilities came from.

    Abby’s ability leads her to follow a train that vanishes nightly at the gates of the cemetery. She’s convinced that there is something in there she needs to do. After all why would the voices keep leading her there?

    Abby’s mother says that they move because she wants to help her mother take care of her former police-chief father who is now in a wheelchair, but Abby knows better. She knows that they are moving because her mom can’t stand to be in the house that her husband was gunned down. Abby had friends in her other school, but other than Emily, her best friend, she doesn’t have many friends at Elm Prep. She begins to hear her dad’s voice and realizes he hasn’t completely crossed over yet. She’s convinced that she’s supposed to help him solve something. But as Abby gets closer to the truth, she realizes there are some things she never wanted to know.

  2. MarcyKate says:

    Great interview! I was excited to hear her say that epic fantasy is picking back up. It’s one of my favorites to read and write :)

  3. Thank you for this authornomics series. I will come back and see what else you’ve got here.

    In the meantime, do you think there will ever be a place for male POV in YA?

    My YA Contemp, THE PACKING HOUSE, centers around 16 year old Joel Scrivener, plagued by recurring nightmares and a brokenness he overcomes when Amber Walker, the girl he has written letters to for a decade, tells him she’s done with broken boys. She wants a guy who doesn’t need her to fix him. What Amber doesn’t know is, the guy she hungers for is the one who can overcome what broke him in the first place.

  4. Naomi says:

    Wow, great interview. I especially loved your book recommendations for aspiring authors. Thanks! :)

  5. This is a great post and I especially appreciate the mention of Regencies as it seems there isn’t much info out there about them at the minute. Hope I get Picked for the 3 chapter critique!

  6. Steve says:

    Some very interesting points, especially about social media being so important for aspiring writers. Something I need to think about!

  7. Great interview and awesome giveaway! =D

  8. Laurie, I love your enthusiasm and honesty about what you like, how you work with authors, and what the industry is like these days. I struggle a bit with the social media part, only because, as an as yet unpublished novelist (my short stories have been published), combined with SO MUCH out there in terms of blogs and information, getting the traffic to the blog is a challenge (and so I stopped being consistent with it). I understand how important that platform can be when a book is on the way, but up until that point, I feel I’m just one more aspiring novelist in the crowd of so many trying to build a platform and I tend to put that creative energy toward the current manuscript and the short stories. So any thoughts on that would be welcome.

  9. Sarah says:

    This was a great interview. You sound comfortable with the changes in publishing, and not many agents do.

  10. Sarah McGuire says:

    Lots of folks agree that we need a sarcasm font, but I think a Most Interesting Man in the World font would be a great addition. I would use it for query letters.

    Great interview, thanks!

  11. Mare Chapman says:

    Very interesting and helpful, especially the discussion about social media. Know it is very important, but hard to do right. Am on my way over to Agent Savant Inc. to check it out. Thanks for another great interview.

  12. Andrea Hurst says:

    Agents are in as big a transformation as the rest of the publishing business. Many of us are looking for where to land and still
    be of service to writers and publishers.

  13. Mel Grimes says:

    Thanks for the great interview and for your efforts for new writers.

  14. Richard says:

    Do you have any qualms about the lack of quality control in self-publishing, or will you provide marketing services to anyone with cash-in-hand? If yes, how does that sit with the literary agent hat you wear from which you work solely in a quality-based model? Can you work from both “sides” and still feel like you are serving the readers in the best possible way? I realize there is a shakedown in progress with the new publishing models, but where is the conscience in the system?

  15. Susan says:

    Thank you for a great interview – especially #11. I think I have a decent plot but wonder if I should continue to hold ‘em or fold ‘em…

  16. Laurie McLean says:

    Thanks to all you commenters. And here I thought no me would be around or online the official Monday Christmas bank holiday!

    Heather, your story sounds very interesting! I can imagine a lot of agents who rep YA would want to read some when you are ready.

    G. Donald, male POVs are a tougher sale in YA, since an overwhelming percentage of readers are teen girls who like protagonists they can relate to, but teen boy POVs can be provocative and sell. Just make sure the writing is great, the voice is compelling and the story is amazing.

    Jackie, social media is critical to an author’s success these days, but you don’t have to do so much of it your writing suffers. Pick one or two social media tools that you enjoy using and I bet you’ll find that it is not so time-consuming or difficult to accomplish. Also, remember to comment on the blogs of other authors you enjoy to become part of their communities.

    Richard, I am very selective in where I give marketing advice and to whom. All my clients receive the benefit of my two decades of marketing knowledge and skills. Non-clients have to share their work with me first and I only select those I feel I can help. The quality of writing is important to me. Always. So, no, I don’t take on every self-published author who is interested in my AgentSavant services. In fact, I’ve turned away more self-published authors than I’ve taken on. Creating a digital marketing plan with specifics that will really help an author is not a trivial task. So I pick and choose those who I feel will truly benefit from my advice. And I do not believe there is a conflict of interest between having a full-service agent relationship with my clients and a marketing consultant relationship with a different group of authors who pay for an individualized marketing plan.

  17. Andrea Hurst says:

    Thanks Laurie, great answers.

  18. Ann says:

    Interesting post. A book that has helped me is by Donald Maas, Writing the Breakout Novel.
    Ann

  19. Kate says:

    I love what you say about reading being so integral to the process of writing – and then actually getting out there and doing the writing. They really do go hand in hand, like a button and a buttonhole.

  20. Mike McNeff says:

    Thanks Andrea, for another great interview with important information for all writers.

  21. Great interview! I hadn’t heard of Laurie, so I’m glad she got the spotlight in this post. Thanks!

  22. Linda Moore Kurth says:

    I recently was granted my rights back to Home of the Heart, my Avalon career romance novel. I’d like to see it published as an ebook. Also, I’ve been watching the Hallmark Christmas movies and believe my story would be a good fit for Hallmark(and better than some of their plots!). Would this be something you’d be interested in representing, or if not, do you have any suggestions as where to begin exploring the possibilities?

  23. Laurie, I’ve known you for awhile and am always impressed by how generous you are, how much time you take to answer questions. I always try to attend your sessions, both where you speak and those moderated by you. Bharti

  24. Hi Laurie,

    I’ve actually finished another revision of my YA recently. Now it’s strong. I’ve been researching agents and sending queries out the past couple of weeks, but I’m not done completely sending queries out. I’ve gotten close in the past to landing an agent with this book, and continue to revise more and more. Knowing full well that it’s a persistence game and that the agent that takes my book on is going to be someone who loves my characters and the world I’ve created just as much as I do. :)

  25. Laurie McLean says:

    Linda: Please send an email about your book to laurie@agentsavant.com and we’ll take a look. It might be a fit for Joyride Books (launching soon)!

    Bharti: I mirror your wonderful, supportive energy right back at you. You are a gem!

    Heather, send the first 10 pages of your YA to laurie@agentsavant.com when you feel it’s ready and put “Andrea Hurst” in the subject line.

  26. A.E. Martin says:

    Great interview and great advice!

  27. Jester Jameson says:

    Laurie,

    I’ll just cut to the chase and spare you the false sentiments and the regurgitated verbose bullshit…read my melancholic words ;)

  28. Andrea Hurst says:

    Heather, send the first 10 pages of your YA to laurie@agentsavant.com when you feel it’s ready and put “Andrea Hurst” in the subject line.

  29. Andrea Hurst says:

    Bharti: I mirror your wonderful, supportive energy right back at you. You are a gem!

  30. Andrea Hurst says:

    Linda: Please send an email about your book to laurie@agentsavant.com and we’ll take a look. It might be a fit for Joyride Books (launching soon)!

  31. Rowena Williamson says:

    Laurie, I had the pleasure of meeting you at a couple of conferences, and taking workshops from you. I’ve just finished an historical YA and I agree with your “six words.”

  32. Great answers that confirm what I have learned from Andrea and her people. My current writing goal is to complete a draft of my novel about a sailor in distress who accepts help from an aquatic vampire. Glad to know the paranormal market is still strong.

  33. Lisa Preston says:

    Thank you for the quirky but straightforward advice.

  34. M.E. Anders says:

    This was a top-notch interview, Laurie and Andrea. Laurie would be an AWESOME agent, since she understands the ever changing publishing marketplace.

    I think the idea for Agent Savant, Inc. for authors needing a bit of guidance, is brilliant. Social media is essential for authors, traditionally published or self-published, these days.

  35. Arthur Frymyer, Jr. says:

    Excellent article! Thank you very much for taking the time to help new writers such as myself.

    A question that I still have is this: Short of e-publishing on the Kindle, how does a flat-broke writer publish a novel? Editors aren’t cheap, and agents get paid too. Do you have to find a way to finance your first novel?

  36. Melissa Bullard says:

    Thanks so much! The information from the interview offered a lot of great challenges and motivation.

  37. “Who are your book’s intended readers?”  One of the most important ways you can increase book sales and find new readers is to choose a title for your book that clearly indicates the type of reader you had in mind while writing your book. There are several ways you can create a book title that clearly identifies the readers–or market segment–you are writing for.

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