Sunday, January 11, 2009

Scott Kaufman -- Kolstein Agency had an opportunity to interview literary agent Scott Kaufman from The Kolstein Talent Agency's new literary agency division. What makes this agency unique is that their focus for many years was for actors in film, television and stage but now they're on the look out for fresh new writing talent in their boutique division.

What's your official title, Scott? I head the literary agency division of the Kolstein Talent Agency. I've been with this agency for a year. I mainly handle film and television writers but am also on the look out for book writers as well.

How did you get started? I started in film and television production with independent films and television specials for PBS. After working in the production area, I decided that I wanted to get into the agency side of the business. I've always had a love and passion for the entertainment industry.

How many clients do you handle? What's great is that I only handle about 20 clients whereas other literary agents may handle a much larger number. Having a smaller number of clients allows me to work one-on-one with each individual.

What are you currently looking for, Scott? Two specific genres that I am looking out for are comedy and horror, because they provide audiences with the opportunities to laugh and escape. I'm also looking for character driven, lower to mid-level budgeted projects. As an agency, we are always looking to package our projects.

What are you not looking for? Right now, I am trying to avoid high priced, tent-pole movie scripts. Another aspect that is very important to me in terms of submissions is proper formatting, because I believe it reflects a writer's level of professionalism and experience.

Why you a writer sign with you, Scott and not someone else? I work with a select group of writers whose abilities I truly admire. Once they are signed with me, I give my clients the attention and time they deserve. I am aggressive, hungry and always working for them. By working one-on-one with each client, we are able to come up with "out-of-the box" ways to attain their goals.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

GumboWriters -- How to Sell Books Fast
One of the fastest ways to sell books is public speaking. What's great about speaking publicly is that you see the results immediately. You speak to a small group of people, could be as few as 10 or 20 people and immediately afterward you sell your book in the back of the room.

To begin with you must know who your target market is because generally if your book is about Biology you stand a better chance at selling books to biologist than basketball players but not necessarily because many people will buy your book because they want your autograph. They may never even read your book but they want to brag to their friends that they met "a real author".

But how do you set up a public speaking event? I say, why waste your time setting up an event from scratch when there are many groups that are begging for speakers to speak to their people and they've already lined up the people. A great organization to start with is are Rotary Clubs. You can google them and find the local chapters in your area. They're a wonderful organization of business owners that join together to network and more importantly do charitable work in their communities. They're always looking for speakers and if you can tailor your book's message to fit their needs they would love to have you speak.

You begin with a simple short email to them introducing yourself to them and what your message will be. They will usually respond within a few days and you find out what day(s) they have available. You arrive early, introduce yourself to the moderator who booked you, be friendly to all the people as they enter and set your stack of books up at a table that is strategically placed right next to the door so that after you speak they HAVE to pass by you in order to speak.

You give a short speech that inspires them and keep it at about 15-20 minutes and allow for questions and answers. Then, afterward you speak.

I suggest you let the Rotary Club members know how much you normally charge and what kind of discount you're offering them and if a portion of your proceeds are supporting a charity even better. Remember to also mention to them that your book would make " a great gift" and that you'll autograph it for them. You'll be surprised at what a positive response you'll get. In my experience at least 50% of the people I speak to end up buying the book. It's an instant way to sell more books and see the results immediately.
Jeff Rivera: If you need help with your book promotion contact and we'll find a way to help you within your budget.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Julie Hill - Literary Agent with Julie A. Hill & Assoc.

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Julie?
15 yrs, and i started with other writer  friends materials..actually becoming an agent was their idea for me.  i too was writing then, but for periodicals and the internet. actually, i started with agenting not with books, but with screenplays. i went to the UC Berkeley Publishing Course after awhile, just to get my book skills honed, because i found I really loved working with book authors most of all.  Since then, I have expanded to television work for my authors, or whatever other projects can be spun from their books.  I also consult with authors who just need advice, or just need a contract negotiated after selling their books themselves. I really enjoy contract negotiation.

What makes your agency different than any others?
I'd say the above...all the work I do around books, not just the books themselves. Authors can make new generations of their material if they have the interest, and I'll consult on all phases of such projects. I have a great entertainment attorney I work with, Jason Poston, who is the late comedian Tom Poston's son. He keeps me up to date on the latest legal twists and turns, plus he used to be a book editor.

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?
More materials from and about under 35's. I think this "Obama generation" is the next octave of their boomer parents.  Change the World people, but in their own unique way. I think the under 35's in this country will have alot to say in the near future.

Julie what are you tired of receiving?

Bad novels. submissions without the right components, esp. lack of proper competitive title analysis.

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?
One way is to have an MFA in writing. (I heard a statistic yesterday on NPR that over 50% of the writers being bought have MFA's, don't know if it is true, but i do notice a  big difference in the quality of material from writing program grads). Know your craft, know the system, know the protocol. One huge way to help yourself to have read Jeff Herman's Writers Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents and put it into practice.  I cannot recommend that book enough.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?
Keep providing quality competitive work, and keep promoting yourself to the outside world. Have a very active internet presence, be willing to travel frequently to give talks and signings, and be creative about getting public attention for your work.  Having a publicist is a very big plus.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Julie that they don't seem to?
I care about writers' careers as well as their books. I am a career consultant for my authors as best I can be. If I can find other work for them, I do.  If I have an idea about how they can make more money, get more exposure, I tell them.  Most agents just sell books and career counseling is out of the picture.  I don't decry that, its one way to make a living, it's just not who I am.  It's tough to make a big living as an author, and you have to be thinking all the time about what else can be done to feather your nest, pump your platform, spin your ideas into other media and markets. Writers who stay home and hope for the next big idea to dawn won't thrive in this business. 

Monday, December 29, 2008

Felicia Eth - Literary Agent at Felicia Eth Literary

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Felicia?
I've been an agent for 25 years (that makes me sound ancient). 10 in N.Y. at Writers Hosue, 15 or so here in the Bay area, with my own agency, Felicia Eth Literary Reprsentation.  Initially I started working in the movie business in N.Y, in the Story Departments of Palomar Pictures and Warner Brothers, where properties get selected. I was the conduit for NY. publishers, so worked with sub rights people and agents who mostly handle movie/tv rights.  I found I was much more interested in books as books, than as properties with potential for being translated to the screen. Oftentimes the best books make the lousiest movies and vice versa.  But it was a great way to learn who was doing what. 

What makes your agency different than any others?
There's only so many ways to be different, and given how many agents there are, I can't speak of myself as wholly unique.  I'm a New Yorker on the West Coast so I bring both sensibilities to anything I work with.  I'm sort of intellectual, but came out of a movie background, so there again I've a dual perspective,  I'm a one person office, but as someone who knows the business for many many years, I work with books of diverse interest - from quirky narrative nonfiction to literary fiction.  I try to be ahead of the curve in terms of what's hot, but not avant-garde, since no one in N.Y. wants that. 

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?
I wish I could find more literary writers who knew how to write incredibly compelling stories, ie. stories with dramatic drive and narrative and a plot that kept yo riveted, even as you are held by the writing.
I'd love to see more narrative nonfiction that was less memoir about someone's life, and more about someone's foray into exploring something that impacts all of us.

Felicia what are you tired of receiving?
I'm tired of receiving memoirs by people who've overcome tough personal situations.  I admire them for it, but don't necessarily want to read another book about it. 

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?
Be smart, be funny, show you've done your homework, have publishing credits or support from names who might ring a bell with me (and others), whether they be teachers of yours, friends of yours, other writers, etc.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?
That's easy.  I run a  small, personal agency, where I'm always happy to talk with a writer, so long as they hear me when I say I can't talk now, and respect my personal and professional needs.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Felicia that they don't seem to?
That our interests coincide - books that I say aren't for me, aren't and thus I'm not the best person for them. Books that I say need work, do, and not because I'm trying to make a writer's life hard, but because if I see problems the editors will too and so following my direction makes sense for both of us.  That I try to get the best offer all around so that the book will be well published and the author will be happy.  If I advise an author to take a deal, it's not because it serves me, but because it serves the author. 

What's the best way for a writer to reach you?
Email is fine for a query, but not for a proposal or partial, hardcopy is fine for a query with sample pages and proposal (not a complete ms), and phone is rarely preferable since it's great if you are articular and smart and ideally that will make publishing the book more successful, but I sell books, so how you write and present yourself in writing, is first and foremost what I need to see.

Paul Cirone - New Interview with Literary Agent at Friedrich Literary Agency

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Paul ?

I began my publishing career as in intern for the Aaron Priest Agency.  I worked my way up to assistant for Molly Friedrich and I've been with her ever since. I technically started agenting in 2000, while I was still a full time assistant.  That's when I discovered Leif Enger's PEACE LIKE A RIVER and Edgar Award winner, Megan Abbott. Molly subsequently opened her own agency in 2006 where I joined her as a full fledged agent and foreign rights manger. 

    What makes your agency different than any others?

While we're small in size-- we're a three person operation-- we pride ourselves in really taking care of the writers. We don't have a lot of celebrity writers, at least not those that are celebrities first. We do have a lot who were writers first, that went on to become celebrities, like Terry McMillan, Sue Grafton and Frank McCourt to name a few.  Our relationship to the client really is an all-encompassing one.  We're not just there at the sale, we're present for the author's entire publishing experience.  But, we're the opposite of corporate–our authors don't get lost in the fray.  Everyone does feel completely taken care of.

    What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?

I'd love to see more non-fiction that's funny and well-written.  I really like to learn new things about topics in history, current events, pop-culture---but with a humorous slant.  Though, funny is probably the hardest thing to pull off.  I'm also always a sucker for well-written historical fiction.  Something that takes a lesser known footnote from history and imagines a whole universe around it.

    Paul what are you tired of receiving?

Books that are poorly written! Books about ancient societies and uncovered texts that are poorly written. 

    How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?

By having some short-stories published in literary magazines or by writing for blogs. The more they're out there as writers the better.  This business of writing is no longer a solitary one.  Writers have to be marketing conscious and pro-active.
    How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?

By being respectful of my weekends and by effectively communicating their needs, so that the professional relationship is always strong.

    What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Paul that they don't seem to?

That we don't get paid for the reading and evaluating of writers before we take them on.  If we take the time to write a personal response ---and our agency has a great reputation of doing that–and it's a no, they really need to respect that it was a no and leave it at that. 
    What's the best way for a writer to reach you?

Email is best.  I read everything on my kindle these days.  My back muscles are very happy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vicky Bijur - Literary Agent at Vicky Bijur Literary Agency



How long have you been agent and how did you get your start, Vicky ?

I have been an agent since 1986, when I started working with the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.   I have had my own agency since 1988.

The first client I took on in 1986 was the mystery writer Margaret Maron, and she is still my client. She won the Edgar for Best Novel in 1992.   I've sold about twenty-five of her books. 

I went to work with Charlotte after nine years in the New York office of Oxford University Press, where I worked on books of history, film studies, literary criticism, architecture, musicology, and so forth.


What makes your agency different than any others?

Every agency operates differently. What's important to me is the long relationships I have with many of my clients.  As I mention above, my first client is still with me.  I have worked with many of my clients since the 1980s and 1990s. 

Some agencies specialize, but I love working on a broad variety of books:  mysteries, literary fiction, journalism, cookbooks, graphic non-fiction, health, parenting, biography, self-help, memoir, and so forth. 

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of? 

Novels and memoirs that grip me from page one.  I still remember the first page of Laura Lippman's first book, BALTIMORE BLUES, which I read in 1995 or 1996.   Last spring I picked up a self-published book called STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova and couldn't put it down.  I sold it to Pocket Books, which is publishing it in January. 


I am interested in seeing graphic fiction and non-fiction.  I represent Larry Gonick, a pioneer in graphic non-fiction (THE CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, THE CARTOON GUIDE TO STATISTICS, etc.), and would love to represent others in that field.

I am also interested in hearing from journalists.  I represent Steven Greenhouse, the New York Times labor reporter and author of THE BIG SQUEEZE (Knopf, 2008) and would love to see more journalism. 

I am always interested in writers who work in a variety of literary forms. Laura Lippman writes novels, short stories, journalism, reviews, essays, and so forth.  James Sallis writes novels, poetry, biography (his biography of Chester Himes was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), literary criticism. 

 Vicky, what are you tired of receiving? 

It would be nice not to ever again get a query letter that starts, "I've written a fictional novel."

Also, in the days before email queries, prospective clients kept their query letters to one page.  Emailed queries often go on for much too long.  If you send a query via email it should be no longer than the equivalent of a one-page letter.

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way? 

A great cover letter.  I must admit I love it when a prospective client comes to me and says, "I'm not talking to any other agents." 

I take special note when a prospective client has done some research either by going to my web page ( or even listening to a radio interview from a few years ago:


If you want to write non-fiction, it is a great help to do a formal book proposal before approaching agents.  I often recommend HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen.  Writers find it very helpful. 



How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?

All my clients are on my radar.  Perhaps my clients are a particularly charming and personable group, as I have never thought about this question.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent, Vicky, that they don't seem to? 

I focus more on trying to understand my clients than on what I want them to understand about me.



What's the best way for a writer to reach you?

Either email or snail mail.  Not faxes or phone calls.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Harvey Klinger - Literary Agent

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Harvey?I started my own agency in October, 1977. I worked for an agent prior to that for a year and a half who taught me how not to be an agent, which was quite instructive.

What makes your agency different than any others?I would say that we're a "boutique" agency. All of my associates and myself included work very closely with our clients and do a fair amount of editing and revising their material before we even start making submissions to publishers.

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?Narrative non-fiction, interesting history, biography, science and I'm always looking for terrific new fiction; I'm just not seeing anything that I've liked lately.

Harvey what are you tired of receiving?Queries from writers who keep trying to sell themselves. The material should speak for itself. I'm tired of seeing disease-of-the-week stories, people writing about donating kidneys to relatives (or strangers), people announcing they've got the next Harry Potter, and there's still too much chick lit floating out there; the genre's been glutted to extinction.

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?Writing something wonderful, fresh with a unique voice or a non-fiction project that's insightful and timely without trying to act like a salesperson at a WalMart.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane? By not calling and just occasionally emailing to check-in.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Harvey that they don't seem to? That I'm not a miracle worker, but work hard for my writers and expect them to do the same for me. Despite all the hard work though, there are no guarantees in the publishing business, particularly in the current economic climate. Even if I think a proposal (or a novel) is in perfect shape, there's still no saying that a publisher will agree and even if they do and publish it aggressively, success can be a rare and elusive thing. You give it your best shot and let the chips fall where they may...but at least it gets me out of bed every morning!

What's the best way for a writer to reach you?EMAIL!

Laney Katz Becker - Literary Manager with Folio Literary

How did you get your start Laney ?
[LKB:] My background is highly unusual: Prior to becoming an agent, I was an award-winning advertising copywriter, a freelance journalist, and a published author (of both fiction and non-fiction). When I had children, I made constant *adjustments* to my writing career, in order to spend as much time at home as possible -- hence all the various hats!  But when my kids got older and prepared to leave home, I decided it was time for me to do the same. (TRANSLATION: I didn't want to spend the second half of my life alone, in my basement office, writing books.)  I (re)evaluated my skills, my interests, my passions -- and the rest, as they say, is history. I think my past writing and marketing experiences really helped me hit the ground running when I switched gears and started agenting, and frankly, my skills come in awfully handy when I work with my authors to get their projects ready for submission. Of course the obvious is also true: Having been "the author" I know what it's like to be in their shoes, which is not a bad thing at all!
  What makes your agency different than any others?
[LKB:] Folio takes a very different approach to supporting our authors. We have a marketing department, a speaker's bureau and relationships with various licensing agencies. We offer these additional services to our authors in order to supplement all the outstanding work publishers do to promote authors/books. It's really exciting and incredibly successful. (

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?
[LKB:] I've been reading for (many) decades. I'm not excited to read something I feel like I've read a million times already. I love things that are fresh and smart. On the fiction side, I'm partial to book club fiction and psychological thrillers. On the non-fiction side I love memoirs. But again, I gravitate toward stories that expose me to something new. I also do a limited amount of prescriptive non-fiction and am always on the lookout for gripping narrative non-fiction. To see more about what I'm looking for, check out my bio page at 

Laney what are you tired of receiving?
[LKB:] Long, rambling query letters for topics I don't handle. 

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?
[LKB:] A concise, well-written query that follows the guidelines on my bio page. It really is that simple. No kidding. I've signed authors from the slush pile, and I've sold their projects for 6-figure deals. It really can work that way. Promise.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?
[LKB:] All my writers are on my radar because I'm very selective about the authors I sign. I intentionally keep my list small; that's the only way I can give my authors the time and attention they need/deserve. That said, the author/agent relationship is like a good marriage. Communication is key. So, if an author is doing something that's annoying, it's part of my job to let the author know that's not how I prefer to work -- and I expect them to do the same.
NOW, I know the question is about a "signed writer," but let me tell you what drives me INSANE about unsigned writers:
* Writers who argue with me. I pass on something because it's too commercial for me (they've sent me a 3-book mystery series, for instance, and that's not something I handle). The author then sends back a rant about how commercial is what sells and don't I want something that sells?
* Writers who send back a note alerting me that I've just passed on what is sure to be a huge best-seller. (The fact the author bragged like that in his original query is probably why I passed in the first place. Why would I want to work with someone who has such an over-inflated opinion of himself? Especially since he's never been published before. This author is already broadcasting that he won't be easy to handle/deal with.)
* Writers who apologize. "I've never been probably won't be interested in this...I know you probably won't even take time to read this..."
* Writers who tell me that they've given their project to all their family/friends/students to read and everyone loves it. (First, your family and friends should tell you it's great; they're you're family and friends! And even if you've given the book to strangers -- their taste and mine may be very different. I'm not just looking for things I love, but for things I can sell. How could your strangers know that?)
* I could go on, but I'm sure you're catching my drift.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Laney that they don't seem to?
[LKB:] This is a business. And while it's true there are a lot of emotions that get wrapped around anything as intimate as writing, it is still a business, and it is my job as an agent to sell. So there's no reason for me to sign a project I don't love, or a project I don't think I can sell. And no amount of begging/pleading will convince me otherwise. And you'll just have to trust me: You REALLY don't want an agent who is not super passionate about your project.
  What's the best way for a writer to reach you?
[LKB:] Email. I read and respond to every query. lkbecker (at) 

Ben Barnhart - Editor at Milkweed Editions

  • How did you get your start as an editor? Why become an editor instead of say, a fighter pilot or computer engineer?

I got my start the old-fashioned way, by taking out a contract on a senior editor and then being well-positioned to pick up his unfinished projects. Okay, not exactly. I started as an intern at Milkweed Editions several years back, and then hired on as the editorial assistant, then assistant editor, associate editor, and now just plain editor. This is a business ideally suited to  the form of apprenticeship, and at each stage I've been fortunate to work underneath a senior editor who was able to provide advice.

Curiously enough, if you'd asked about my career ambitions at eight and twelve respectively, I would have said fighter pilot and computer engineer (I'm not making that up). Perhaps there's a progression here I'm not aware of. Coming out of college I knew I was interested in literature and working with writing, and suspected that a literary editor might be a good track for me. It appeals to so many competing passions—a desire to work in a creative field; close, collaborative work with authors; the solitary pleasure of reading; the challenge of making an artistic expression palatable within a consumer culture.

  • What are some of the exciting books you've acquired that you're most proud of?

I'll always think fondly about one of my first acquisitions: Gary Amdahl's Visigoth, which is a collection of stories so potent and visceral I can't read them without laughing and recoiling, sometimes at the same moment. More recently I'm very excited about a book by David Rhodes called Driftless. I was fortunate enough to stumble across his out of print novels (originally published in the 1970s) and get in touch with him. Almost by chance he'd just finished the manuscript that became Driftless, and we were able to publish that along with a reintroduction of some of his older work. His is a great story  of a deeply talented, but neglected author finally receiving his due attention.

  • When you receive a submission what about it really grabs you and excites you to the point that you'd like to acquire it?  

Like almost every other literary editor, I read first and foremost for voice. A good story runs a close second to voice, but without that distinctive voice a book loses my attention quickly. I don't care how experimental or traditional a narrative is, I need to have a vivid sense for the people populating the story.

  • What makes you decide to read a submission overnight compared to it rotting on the bottom of your slush pile?

Having a manuscript recommended to me by one of my authors is probably the best vote for getting something onto my desk sooner rather than later. Otherwise, a cover letter that shows familiarity with our books will accomplish the same thing. I'm deeply impressed by writers who are also good readers, and demonstrating that in the cover letter is one of the best things an author can do (to my mind).

  • What's the best way for a writer to contact you? Query letter?

For some reason, a lot of the query letters addressed to me don't actually make it to my desk. Perhaps our interns are a little too discerning. As Milkweed Editions has an open submission policy, I often recommend simply sending along the manuscript. If that's not possible, I'm happy to hear from authors via email. Sure I'm drowning it, but I still take time to review queries that come in via email.

  • Are you open to receiving submissions from self-published authors?

Yes, we're happy to accept submissions from self-published authors. But I think the author has the added difficulty of explaining why another publisher (in essence) needs to publish this book. If it already exists in the world, there needs to be a very compelling reason to bring it out a second time.

  • Are you open to receiving unagented submissions?

Milkweed Editions is happy to accept unagented submissions. We receive just over a thousand a year and we read everything we receive. Discovering a gem in the slush pile is one of the great joys of this business.

  • What are you personally doing in order to adapt to the changes in the marketplace? (Changes meaning: lower print runs, shrinking book review outlets, oversaturated market and chains stores being more selective about what books they put on their shelves)

There are a lot of challenges, aren't there? First, I'm dedicating as much time to editing each book as I can to make them truly remarkable. I'm a firm believer that great books stand out in crowded marketplaces. There's more to it than that, of course, but without a great book no amount of advertising or word-of-mouth will propel it in the marketplace. Beyond that, we're being very strategic about where we put our resources, but giving each book as many opportunities as we can to establish it among readers. It's rather old-fashioned, but we rely on reviews (increasingly moving to book blogs), awards, and advertising where it benefits the book (using Facebook's targeted ads, for instance).

  • Book Publicity Departments are often overworked and overwhelmed, how do you personally make sure the books you acquire and shepherd get the attention they need?

It's true that publicists are overwhelmed, but we try to keep this manageable by limiting our annual list of titles, which is the right place to start. We publish between sixteen and eighteen new books a year, and that's proven to be very manageable for our publicists and marketing manager. Beyond that, I'm constantly in touch with them to make sure we're taking advantage of any opportunities the books have, and, if need be, I'm pitching in to do some of that work myself. The benefit of a small press like Milkweed Editions is that there's a lot of opportunity to play different roles in any given day, and sometimes the line between editorial work and marketing work gets a little blurred. In the end, everything is driving toward publishing the books as well as we possibly can.
  • What about the publicity and promotion departments in houses is not working and what suggestions do you have to make them work?

I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this, both because I haven't worked for another publisher, and because I'm not truly close enough to our own operation to have a cogent critique. I'll only say that I think publicists are put in a difficult position of promoting books they may or may not believe are good/worthwhile/enjoyable books. Granted, that's part of the business, but I often wonder what would happen if editors were required to run publicity for each of their titles. Editors might find that it's not quite so easy to gain attention for their own books, or perhaps would be a little more selective about which projects they acquire.

  • How much of a books decision has to do with the talent and how many books similar to it have sold great numbers?

I'm not sure I'm reading this question correctly. Are you asking whether acquisition decisions are made on the basis of talent rather than the sales performance of similar titles? If so, here the decisions weigh much more heavily on the side of the literary merit, or talent. Publishing by trend is something we're not interested in doing (it takes a massive infrastructure, for one), so we tend to overlook that information when making a decision about whether or not to publish a book. Of course, it comes into play later on when we're trying to convince our sales reps that this title has the potential to sell X number of copies and stack up against these other titles in the bookstores.

  • Is it becoming necessary for fiction writers to have their own platform too? If so, if not, why?

Sadly, I think it is becoming necessary (or may already be considered necessary). I say sadly because at heart I'm something of a purist and believe that a good book should stand on its own merit. But, realistically speaking, we're a culture obsessed with creators, so the author is put in a difficult position: either let the work stand on its own and risk alienating a readership, or act as an advocate for the book and build a community of readers around their work. There are examples of both kinds of authors having successful careers, but more and more it's difficult for a debut author to simply publish a work and stand back while the work receives recognition.

  • If a writer came to you with their own fanbase that they built online, or verbal agreements from a Quick Pick Committee to nominate the book, or significant letters of agreement from stores that they would purchase the book once it's out, is that pretty much a slam dunk for you to walk into an acquisition meeting and convince the team?

We're probably an anomaly in the industry, but these factors would all be secondary in that acquisition meeting. Without a solid book, none of these details would amount to much for us. However, if we're weighing two manuscripts, both beautifully-written and compelling, support like this would certainly make it a more attractive project.

Friday, December 26, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Literary Powerhouse Agent, Tina Wexler from ICM Talent

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start, Tina?
I got my start at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency in 2001, assisting agents Elizabeth Kaplan (who's since started her own agency) and Louise Quayle (who's now Director of Domestic Rights at Doubleday).  I then moved to the Karpfinger Agency for a brief stint in foreign rights before landing at International Creative Management (ICM) in 2003, where I started building my own list of clients. 

What makes your agency different than any others?
ICM is one of the world's largest talent and literary agencies, with offices in New York , Los Angeles , and London .  ICM represents creative and technical talent in the fields of motion pictures, television, books, music, live performance, branded entertainment, and new media. Our clients include the only living American Nobel Prize winner – Toni Morrison, recent National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winnersRichard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, E.L. Doctorow, and the most lucrative writer in publishing history – Dr. Seuss.   We also represent a high portion of today's consistent #1 bestsellers – Patricia Cornwell, John Sanford, Suze Orman and Carl Hiaasen.

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?
I'm always looking for new ideas backed by top notch writing, but who isn't looking for that?  In general, in the adult marketplace, I'm interested in up-market women's fiction, accessible literary fiction, memoir, and other narrative nonfiction, particularly re: popular science, gender issues, pop culture, and food (not cookbooks).  In children's, I'm keen to acquire middle grade and young adult fiction, with the occasional non-fiction project thrown in.  I'd really like to see more action/adventure stories or mysteries with ensemble casts.  I love magical realism, but am up to my neck in fantasy.  I enjoy tall tales or fairy tales retold for contemporary readers, but don't know that Cinderella can handle any more re-imaginings.  I love near-future dystopia stories for both markets, and would love a great gothic love story.

Tina, what are you tired of receiving?
I'm tired of receiving first drafts, manuscripts that aren't nearly as well-crafted as the query letters that prompted me to ask for pages in the first place.  I'm also not sure why I keep getting queries for political thrillers or screenplays, neither of which I represent. 
How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?
Take the time to do the work.  Read what's being published within your genre (and outside your genre).  Finish the manuscript.  Revise. Revise. Revise.  Take time writing the query letter.  Be courteous and professional while dazzling me with your ideas/story.  Research agents, our interests, our clients.   Realize that getting published is an undertaking, not something done on a whim.  There are books and websites and conferences and graduate programs and retreats and writers groups and magazines all dedicated to the craft of writing and getting published. There's no excuse, with all the information out there, for not knowing.  Educate yourself.  Someone who's taken the time to learn about the business while honing his or her writing skills will always get my attention, even if the project he or she describes isn't right for me.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?
I'd hope that my clients always feel comfortable contacting me, regardless of the frequency at which they do so.  Indeed, if I haven't heard from a client in a while, I'll drop him or her a "Just checking in, hope you're well" type of email, and I appreciate it when they do the same.  Beyond that, I think it's common sense.  No one wants to feel badgered.  At the same time, no one should be so afraid of contacting his or her agent that important information or updates aren't passed on.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent, Tina, that they don't seem to?
I wish writers understood that agents aren't the enemy. I know it can feel like we're the bullies of the publishing playground, refusing to let you join our game of t-ball.  But we're not.  We're book lovers who are doing what we can to get the manuscripts we feel most passionately about published in today's competitive market.  Trust me when I say, I want to fall in love with your manuscript.  I want to get that tingly feeling in my gut when I realize I'm holding something wonderful.  I want to stay up far too late reading your pages.  I want to make that phone call offering you representation.   
What's the best way for a writer to reach you?
Writers may contact me by sending a query letter either by email ( or post: ICM, 825 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10019.  Please note: I do not open queries sent as attachments, and I do not follow links to online queries.  Thank you!

Peter Miller - Literary Manager

The Literary Lion, Peter Miller
The Literary Lion, Peter Miller

Known as "The Literary Lion," Peter Miller has been an extraordinarily active literary and film manager for more than thirty years. He is President of PMA Literary and Film Management, Inc. and Millennium Lion, Inc.; he and his company have successfully managed more than 1,000 books worldwide, as well as dozens of motion picture and television properties. These works include eleven New York Times Bestsellers, and eleven produced films that Miller has managed or executive produced. Three of those films have been nominated for Emmy Awards: Goodbye, Miss Fourth of July (The Disney Channel, with four nominations); A Gift of Love (Showtime, two nominations); and Helter Skelter (CBS, one nomination). In addition, Miller has a number of film and television projects currently in active development, with some nearing production, in association with Warner Bros. Features, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros. Television, DreamWorks, and many other producers and production companies.

Peter Miller spends most of his time in New York or Los Angeles, but he also frequently tours the country to speak at writers' conferences and workshops. He regularly attends publishing gatherings such the BookExpo America Convention and the Frankfurt Book Fair, as well as various film festivals including those at Cannes, East Hampton, and Sundance.



How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Peter?


ANSWER:  I started working as a literary agency in the fall of 1972 and founded Writer's House, Inc. with Al Zuckerman and then formed The Peter Miller Agency in 1974, and then The Peter Miller, Agency, Inc. in 1982 and the PMA Literary and Film Management, Inc. in 1992 when I also founded Millennium Lion, Inc. (my film production company) and I also co-own The Story Plant  ( with veteran author and publisher, Lou Aronica.

What makes your agency different than any others?

ANSWER:  We are a mgt. co. that specializes in long-term relationships with authors that write cutting edge fiction and non-fiction with global marketing potential and well and motion picture and TV production potential. NOTE:  Attached recent press releases.

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?

ANSWER:  WE look for authors who not only are great writers but are willing to promote their work and who also understand the enormous sea changes in the industry.  It used to be 75% about how good the book was and 25% about the marketing but now it is 75% about the marketing and 25% how good to book is.  I am developing a large library of Transformational information presently.

Peter what are you tired of receiving?

ANSWER:  I am only taking on major clients with platforms so I am tried of seeing run of the mill novels by wanna be authors and non fiction book proposals that should be magazine article.


How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?

ANSWER:    It always begins with a terrific pitch letter and a great idea vs. the God given talent that is necessary to get published today.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?

ANSWER:  The authors that make the most money and have the most fun are the ones that let me do my job.  Clients sometimes forget that if we don't place their book(s) my company doesn't earn any money.  I will not allow any author to annoy my staff or me and if they do I ask them to find another representation.  We are blessed with a stable of talented authors and I will only grow my companies with winners and not losers,

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Peter that they don't seem to?

ANSWER:  I am not an agent but a manager because I also produce film and television productions.  We are only taking on major clients and we prefer clients to projects.  However, I would not turn down the opportunity to man age Angelina Jolie's autobiography.

What's the best way for a writer to reach you?

ANSWER:  visit our website;  my email address is

Thursday, December 25, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Literary Power Agent: Donna Bagdasarian Part 2

Jeff Rivera: Okay . Do you find to having a platform is more important that it was maybe five years ago and if so, why?

Donna: Platform is crucial. To a publisher, a platform speaks to audience. The reason why it is crucial now is that any Tom, Dick and Harry can get up there and say, "Hey, I got a great idea and I know I can make it work." For instance, an author recently pitched me who is not a doctor claiming he had figured out heart disease, why? Because he was suffering from heart disease and he devised a holistic plan on how to eat and live and now he is heart disease free. That is nothing. I mean who is going to listen to him? You know, that is like me saying if you eat two mangoes a day, you will be 120 pounds, that might work for me but I have no basis of any source that that would be for anyone else and why would anyone listen to me?

So first, you need the credentials. Second, you need to form some sort of grassroots following. You need people that are saying ‘Yes, this guy is right” and you need the exposure that grows from such. You start it very locally - you start it in your community, you start it first to your immediate circle, then into your community. Then, hopefully, it spreads virally and you then get print attention. From there, maybe national print attention or national radio attention then, ideally, you get television attention. At that point, the platform can start to take on a life of its own – if for instance the Today Show or some such hears about you or the New Yorker hears about something from this little town in Bussey, Iowa and they report a “Oh, there is a doctor” story, even if it’s in a small fashion, it can spread globally due to the reach of such venues.

Jeff Rivera: So, ideally somebody could actually, come up with this heart disease intervention thing and then hook up with a doctor who already has the credentials or whatever and they as a team…

Donna: That is exactly what would need to happen.

Jeff Rivera Okay.

Donna: So, let us say you would find a way the beat cancer yourself. You were terminally ill and you figured out that if you ate, you know tulips and sunflower seed four times a day, then you are cancer free. Well, what you would need to do then is go to some leading oncologist and have him get that and then, have him get on board and then both of you work together. He with his credentials and his authority in the field and the practice and you with your proven success and that would be the way to do it.

Jeff Rivera All right. Okay, great. That is wonderful.

Donna: When publishing, an industry whose numbers are very, very tight, is looking to see as if they can “back” a non-fiction book with a theory, they are looking to see if there is a built-in audience. If there is not, it is as that old adage goes: if a tree falls in the woods who is going to buy it?

Jeff Rivera: Right. And would you say it like in order of priority, would you say okay, first is the concept, second is the writing quality, third is the platform; or would you say platform is number one; I mean, like what would you say…

Donna: A) there has to be integrity to the idea, integrity to the author. B) it has to be veritable, C) it has to be supported, and D) it has to be well written and explicated in a way that everyone can access it. Meaning, I do not want diagrams and calculus equations to explain your theory or else no one will understand it. If all of that is in order, then you need to build some sort of following - a platform.

Jeff Rivera: All right.

Donna: And then, it is up to publishing to package a book in a way that holds together without needing string and paper clips and a bunch of glue. Yes, I mean, seriously – the celebrity factor can always help further a project because celebrity itself defines a built-in audience. That is what celebrity means. However, if the concept is not veritable, the project inevitably fails being all frosting and no cake.

Jeff Rivera: Right. Let me ask you one more thing about… if you are a journalist because Media Bistro engages a lot with journalists, how is that an asset in terms of platform?

Donna: Oh, that is built-in platform. A, expertise is already there. B, audience is already there. C, credentials are already there. So, if you are writing for Media Bistro and the Miami Herald, you are already credited. You already have the audiences. You already have expertise. You already have some sort of following. So, for example, if you are a Cuban-American news reporter for the Miami Herald writing a piece on growing up in the Cuban-American community in Miami , you are de facto credible, with a built-in readership.

Now, if you are writing for Media Bistro that is one of the most well-respected publishing websites that we have. So, let us say, you want to write a book about building platforms and you are already a columnist from Media Bistro talking to authors and publishers and agents, you are already on the platform path.

Jeff Rivera: Interesting.

Donna: Now the other aspect of platform building that is growing more and more important by the minute is via non-traditional media – electronic or internet media. Whether it is exploiting MySpace, Facebook, Goodreads, Safari, Amazon, blogs, ‘zines, and all the rest. It seems to be an answer to how to begin to build platforms or garner audiences, or even how to grow existing platforms or audiences in a viral way. Newer technology can be exploited quickly because readers, en masse, receive the information almost instantly. Authors are really trying to capitalize and harness these things as they grow and expand.

Jeff Rivera: So should they come to the table, if they come to the table and they are writing it, "Okay, it is alright," but they come to the table with I do not know, which is another thing just to talk about, but come to the table like 5000 fans from subscribers and that is a big platform you could…

Donna: Yes, absolutely or let us say you have a blog, let us say you write about Puerto Rican vampires having sex in The City. Well if you have a website, "Puerto Rican Vampires Having Sex in The City," and you are getting 10,000 hits a day or 20,000 hits a day, and then one day it is 100,000 hits. In addition, all of a sudden, you find yourself selling your Puerto Rican Vampire having Sex t-shirts and people are then talking about your PR Fang in the City daily update blog. And now it is real. And you can count it. That is platform building. One person talking about something specific. Then an audience starts to follow this one person blogging about something. Then bigger blogs start talking about the small blog. Then all of a sudden it reaches some sort of critical mass and everyone on the planet knows everything there is to know about PR Fang in the City. And from there? Copycat projects! Armenian Fang in the City! Italian-Country Fang! You get my point, I’m sure.

Jeff Rivera: What number like how if I come to you and I say, I have 200… I mean what number is it like, "Okay, that is impressive. That I could sell," or what number you are like, "Not so much,”

Donna: Well it is not even a quantitative thing. It is more of a qualitative thing. For instance, when these blogs start to become part of the mass consciousness of a target audience and usually for electronic or online things we are talking about a youthful demographic, when it starts becoming part of mass consciousness it is at that breaking point. I Can Has Cheez Burger is a great example.

Jeff Rivera: Which one I am sorry?


Jeff Rivera: Okay, yes.

Donna: The site where people post cute pictures of kitty cats and bunnies, right?

Jeff Rivera: Right.

Donna: And then putting captions on them in this weird lexicon. Like this little kitty speak of some sort. For some reason, it took off and it took off so well that they started having knock-off sites, and now there is this whole movement where seemingly everyone now knows that language, “noming,” for instance. “Noming” means to eat something. How do I know that? I am old as Methuselah’s wife and I know! The second something literally becomes part of our pop culture continuum then you know it is almost too late for a book. The Cheez Burger people? Their book is on the NYT list!

Jeff Rivera: Wow.

Donna: The real question is what do people actually consider a commodity? This question and how can you affect such is really the same as any other marketing or publicity technique that has ever been used. It is just a faster trajectory, if it catches on.

Jeff Rivera: Right, right, very cool. Thank you so much, Donna. This is great advice!

Jeff Rivera: If you need help with your book promotion contact and we'll find a way to help you within your budget.