Thursday, December 18, 2008

Marlene Kim Connor - Literary Agent with Connor Literary

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

I have been an agent since 1985.  I began in book publishing after attending the Radcliffe Publisher Course (which is now at Columbia University).  I joined Random House in Subsidiary Rights and hated it.  I heard through the grapevine about a job at S&S and joined them in editorial.  I loved it and learned a great deal about commercial book publishing with quality.  S&S had no policy of promoting from within unless you wanted to force the issue, and then they would drive you mad.  So, I took a position at the Literary Guild/Doubleday.  This exposed me all the companies and was a very powerful arm of book publishing.  After several years there I decided I missed working with writers directly but didn't want the self-esteem crusher of working for someone else.  I was also beginning to think about one day having a family and wanted to be independent yet earn a living.  That is how the Connor Literary Agency began.  I sold my first book, a novel, to Pocket Books before leaving the Guild.

What makes your agency different than any others?

My agency has traditionally been very focused on commercial nonfiction.  We've repped everything from astrology to cooking to books on black hair and books on sewing.  We've represented Essence Magazine and Simplicity Pattern Company, so we're unique in bringing corporate entities to the bookstores.  We have also produced books and sold finished copies to publishers.  But essentially we're a traditional agency, looking for good fiction and nonfiction. With two new associate agents, our fiction capabilities have expanded.

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

I would like to see writers of color write nonfiction.  They should be thinking about their writing skills as something other than just writing skills.  In other words, if you're a great teacher, or a wonderful homemaker, or a strong psychologist -- and you know something that no one else knows -- write a book about it.  People of color don't think enough about sharing their wisdoms in self-help books or books related to business or simply to share something they know better than others.  Lisa Akbari, author of THE BLACK WOMAN'S GUIDE TO BEAUTIFUL HAIR knew that she knew more than the average hair stylist.  She uses a microscope on every client, to analyze their hair strand, before beginning work on them.  She has grown hair where there was none prior because of bad practices. I convinced her to write her book.  Thelma Balfour had a short excerpt about sexy astrology in an anthology.  I called her and said my dream was an astrology book for African Americans.  Her sales are terrific after ten years.  We simply need to examine ourselves more and begin to share our thoughts.  Not always fiction.  Not memoirs.  Books.

Marlene what are you tired of receiving?

Girlfriend books.

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

This may sound flippant but I mean it.  A great read.  A good book.  A well-written, well researched, confident proposal.  Confidence is worth it's weight in gold.  Confidence is not, "This book will sell like crazy."  Confidence is demonstrated in the way something is written.

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

All my writers are in my radar.  I am a small agency and know all my clients.

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

Agents are people.  We are paid for good judgement and access.  We can't make an editor buy a book they don't like.

All of us have a job in the process of book publishing: Writers have a job and that is to write a book publishers want.  Agents have to find the right house and editor and make the deal, then negotiate a good contract and then be a great go-between and source of information for that writer.  Publishers are supposed to publish the hell out a book.  That's their role.  Today, publishers don't publish the way they used to.  They don't make you a star.  You have to already be a star or just on the brink.  It's an unfortunate reality.  So that means writers should come with awards or having been published in magazines, or television/radio exposure, or they have a website and blog or a column or something. But while I say all of that, I'm a sucker for a great story, well told, that hasn't got a chance of being published in a big way.  My downfall is that I am very focused on the major houses, so if I take on a smaller book I might not be able to find it a home.  I certainly give it a try, though.