July 9 – 15: “What is the most common mistake writers make in approaching an agent?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5With ThrillerFest starting this week and Pitchfest on Thursday we’re honored to be joined this week by literary agents and editors Jill Marr, Chantelle Aimée Osman, Gina Panettieri, Peter Rubie, Ann Leslie Tuttle, Paula Munier and Terrie Wolf as they reveal the most common mistake writers make when approaching an agent. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You really won’t want to miss this!

Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
www.dijkstraagency.com

Bio: Jill is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She graduated from San Diego State University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in History. She has a strong Internet and media background and nearly 15 years of publishing experience. She wrote features and ads for Pages, the literary magazine for people who love books, and continues to write book ads for publishing houses, magazine pieces and promotional features for television. After writing ad copy and features for published books for years she knows how to find the “hook” and sell it.

Clients: In fiction, Robert Pobi, Robert Rotstein, David Burnsworth, Janie Chang, Nancy Allen, David Freed, Neal Griffin, Jon Miller, J Lincoln Fenn, Eyre Price, Stacy Allen, and Jaden Terrell, Jacob Appel, Alice Blanchard, Don Bruns, Alex Dolan, Jody Gehrman, and Maureen Lindley. In non-fiction, Travel Channel’s Nick Groff, actor Fred Stoller, Christina Pesoli, Scott Bonn, Kristina Rizga, Leanne Shirtliffe, singer-songwriter Laura Roppé, Christopher Finan, Mark Johnson, Hana Ali, Pramila Jayapal, and Garrett Madison.

 

Chantelle Aimée Osman, Down & Out Books
www.downandoutbooks.com

Bio: Chantelle Aimée Osman is an editor at Down & Out Books, New Wave Crime Division. The former editor-in-chief of RT Book Reviews and a freelance editor for over 10 years, she is the co-host of the Crime Friction podcast as well an instructor at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Authors at Large and LitReactor. Find her on Twitter @SuspenseSiren.

Currently Looking For: Mystery, thriller and suspense, particular new and unique voices representing all aspects, lifestyles and cultures of the modern world.

Not Looking For: Non-Fiction, Poetry, or anything outside of the above categories.

 

Peter Rubie, FinePrint Literary Management
www.fineprintlit.com

Bio: Peter Rubie, is CEO of FinePrint Literary Management, where as a literary agent he represents a broad range of high-quality fiction and non-fiction. He’s a former BBC Radio and Fleet Street journalist, who was a member of the New York University publishing faculty for ten years, teaching the only university-level course in the country on how to become a literary agent. For several years he was the director of the book publishing section of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. Prior to becoming an agent, Peter was an in-house editor for Walker & Co., for nearly six years, whose authors won prizes and critical acclaim. He has also worked independently as a book doctor for what is now Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and other mainstream publishing companies. He was once a regular reviewer for the international trade magazine Publishers Weekly and is a published author of both fiction and non-fiction. A member of the Association of Authors Representative (AAR), he regularly lectures and writes on publishing and the craft of writing. (Blog: https://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article_center.php?in_type=263)

Clients: Luke McCallin (The Man from Berlin), Chris Goff (Birdwatching mysteries, Dark Waters), J. Madison Davis (Dub Greenaway mysteries, Murder of Frau Schutz, Edgar nominated for Best First Novel, And the Angels Sang), Macolm Shuman (Mysterious Press mysteries), Vicki Stieffel (Bone Man, Body Parts), and William P Wood (Rampage, Sudden Impact).

 

Ann Leslie Tuttle, Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret LLC
www.dystel.com

Bio: Ann Leslie Tuttle joined DG&B in 2017 after working for 20 years at Harlequin Books where she most recently was a Senior Editor. At Harlequin, she was fortunate to work on an extensive and varied list of bestselling and award-winning titles in romance and women’s fiction. She received her B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. from the University of Virginia. Finding and nurturing talented new writers has always been Ann Leslie’s passion. Ann Leslie lives in New York City with her husband and young daughter, who is just discovering the magic of books and writing.

Currently Looking For: I am actively seeking romance, including romantic suspense, and women’s fiction. Within women’s fiction, I am seeking thrillers, psychological suspense, historical fiction and commercial and upmarket fiction that focus on friendship, and the bonds between mothers and daughters and sisters. I’m especially drawn to projects that have well developed emotional conflicts and fully realized characters; provide a fresh take on a familiar subject, and include a strong sense of place. The South and Southern Gothics especially captivate me as do foreign locales.

Not Looking For: Dystopian, New Adult, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery or Horror.

Current Authors: USA Today bestselling author Tara Taylor Quinn; PW bestselling authors Debbie Herbert and Jenna Kernan; debut authors Sloane Calder, Lisa Kröger, Amanda Hopkins and Carolyne Topdjian.

 

Paula Munier, Talcott Notch Literary Agency
www.talcottnotch.net

Bio: Paula Munier brings twenty years’ experience as a writer, acquisitions editor, and content specialist for such media giants as Disney, WGBH, and F&W Media to her work as a literary agent. She’s the author of PLOT PERFECT: Building Unforgettable Stories Scene By Scene. Munier has been with Talcott Notch Literary for three years. In that time she’s sold projects to HarperCollins, St. Martin’s Press, Sourcebooks, Penguin Random House, Skyhorse Publishing, Kensington, Career Press, Koehler Books, Crooked Lane Books, Entangled, F&W Media, New Horizon Press, and Five Star, among others.

Currently Looking For: Crime fiction of all kinds, true crime, women’s fiction, literary fiction, high-concept SF/fantasy, YA, and nonfiction.

Not Looking For: Paranormal, picture books, memoir, and poetry.

Clients: Kim Van Alkemade (Orphan #8), Brian Thiem (Red Line), Cate Holahan (Dark Turns), Michele Dorsey (No Virgin Island), Vaughn Hardacker (Sniper), Cynthia Riggs (the Victoria Trumbull Martha’s Vineyard mysteries), Kate Flora (Death Dealer), Meera Lester (the Henny Penny Farmette mysteries), James T. Shannon (Dying for Attention), and Richard Thomas (Disintegration).

 

Terrie Wolf, AKA Literary Management
www.akalm.net

Bio: Terrie Wolf, a full member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives) and founder of AKA Literary Management, is a literary agent and foreign rights manager with a background in publishing, international media and criminal investigations. This fourth-generation Colorado ranch kid has built a solid reputation working with authors and entertainers across the globe and has literally traveled the world in search of real answers and unforgettable stories, but she might tell you the skills she developed as a member of The Greatest Show on Earth helped best prepare her – and her clients, no doubt – for the topsy-turvy, ever-changing, literary industry.

Currently Looking For: Fiction: crime fiction of any kind, commercial women’s fiction, inspirational, and most nonfiction. Think: anything between Hallmark Channel and Shonda Rhimes (How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, etc.).

Not Looking For: N/A

Clients: Terrie’s fiction clients include Margaret Mizushima, Climate Nexus editor and former White House liaison Jeff Nesbit, Brooks Mencher, and C.C. Harrison. Terrie also represents nonfiction notables like Maria Shriver, QVC’s Toni Brattin, Ted White aka “Jason” from Friday the 13th fame, and a member of the Wahlberg troupe whose book will be released in 2020, among others.

 

Gina Panettieri, Talcott Notch Literary Services
www.talcottnotch.net

Bio: Gina Panettieri is Founder of the Milford, Ct-based Talcott Notch Literary, a three-member literary agency seeking the freshest voices in adult and juvenile fiction and nonfiction. Some of her more prominent recent sales includes the WSJ-bestselling WAR SHADOWS by Andrews & Wilson (Thomas & Mercer), the Hillerman Prize-winning THE HOMEPLACE by Kevin Wolf (St. Martin’s Press), and her auction of Talcott Notch’s own Paula Munier’s A BORROWING OF BONES in a six-figure sale to Minotaur, debuting in September.

Currently Looking For: Fiction – mystery, thrillers, suspense, psychological suspense, upmarket women’s fiction, action-adventure and historical fiction; nonfiction – memoir, true crime, history, career, cookbooks, medicine and fitness, travel, parenting, self-help, coffee table books, juvenile fiction and nonfiction for middle-grade and young adult, particularly books that address timely and topical issues.

Not Looking For: Poetry, short story collections by new writers, novellas, and textbooks.

Clients: Jeffrey Wilson and Brian Andrews, Scott Deitche, Dr. Seth Meyers, Drew Eric Whitman, Paula Munier, Kevin Wolf, A.E. Rought, Sara O’Shaughnessy, Peter Tupper, and Rick Morris.

 

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8 Comments
  1. The most common mistake a writer can make in approaching an agent is being unprepared. Jumping the gun and querying on a manuscript that isn’t submission-ready, not studying the agent’s submission guidelines, not taking the time to really get to know the agents working in your genre (you can learn a good deal by following Twitter, blogs, FB, etc). I have literally never in all my time as an agent made an offer on an author who clearly just picked my name out of a listing and fired off a unpersonalized query. And I’ve never offered on something the author has later admitted was a first draft.

    Slow down, take your time. Polish your work. Let it breathe. I know you’re excited about your creation and you can’t wait to share it with the world and get it into the hands of someone who can help do that, but you’re only hurting your chances if you try submitting it too early or aren’t taking the time to find the right agents to send it to, and then craft a query letter that shows you know what that agent does and why your work would fit well.

    Do you know that all of us, as agents, receive letters from people who query us or submit to us, telling us that if we do not answer back positively almost immediately, the author intends to self-publish because they can’t or won’t wait. That’s a red flag. Our previous roundtable was about the editing process and the time we take with the author to prepare the book for submission to publishers after we accept it. Good work takes time.

    There are lots of things that can go wrong in the query letter and in the rest of the process, it’s a relationship, but those are other roundtable discussions! Good luck!

  2. Like Gina said, bringing your A-game to the table already sets you up for success, and being prepared should make you less nervous. The ability to deal with rejection is also essential. It can be so easy to get discouraged. This goes hand-in-hand with doing your homework before pitching. If you’re approaching the wrong agent (they don’t represent your genre, etc.), you’re more likely to get those rejections. But, remember that what you are doing is creating your team. Hopefully, your agent will be an essential part of that for a very long time. You may not actually fit with your number one choice, and that’s okay. You want to make sure the agent is the right personality match for you, and you only want to work with someone who is as passionate about your work as you are. Just like any other significant relationship, the process can take a while before you find the right one for you, and there could be a lot of bumps along the way.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly. In few words: unprofessionalism (not bothering to learn how the industry works, which is what we’re trying to help you with here), and an unwillngness (through a lack of experience) to work with agents in the editorial process as we’ve previously discussed.

    Nothing aggravates me more than a potential client, or even a current client clinging to the rather patronising, “Just send it out and let’s just let the editor decide what needs to be done,” school off thought, rather than listen to suggestions the agent may have to make the material stronger. We’re looking for partners, and expect that we give and get the respect and sensitivity partners owe each other, whether in personal circumstances or in business. Do not treat us as though we are a resented necessity in order for people to see how fabulous you are. I’m not the right agent for you. If you want the equivalent of a used car salesman (and there are certainly agents out there who espouse that approach) knock on someone’s else’s office door.

  4. Posted on behalf of Paula Munier:

    Writers shop their work to agents and editors before they are ready. Before they have mastered their craft, before they have written a story that can find a readership in today’s tough marketplace. I tell writers that they will publish when they find the sweet spot where their talent meets the marketplace. If they’re ready, I can help them do that. If they’re not, I tell them to keep working at it and try me again in a year or two or…

  5. Posted on behalf of Jill Marr:

    We see a lot of mistakes. Often. I read queries from writers who don’t know their genre, don’t know their market, and can’t really figure out what sets their protagonist apart from compelling characters in other books. But the biggest mistake I see lately is the skimpy and/or non-existent bio.

    Writers focus so much on synopsizing their story in their queries that sometimes they don’t bother to leave room for the very important bio section. More and more we are hearing from publishers that they are looking for “platform fiction.” That used to be the case for non-fiction but it’s an actual THING for fiction now as well. Who are you? What have you done to get this manuscript to the point where it’s ready to be read by agents? And how can you help promote the book when it’s released to the public? That information is more important now than ever.

    Even if you feel that you don’t have much to share bio-wise, you still need to offer up something. You’re a writer, get creative. Though try avoid things like telling us what your day job is (if it has nothing to do with writing or your project), or using the too often-seen “I kept a diary all my life and it’s been a dream of mine to have a novel published one day.” Instead, focus on what you have done in a meaningful way to get where you are, even if it feels trivial to you. If you have attended writing conferences, workshops, etc. Tell us! If you work with a read and critique group. Tell us! Are you active on social media, do you have a mailing list, has the manuscript been professionally edited, do you know influencers? Tell us!

    Because if I’m on the fence about taking a look at a project and there’s no bio in the query, I’ll most likely pass.

  6. As you’ve read from the comments above, one of the most common mistakes is that the author hasn’t done enough homework on the agent they are querying. Just as you would do research for a job interview, it is helpful to know as much about the agent’s personal preferences, their agency and some of their recent sales as possible. There are tools that you can check such as #MSWL on Twitter that will outline even more specifically what a given agent is seeking. You can also read the acknowledgements that some of your favorite authors provide in their books–or authors whose work you feel is similar in tone or theme to your own–and consider if they might be a good match for you. Similarly, when you are querying, you should be aware of what each agency requests in their submission guidelines as they can vary from agency to agency.
    In addition, queries that run on too long can be a bit of a turnoff. Ideally you should be able to capture the essence of your story and it’s key themes in a paragraph or two that provides a strong, succinct pitch. You also want to be able to reference one or two competitive titles but in so doing, you need to make sure they are relatively current, seemed to sell well with generally good reviews and are an accurate reflection of your project. Often when I “interview” a prospective client, I will ask them why they thought certain titles were reflective of their work.
    Another common mistake can occur with the bio you provide. Some writers leave this off completely, which is a red flag. Ideally, it should show why you are the best person to write a particular title, what writing conferences or awards you’ve received, if you hold an MFA or are part of a critique group with published writers and the extent of your social media platform. Sometimes too much personal information will make me question the author’s commitment to establishing a career as a writer. Perhaps, he or she is too busy to do what it will take to sell and promote the work.
    And, finally, if you do receive a pass, it is best to recognize that you and that particular agent are not a good fit. Why would you want someone who doesn’t have a passion for your project representing you? I’ve had some authors respond to a pass either questioning my judgement, which is often a matter of personal taste, or pitching additional projects when we clearly did not connect. If an agent does not want to work with you, it is best to move onto another one who might be more attuned to and excited about your voice and project.
    I wish you all the best in querying agents.

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