September 2 – 8: “How do you overcome the challenges of being both an agent/editor and a published author?

thriller-roundtable-logo5Wearing two hats can present some unusual challenges. This week we’re joined by authors who are also agents and/or editors, to ask: How do you overcome the challenges of being both an agent/editor and a published author? Please welcome Paula Munier, Juliet Grames, Jason Pinter, Lois Winston and Dawn Ius! Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss this!

 

Juliet Grames was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in a tight-knit Italian-American family. A book editor, she has spent the last decade at Soho Press, where she is associate publisher and curator of the Soho Crime imprint. The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, her first novel, was a national bestseller and has been licensed in ten languages.

 

Jason Pinter is the founder and Publisher of Polis Books, an independent press he launched in 2013, and the bestselling author of six novels and two children’s books. Polis titles have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Thriller Award, and Jason’s own books have been nominated for the Strand Critics Award, Thriller, Shamus, Barry, and more. He was named one of Publisher Weekly’s inaugural Star Watch honorees, which “recognizes young publishing professionals who have distinguished themselves as future leaders of the industry.” His new novel, HIDE AWAY, the first in the Rachel Marin series, will be published on March 1st by Thomas & Mercer. Follow him at @JasonPinter.

 

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

 

Paula Munier is an agent with Talcott Notch, specializing in crime fiction, and the USA TODAY bestselling author of the Mercy Carr mysteries. A Borrowing of Bones, the first in the series, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. The second, Blind Search, pubs in November. She’s written three popular books on writing: Plot Perfect, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, and Writing with Quiet Hands, as well as Fixing Freddie and Happier Every Day.

 

Dawn Ius is a professional writer and editor with more than 20 years experience as a journalist, communications expert, and published author. She has edited numerous international publications and published upwards of 500 articles in a diverse spectrum of magazines and newspapers across North America. In her first professional assignment, she interviewed former Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev through a translator. In various communications and media relations roles, Dawn has spearheaded award-winning awareness campaigns for corporate and non-profit organizations. Dawn has published three young adult novels with Simon Pulse (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), the latest, Lizzie, being a modern re-imagining of the infamous Lizzie Borden hatchet murders. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband, two giant breed dogs, and three bearded dragons. Yes, sometimes she will respond to “Khaleesi.”

 

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11 Comments
  1. Welcome to this week’s Roundtable.

    The topic we’re about to discuss was suggested to me during the last ThrillerFest, and I thought it wasn’t only appropriate, but also timely, and interesting.

    Must authors wear many hats, as very few of us can work on writing full time. The people invited to participate have that in common, they are authors, and very good ones, too, but they also carry on with a day job that is related to the book industry, and that’s not a claim many can make. Take me for example, I work at Habitat for Humanity, and run a restaurant in my home town.

    I’m proud to say I’ve met three of them in person, looking forward to meet the other two although I’ve known them at least in the virtual world.

    So, without further ado, please welcome this week’s leaders:

    Juliet Grames, Dawn Ius, Paula Munier, Jason Pinter, and Lois Winston!

  2. How apt that on this Labor Day we’re talking about juggling what has been the work of my life: writing, editing, and agenting. I started off as a reporter, and later became an acquisitions editor, writing along the way, when and where I could. Which wasn’t that much, given time constraints and the demands of family.
    Seven years ago, I became an agent, and strangely enough that career change jump-started my writing. My kids were grown and gone, and I was working from home a lot and traveling, and even though I was working all the time, I had more control of that time. No endless editorial meetings and no commuting, and a lot of time on planes and trains and busses in which to write.
    Not long after I became an agent, Phil Sexton, then of Writers Digest, asked me to write a book on plot, and I was off and running. Between nonfiction and novels, I’ve written six books in seven years, and built my business as an agent at the same time. Being an agent takes priority; it is my day job. A lot of my clients have day jobs, so it’s really no different for me than it is for them. The difference is that for me, the agenting life is much more conducive to writing fiction. And did I mention that my kids are grown and gone?

  3. Two hats? For a good part of my adult life I’ve worn three—four if you include motherhood. Along with being a published author, I worked for twelve years as a literary agent and many decades as a designer and editor in the consumer crafts industry. Nowadays I consider myself semi-retired, mostly concentrating on my writing.

    My path to becoming an agent was rather unusual. The agency that represented me invited me to join them as an agent after learning that I had helped several friends get published by polishing their proposals. I began my agency career reading through the slush pile, as well as offering editorial input to some of the agency’s other clients and writers they were considering representing. Eventually, I graduated to having my own list of clients. All the while, I continued both with my design career and with writing my own books. During this period, I segued from writing romance, romantic suspense, and humorous women’s fiction into the mystery world. I now write humorous cozy mysteries, including the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.

    In 2017 my agent lost her five-year battle with cancer. Within a year her husband, who had founded the agency in 1976, decided it was time to close up shop. Two of my clients begged me to continue representing them. So I still have a pinky toe in the agenting world, but I’m not taking on any new clients.

    I never considered straddling two parts of the publishing world a challenge. Rather, I believe it was an asset, as did my clients. They sought me out because I had been where they were and understood them as only a fellow author who had received her share of rejection letters could.

    I suppose the biggest challenge I’ve faced throughout my multi-pronged career is finding enough hours in the day to accomplish all that I want or need to get done. However, thanks to sleep being highly overrated, I’ve managed.

  4. One of my biggest challenges in writing a novel while also working as an editor was finding the time–the discrete, separate-from-my-day-job time–to get the writing done. Editing is involved, creatively personal work in which the editor should be completely invested in the authorial voice of the author they are editing–in other words, a circumstance incompatible with one’s own creative writing (at least, for me). I felt that both creatively and ethically it was crucial to have total separation between the authorial voices of writers I work with as an editor and the voice of the character I’m trying to write. So I had to be very strict with myself about making time and brain space to write. I set up writing schedules on days/weeks I am not involved in a line edit and work for blocks of time in the hours before my editorial workday and on weekends–and I follow the schedule militantly. Otherwise the writing would simply never happen, since editing is also a job you take home with you.

    As for publishing a novel: everything I’ve done to support my own novel’s publication would have been impossible without a sympathetic employer. The company I work for, Soho Press, is run by a publisher who is also a novelist, and who understands the commitment required and who has been very generous with me in terms of allowing me to take leave both to write and to tour.

  5. I came into this industry as both an editor and a writer – I became an editor by happenstance because I wanted to be a writer, and I was able to get published in large part because of the skills I learned as an editor. As for the first part–and this is true–my career started as a college junior when I walked into the office of the head of the English department at my alma mater and asked her “How do you get published?” And her response was, again, this is true, “First you need an agent.” Knowing absolutely nothing about the industry whatsoever, I learned quickly (too quickly) how to write a query letter, and sent out about a dozen queries to various literary agents, introducing myself, and asking if they would represent my future works. Nobody mentioned to me that in order to ‘get’ an agent, you actually needed to have a manuscript. So you can imagine how that went.

    Now, with six novels under my belt, the hardest thing to find is time. I have two small children (26 months and 9 months), and they deserve my attention during all the time when I’m home. This means that I have to make the most of my work day, even more so than I ever have before, and that’s not easy. After 11 years in the trenches of traditional publishing, working at 3 of the big 5 and one of the most prominent independent publishers, I ventured out on my own and launched Polis Books in 2013. We are also launching a new imprint, Agora, which is dedicated to crime fiction from underrepresented voices, with our first title releasing on September 10th. Additionally, the deadline for the second book in my contract is December. So whereas in the past, I could catch up on work at night and on the weekends, those options don’t really exist. Every minute must be accounted for.

    It’s also hugely important to me to keep my writing and publishing job separate. This is not always possible – I’m fortunate that when I go to conferences, many people there have read my books and ask about the future, but when I’m on the job as a publisher, that is my focus 100%. I never want my authors to feel like they’re getting anything less than full attention, and never want anyone to feel like Polis is a vehicle to promote my own work (this is the same reason why I would never in a million years publish my own works through Polis–plain and simple, we are not a vanity press, and I do not want our company resources to go to my books). Thankfully Polis authors are supportive of my writing, and in some instances even prefer that they’re working with a publisher who’s a writer as well, since I can empathize with their careers and anxieties and concerns, since I’ve had them myself. My goal all along has been work work professionally as both a writer and publisher as long as this industry will have me. And approaching my 40th birthday this winter, hopefully I have many years left on both sides of the desk.

  6. A very good question—and I’m sure my agent would love to hear my response as she patiently waits for my revisions.

    But the truth is, I learned early that if I wanted to sustain a career as an author, it probably meant I’d have to do more than write books full time, even if that IS the end goal. I’ve never wanted to do anything else—well, aside from that time I watched Space Camp and decided I would be an astronaut—and so I immersed myself in the world.

    I started with Journalism, moved on to magazine and newspaper editing, took a spin at public relations, communications and media relations work, transitioned to development editing for a small press, discovered book coaching, started writing for TV, and of course, sold a few YA books. In each of those careers—all of which I still do to some extent—I gained skills that have actually helped my writing, even if it means there’s a little less time for it. Development editing taught me how to rein in a story gone wild. Coaching has reminded me how to motivate myself as I motivate others. PR taught me how to promote my work, and writing for TV has given my dialogue a much needed boost. I consider it all part of learning how to be a better writer.

    While it IS a balancing act (and I’m still working on getting it right), I fell in love with aspects of each of those careers, and I’m not quite ready to give them up. So I make sacrifices—like working on Labor Day while my husband and in-laws are golfing (though admittedly, I’m not much of a golfer…) But if I’m being truthful, I need the diversity. As romantic a notion as it is, writing 8 hours a day, 7 days a week doesn’t inspire me as much as writing a few hours a day and then spending an hour on the phone talking through plot problems with my client in Holland, or interviewing one of my literary heroes for The Big Thrill. Every day is something new, and that diversity becomes my muse.

  7. What Jason says about keeping church and state separate resonates with me. I started out as a writer, and my clients know that. They also know that I spent many years as an acquisitions editor before becoming an agent. (Like Lois, my own agent, Gina Panettieri, invited me to join her literary agency, Talcott Notch Literary, for which I am eternally grateful.) All that experience informs my work as an agent, and they understand that it makes me more effective.

    All along the way, I’ve encouraged my clients to share information, pool resources, and cross-promote each other’s work. Now I’m contributing to that collective body of knowledge and experience as an author as well as an editor and as an agent. I’m happy to say that they’ve been nothing but generous and accepting of my role as author—and for that I am truly honored and humbled.

    That said, I try to make it clear that my day job comes first. That selling my clients’ work and helping them achieve their career goals is paramount to me. They’re all talented and hard-working and gracious and they’re all writing great stories.

    Because that’s my mission: To to get great stories out into the world.

  8. As a writer only, it’s an interesting topic and one I’ve occasionally wondered about when I hear of writer/editor/agents. I’d like to ask do you write in the same genre as your clients or do you keep that separate. eg only work with non thriller writers or non mystery writers if that’s your own area?

  9. Elizabeth, I’ve had clients who write in many different genres but only one who also writes cozy mysteries. She approached me years ago when her agent passed away and asked if I’d represent her. She’s one of the two clients I’ve kept on after the agency closed. If I were still agenting, I wouldn’t take on a client who writes in the same sub-genre of cozy mysteries as I do, but I see no problem with representing someone who writes in a different sub-genre. I write crafting cozies. I’d have no problem taking on a client who wrote culinary or pet cozies, for example.

  10. The one thing that keeps coming up for all of us is time. As I sit here the day after Labor Day looking at my in-box, with a flood of new emails, most of which are unsolicited queries, I think about how I can better manage my time. Mostly it’s spent reading and answering email, giving notes on manuscripts, preparing sales documents, reading contracts, interacting with editors and clients, and strategizing PR and marketing plans. I do most of my own writing after hours, either early in the morning or late at night and on weekends, which is also when I do most of my reading: manuscripts, category killers, etc. I try to limit social media to three times a day: morning, noon, and night.
    And I’m not even going to mention the tens of thousands of queries I get every year.
    You all seem to be doing way more than I am. (The fact that Jason is juggling babies on top of all of this is impressive and astonishing.)
    Any time management tips or tricks you’d like to share? Apart from not sleeping, I mean. I love my sleep.

  11. Great question, Elisabeth. I love crime fiction, and have been part of MWA and SinC and the New England Crime Bake for much longer than I’ve been an agent. (I’ve been trying to write crime fiction for even longer.) So when I became an agent, a lot of my crime writing pals said, “Hey, I need an agent.” They knew me from these writers groups, so they knew I shared their ambitions. I ended up representing a lot of crime writers, and I’m happy to say that I’ve sold a lot of crime fiction–including many debuts. I like to think that my love and knowledge has been essential to that effort.

    That said, I write K9 mysteries, and at present none of my clients write K9 mysteries. Of course, that could change if/when a client decides to write one. Or I could go on to write other kinds of fiction. Over the course of a long writing career, anything can happen.

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