June 25 – July1: “Can you define the one thing that makes you sign an author?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5With Pitchfest on the horizon we’re honored to be joined this week by literary agents and editors Lynnette Novak, Jessica Faust, Chantelle Aimée Osman, Jill Marr, Gina Panettieri, Peter Rubie, Ann Leslie Tuttle and Paula Munier as they discuss the question: Can you define the one thing that makes you sign an author? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You really won’t want to miss this!

Lynnette Novak, The Seymour Agency

Bio: Lynnette Novak is an associate agent at The Seymour Agency and is currently building her list. Prior to joining The Seymour Agency, Lynnette spent seventeen years freelance editing. She worked with new writers, advanced writers, as well as New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Lynnette earned a bachelor of education degree from the University of Manitoba, where she specialized in English and French. She excelled in Advanced Creative Writing in university and studied writing for children and teens through the Institute of Children’s Literature. She was a Pitch Wars mentor in 2015 and 2016. Both her mentees acquired an agent. Lynnette has since closed her editing business and is excited to bring her passion for the written word to agenting.

Although Lynnette was born and raised Manitoba, Canada, she now lives in Minnesota with her husband, twin girls, and many pets. Her personal interests include reading, writing, exercising at the gym (okay, that’s a love/hate relationship), working on an assortment of crafts, all things having to do with animals (if she could own a farm, zoo, and animal shelter, she would), and enjoying time with family and friends. She loves dark and suspenseful, mysterious twists, unique worlds, light and funny, a good love story, and lots of voice.

Follow Lynnette on Twitter: @Lynnette_Novak

Currently Looking For: In adult fiction: thrillers, psychological suspense, fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary romance, romantic comedy, and mysteries (traditional, amateur sleuth, and cozy). In young adult fiction: thrillers, psychological suspense, horror, mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, and contemporary.

Not Looking For: Middle grade or younger, historical romance, inspirational romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, or women’s fiction.

Clients: Stephanie Sauvinet, Christine Clemetson, Natasha Neagle, Dr. Josh Michaels, Rachel Russell, and Kristi McMannus.


Jessica Faust, BookEnds, LLC

Bio: Jessica Faust cut her teeth on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. She was riveted by Hannibal Lector and wanted to read The Alienist a thousand times over. These books, and many others, helped shape her love for mystery and desire to work in publishing. As president of BookEnds Literary Agency, Jessica has helped build the agency’s reputation as a cozy mystery powerhouse. Behind that cozy demeanor however, is a love for dark and mysterious, a passion to read more about serial killers and strong women. Jessica worked at Berkley Publishing, Macmillan and Wiley. A Minnesota girl at heart, she now lives in New Jersey with her family and their large-headed dog Buford.

Currently Looking For: Psychological & domestic suspense and thrillers, edgy female protagonists, literary and upmarket fiction, historical mysteries/suspense (especially WWII), women’s fiction, and more diverse books and own voices writers in all genres.

Not Looking For: Science Fiction or Military Thrillers.

Clients: Just a short list of some of Jessica’s amazing clients include 2016 ThrillerAward winner Michelle Painchaud, ThrillerAward nominee Shelley Coriell, New York Times bestselling authors Sheila Connolly and Ellery Adams, and Rosemary Simpson and Susan Furlong.


Chantelle Aimée Osman, Down & Out Books

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 @SuspsenseSiren.

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.


Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

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.


Gina Panettieri, Talcott Notch Literary Services

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.


Peter Rubie, FinePrint Literary Management

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

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

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).


  1. Posted on behalf of Paula Munier:

    Not one thing, but the three Ps: Promise, Professionalism, Persistence
    I like to sign writers who are talented and hard-working and devoted to craft–with a determination to succeed that will not falter in the face of the rejection.

  2. Posted on behalf of Ann Leslie Tuttle:

    One thing that makes me sign with an author? In spite of looking at the author’s publishing track record and determining what they bring to the genre, I guess it boils down to the author having a great voice. There is an obvious professionalism, polish and quality to their prose and choice of words. They have a voice that can make the most overused plot feel unique. Or makes me see the subject being described in a fresh manner. It’s about a voice that makes it impossible for me to put down the novel—one that often begins with an opening line that immediately captures my attention. Sometimes that first line is so shocking I want to read it several times. Or it just makes a bold proclamation, e.g. She had four hours left to live. For me, it’s also about a voice that is beautiful and evocative. One that can add color and experience to a place you’ve never visited, e.g. a cruise ship, the Middle East or a Paris street. One that can make the familiar eerie or disturbing. Southern Gothics come to mind because of their lush and often bizarre settings. It’s also about a voice that makes me connect with the characters and the story itself by weaving the details about the characters’ emotions into the narrative. The writing breathes life into these people. There are many ways writers can market themselves but to me, a great voice is a gift.

    I’ve been in publishing for over 20 years, and I can usually tell within the first couple of pages if the writer’s voice has hooked me or not. When it does, I find myself glued to the story. I also find myself eager to reach out to that new author. Hoping that we will connect beyond the manuscript so I have the honor of representing that writer.

  3. While every agent is looking for the combination of compelling plot, winning voice and memorable characters, I’m most impressed when the author’s work feels truly unique and fresh. Show me the unexpected, but at the end, it must feel real, and logical and credible. Editors are always telling us that they want something new – so if you can bring something that’s not derivative, that’s not written to trend, but is surprising and thought-provoking and yet can clearly be shown to have a market, that’s exciting. And if in our initial interview about your career arc and your WIPs, I see that this is something I can expect of you regularly, wow! Instead of writing to trends, be the next trend to come.

  4. Most days, it feels like we see a lot of the same types of projects in our inbox. So a really fresh, unique concept will catch my attention during the query process. And then as I’m reading the manuscript and considering it, if I find myself talking about it to friends and family, people outside the industry, and thinking about the editors I know who would probably also like it, that usually does it.

    However, these days, before I actually sign a new author, I’ll like to have a conversation to see what other projects they might have coming down the pike. Having one quality manuscript in the hopper is great. But ideally we are teaming up for the long run. So I need to know that there’s more good stuff coming.

  5. One word: Passion.

    You know the theory, there’s only seven basic plots: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, and rebirth. So what’s going to make yours special? For example, over the weekend I read, conservatively, ten police procedurals. Every single one of these ten+ submissions had the same basic plot: Officer is on a tough case, officer needs to navigate both personal and professional pitfalls to solve said case. Of those ten, I requested one. But if they were all so similar, why that one? There was something else on the page along with that standard plot. Something that, when added to really great writing and characters, made it stand out for me. I could tell the author had not only a passion for writing, but for these words.

    Michael Korda, Editor at Simon & Schuster, once said, “If you can’t describe a book in one or two pithy sentences that would make you or your mother want to read it, then of course you can’t sell it.” For some reason, despite spending months to years staring at it, authors have a hard time describing their book in an exciting way. Its the “forest for the trees” problem. Being so close to the work means that every small fact or detail takes on a mythical level of importance. Emergency Author Bulletin: RELAX. You’re a storyteller, right? Tell your story. Sometimes, when listening to in-person pitches, I’ll stop the author who has their pre-prepared paragraphs memorized in mind-numbing monotone. I’ll tell them to pretend they’ve read this book, loved it, and were recommending it to a friend. Sure way to get the passion back in the pitch.

    Second to passion would probably be professionalism. Not only in the way that everything is presented, but also that you’re willing to work with your team (agent, editor, marketing, etc.). And part of that is to always be growing and learning as a writer, the knowledge that you can always improve your craft. Those are the type of writers I want to work with.

  6. For me, it’s more than one thing. Obviously, I have to love the story, the writing, and the author’s voice. But, even if I’m 99% sure I’m going to offer representation, I don’t make my final decision until I’ve talked with the author. I want to know we share the same vision and agree on editorial changes that will make the project stronger. Just as important, however, is how we click. When I sign with an author, it’s for the duration of his/her writing career, so we need to feel comfortable working together. An author who is positive, eager, hardworking, and professional would seal the deal.

  7. It’s all about the book first. The first thing that happens is I fall in love. I can’t put the book down and I can’t stop talking about it. I get a physical feeling in my chest when I have found “the one” that I want to represent. What makes that happen is about a lot of things. It’s about a great voice, compelling writing and a story that feels just different enough to stand out, but marketable enough that I know people are looking for it. I will google the author, but rarely does that sway my decision to make an offer of representation.

  8. I recall a colleague once walking around our offices complaining, “I want to fall in love.” What she meant was that she wanted to find a ms that so grabbed her she couldn’t NOT take it on. What that really boils down to for pretty much all of us is starting a manuscript and being so captivated by the voice of the piece that we don’t want to put it down even when we have to, and we are eager to get back to it. That concept of voice is SO elusive, but it’s like good art — we know it when we see it because it makes an emotional bond from the get go that only gets stronger the more we read. Getting into that area is so nebulous like walking in marshland trying to avoid the quicksand, but the one thing I notice authors do that does not work for me, is try and seduce me with the plot of the story. Plot, in the last analysis, is a mechanical thing, a structural thing like a skeleton. It is fairly easily fixable and needs to bear its own weight but not much else. What grabs us, as readers, where voice comes from, is the concept of a character (protagonist) and how that character is brought to life on the page. The emotion of a piece then derives from how attached we get to that character and what is at stake for him and her in their quest achieve what they want more dearly to happen in their lives.

    1. I should have said, “what they want most dearly to happen in their lives.” Not really as inarticulate as I sometimes seem to be. Sorry about that.

  9. I think the struggle with this question is there is no “one thing” that makes an agent sign an author. There is a myriad of things. Ultimately I think the first thing is feeling great passion for the book. Whether you call that “falling in love” or not, it’s feeling so strongly about the book that you want and need to share it with the world because ultimately that’s the greatest joy of working in this business. Our job is to make a discovery and find the best way to share it with not just everyone we know but to bring it out to the whole world.

    Sometimes that one thing can’t be defined and, of course, is different for everyone. An agent who has more literary tastes will likely feel differently about some books than an agent with more commercial tastes. Opinions on voice can differ as can pacing, plotting and even characterization. I can fall in love with a character others feel is too harsh.

    Targeting agents based on their areas of interest and expertise is important, but it’s equally important not to limit your list based on what you think an agent might like because, honestly, sometimes we fall in love with books that we would never have imagined from a brief description.

    Agents are readers first and the one thing that makes a reader fall in love is an emotional connection with a book. Unfortunately, in love, books, and life, we can’t always predict what that emotional connection will be to.

  10. Absolutely. It’s the book that I can’t wait to finish reading so that I can recommend to someone else. The book that just has to be on a shelf. And since this is all subjective, we’re all having a problem defining it, and that’s why the book I choose may be a totally different book from the one you choose. Fortunately, there’s all kinds of readers out there for all kinds of books.

    Every one of our replies describes that response of wonder and excitement we all have when we find ‘the one’. I know authors get discouraged by rejection, but isn’t it worth waiting until you find that right agent who feels the same passion you do about your book? It’s a great feeling.

  11. One thing writers should know is that many agents (and editors) will respond more readily to books that resonate with our own personal interests and passions. Follow the agent on Twitter and other social media as well as study their bios on their website where they’ll be sharing those interests so you know who is a good match. There are so many elements that go into a decision to offer representation to one author and not another.

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