Want to learn more about the publishing business?
I’m happy to announce that Natalie Fischer, an agent from the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, is our guest at The Otherworld Diner today. She'll answer the questions we’ve collected from our readers and perhaps a few late questions you might have.
The Sandra Dijkstra Agency represents such authors as Amy Tan, Diane Mott Davidson, Kate White and Lisa See. The Dijkstra Website notes that Esquire magazine chose Sandra Dijkstra and her team as one of the nation's "Top Five Literary Agents," and the Los Angeles Times proclaimed her an "über-agent".
That is impressive. ...
Natalie Fischer has been with the agency since April 2009 and rumor has it she’s looking to add to her client list. At the Diner, we’ve found Natalie to be knowledgeable and professional, and at the same time approachable and kind –someone fun to work with.
We’re grateful to have her as our guest.
- Kendall Grey asks: What's the latest trend/fad in publishing, particularly in romance? I know vampires continue to be hot, but are there other types of stories that are picking up steam?
I hate talking trends, because as soon as I pinpoint anything it floods rapidly! I’d honestly stay away from vampires and move onto more mythical creatures, like gods or mermaids, but really, anything that’s hot hot hot and well-written with a unique plot is going to sell. I’ve seen that edgier, darker novels are doing well right now.
- Kendall Grey also wants to know: What is the fascination with steampunk? Is it really as popular as everyone says?
No; I don’t know all that much about steampunk, to be honest, because I haven’t seen very much of it.
- Carol Rose asks: What percentage of new clients you sign in a year are debut authors?
95% - I specialize in debut authors.
- Nessa asks: What are the mistakes people make when submitting their work that gets them immediately in the "trash" pile? There is no trash pile! Just a reject one. :) Submitting something I don’t represent, or a manuscript WAY over the appropriate word count for the genre.
- In addition Nessa queries: Are there new "basics" guidelines for submitting work?
Every agency has their own basic guidelines. In general, you need a query letter and a completed manuscript…otherwise, research what they’re asking for!
- Shalanna asks: Is the cozy/puzzle mystery that doesn't have a lot of gore (and is not a suspense novel) dead?
Not dead, but not selling well. It’s very tough to break into this market. Fewer editors are taking these on, though our backlist authors with a history in it continue to do well. So, for a debut, I’d avoid.
- Shalanna also wants to know: I am constantly being told that "nothing matters except what happens next"--it all amounts to what some call a cult of "action porn" within publishing. Yet I know that I often skim a page-turner and seldom remember much about the book a week later, but when I read a more thoughtful book with engaging characters, I will often remember not only the storyline (as opposed to pure plot elements) but also the characters, who are still vivid to me. When I read, I expect to experience some of the characters' inner thoughts. But then I like to read. Books that I pick up off the shelves often seem to be written for those who don't like to read and want to get it over with as soon as possible. Diane Mott Davidson writes more thoughtful mysteries, but she is established already. Could a writer publish a mystery like her first book now--or is the genre gone?
Diane Mott Davidson was exactly the author I was referencing above! She continues to sell incredibly well – but trying to sell a novel like hers now would be difficult for a debut, but not impossible. If you have a novel with memorable characters and a memorable plot that’s well-written, someone will take a chance on it.
- Toni Anderson asks: How important is setting in selling a book?
Surprisingly important. Not many editors are willing to take a chance on a romance novel set in a foreign country (excluding England) – though there are some presses, like Soho, who specialize in that (for thrillers/mystery). Time period is also important for a historical; even in regular historical fiction, novels before the 1700s start to get difficult.
- Toni Anderson also wants to know: Do you recommend writers getting their work professionally edited before submitting to an agent?
NO. That is a waste of money. Use critique partners.
- Jody Wallace asks: You mention on the website you enjoy fairy tales and legends. What are some of your favorites?
I love all fairy tales and legends…really. Though right now, there are a lot of spin-offs, so it would have to be almost unrecognizable as a spin-off (like a retelling) to sell!
- Shalanna wonders this: Imagine your ideal submission has arrived in your InBox. What genre is it (easiest to sell, your favorite)? Do you like it because of the voice and characters or the great narrative drive that pulls you along as a reader, or are you mainly evaluating it in terms of how fast the plot subjectively moves? Who will you submit it to first? Do you Google-search the author to take a look at his or her Web presence?
Historical romance. I evaluate it on pacing, voice, and if the premise is fresh enough (there are a LOT of historical novels out there!). I usually send to about 8 editors first, including Avon, Berkley, Harlequin, St. Martins, NAL, etc. Yes, I google the author.
- Lori Dillon asks: What are you not seeing enough of right now as far as paranormal romance goes?
Good writing. Often, I get a fabulous premise but the execution just doesn’t hold up – either its pacing is too slow, or the characters aren’t grabbing me, or it’s not steamy enough. (I like really steamy).
- And last, Lori queries: What is your take on time travels? Holding steady, making a comeback, or dead and buried?
I LOVE time-travels. I really, really want to find a good one. Jude Deveraux had so many fabulous ones!
- Jody Wallace also wants to know: What are your thoughts on an author's web presence beyond the basic website? Are you a big proponent of authors doing lots of social media, online marketing, blogging and so on?
Absolutely; authors should be as involved as possible in online critique groups, blogging, and marketing. It’s up to you, too, to sell your work!!
- Sapphire Phelan asks: What do you think of YA paranormals? What kind would you look for, or do you not do those?
YA Paranormals are tough right now, since there are so many out there; right now, I’d love to find something really dark and edgy, very gothic in feel, with a very, very cool premise.
- Sapphire Phelan also wants to know: How about authors who write under two names, like I do? How do you handle those?
If you’re established under both, that’s fine; however, if you have yet to publish a book, once you’re under contract for one, you need to continue to build that name before you switch to another. If you’re capable of writing a book a year for each name, more power to ya, but that’s what it would take to make it work.
- www.mysisterdalesgarden asks: Is there a fear of memoirs? How can a new writer convey that she is gutsy, talented, has a following and really wants to have her memoir represented by an agent?
Just by writing it you’re telling me as an agent you’re gutsy and talented and want an agent. There isn’t a fear of memoirs, more of a hesitation, because there are so many right now. It has to be incredibly unique to work, and almost read like a fiction novel it’s so good. Your following would have to be substantial to matter.
- Adelle Laudan asks: There seems to be more and more erotica in several different genres. Is there still a place for the sweeter more sensual side of romance and other genres? If so, in your opinion, why is it so difficult to find a home for these stories?
If by sweeter you mean more traditional romances, not erotica, absolutely there’s still a market. But right now, especially in this economy (how many times have you heart THAT, huh?) editors are having to be really picky in what they can take on. It has to be something that will really pop, and a sweeter, more sensual romantic story isn’t something that can do that easily.
- Shelley Munro asks: Are you looking for small town romances and will you consider a setting outside of USA, e.g. New Zealand?
I would consider it, however, keep your audience in mind – it has to be relatable for the American market.
- Brenda asks: Although I have friends who have agents, my idea of what an agent does is vague. What typically happens when a person signs with you? What are the steps you and the client go through before a sale? Is there an average time frame to the manuscript selling?
When I take on a new client, we go into revisions. These don’t typically take very long, as most of the manuscripts I sign are very well done! (I’m really, really picky). After revisions, I put together my pitch and sub list, and go on sale. There is no average time frame for this; it can take three weeks or nine months. If that book doesn’t sell, because I’m a career agent, we turn to the next.
Thank you Brenda and everyone for the awesome questions!!!