Countdown to Conference Interview Four, Agent Elaine Spencer

Hello everyone! Well I’m happy to report as of now the virus which has been kicking my tail is momentarily gone! I say momentarily because with two small children to pass it back to me I’m sure I’ll have it again! But for now I’ve got a bit of news before we get to todays interview. I found out Tuesday that my first publication, a short story through The Wild Rose Press, will hit the market May 7,2010! YAY!!! So now that edits and galleys are done its time to get back to writing!

But first its time to get to todays spotlight interview with Elaine Spencer of the Knight Agency! I know some of the lovely Sizzlers are pitching to Mrs. Spencer at the Silken Sands Conference(only about two weeks away!!!) and I’ve tortured them with not telling them her answers to our interview questions so without further torment I give you all the interview:

 

Sayde: Tell us what you think is hot and what’s not. ?

        Mrs. Spencer:  Oooooh. I hate this question! Seriously, it’s the hardest way to start off an interview. (No offense intended!)

        This is such a subjective business though, and really, right now, where the market is, I don’t see it being about trends such as we’ve seen the last few years with the phases of paranormal or erotica or urban fantasy growth. Right now with the way that the market has tightened I think that the “hottest” new voices out there aren’t about falling into a particular subgenre. I think it’s much more about the voice and the overall concept. 

        Everyone, editors and agents, is still looking new talent and new voices. The excitement that exists when you stumble across that breakout submission is still just as grand as it always was. These days however the competition is thick and there’s less room for mid-performers, so what I’m really looking for are those outstanding voices and concepts that I know will be able to have a strong presence in the market as a debut.

        It’s the pitches I hear that are so unique and high concept that I know when I give a one-line to an editor they’re going to be instantly hooked. And then of course the writing needs to stand up to the promise of the idea. I think the hottest trends are those that appeal to a wide audience and don’t necessarily pigeonhole themselves into one corner, those that will pull readers from several different subgenres.

 

Sayde: What types of work are you most interested in seeing at the 2010 Silken Sands Conference?

 

        Mrs. Spencer: Projects that are ready to be pitched. Seriously, the number one hang up I have is when someone meets with me and tries to sell me on a project simply because I happen to be there at this moment, not because the project is complete and ready for submission.

        I would love to find a great contemporary voice, something smart and witty but not mindless. I love heroines that are real “badasses” but still totally relatable and loveable. I would give anything for a GREAT new romantic suspense, something that would be start of a really compelling series perhaps. Also, compelling women’s fiction, something that gets you involved and not only takes over all of your emotions, but also makes you think, something like Kristin Hannah or Jodi Piccoult. I’m a bit over the paranormal and urban fantasy at the moment, but that doesn’t mean the door is closed. The most recent project I found in my submission box was a paranormal that was wicked smart and when I saw it I knew THIS has potential.( Sayde: I actually know this author, if it’s the same one who recently signed with Mrs. Spencer and yes it is a wicked smart book!! Congrats!) I would love to find a few series authors, these books never stop being fun and I love that when I sit down I know what I’m going to get. Really, I’m wide open, there’s very little I can think of that I don’t want. Westerns. I’m not a western girl. Sorry.

Sayde: This question goes back to the “writer rumors”, but so many times I’ve heard that agents/editors will throw out a manuscript if they see grammatical errors. Personally, this is a huge one for me as I am grammatically challenged.  Many times authors will edit and edit then send to a contest and have their manuscript ripped to shreds because they used “ing”, “ly” or “was” to much for the judges liking. Do you look for these issues when reading requested material or is it more about the story?

 

        Mrs. Spencer: My answer on this one is both. We all know that as a writer there is always room for improvement. Every writer has their ticks, the areas they struggle with, the things that they will continuously improve on as they grow. I don’t expect to find manuscripts that are spic-and-span clean all of the time.

        Here’s the thing. The hang-ups/errors can NOT be distracting to me as a reader. If I can’t get through passages and pages because of these errors, then it doesn’t matter how good the concept is, you’re not ready to be a published author and you need to devote more time to your craft. Editors these days are just stretched too thin and their lists are too large to devote to clean up the way they once did, and it’s not my greatest strength either, so I’m not going to be the best back up. If you have a problem with pronoun usage, and I can say “Hey, you need to sweet this manuscript looking for this specifically” then we might be OK. That’s a targeted thing that we can work through in revisions.

        To be blunt, in my mind grammatical errors (as opposed to technical errors) shows a lack of attention. If I see it when I’m reading I think to myself, “Now why didn’t you see that, or your proofreader, or critique partner.” It indicates that you haven’t really polished your manuscript. Rule of thumb, one or two, no big deal, any more, it starts to be something you have to make up for in other areas.

Sayde: What is your opinion on emarket vs. traditional print? I know this is a hot topic and we all appreciate whatever comments you can give us.

                Mrs. Spencer: I think that the emarket is a good thing. It’s opening up more ways to reach new readers and ultimately we will sell more books. For now our main concern needs to be laying the groundwork that makes sure everyone is receiving quality product at a quality price. And that all parties are being compensated fairly throughout the process. That is the primary focus right now of the Authors Guild and the AAR and other organizations that are being established to help act as these watchdog groups. Attentiveness to the change is crucial, in some instances if you miss a day you miss a lot. It is every author’s responsibility to be on the lookout for all of the new information being made available. To be searching for articles and websites devoted to keeping people abreast of the changes, if you aren’t doing that, you aren’t doing all you can to be an active participant in this industry and you will quickly find yourself left behind.

                 Additionally with all of these new avenues available there are going to be parties that are trying to take advantage of the changes and we are at risk for some major quality control issues. I think that’s something we all can help caution against. We are our own best advocates for demanding quality products and making sure that the ebooks we’re reading are being distributed and purchased through fair conduits. 

 

Sayde: I know that when I am researching an agent or editor, I Google them,  check their Facebook page, and tweet them. I read their posts and blogs.  I try to see if their tastes would lean toward my writing style or not. And I try to get a feel for their personality to see if we might “mesh well” if the opportunity ever arose. If you have a manuscript on your desk, do you ever check the same accounts for that author?  Do you ever check to see what he/she is posting? If so, have you been influenced by what you’ve learned?

        Mrs. Spencer: Sometimes I do. It’s not common, but every once in awhile if I find some interesting spark or something I want to know more about I’ll go out and search for more information. Really this is just an exercise in efficiency, the information I’m searching for is info I would otherwise ask about on the phone or during a meeting, but having the internet just makes it more instantly available as opposed to having to wait to have that conversation. Really the only thing I’m looking for is a level of professionalism. I could care less if your blog is 100% devoted to your husband and your cat, as long as it doesn’t do anything to harm your craft or your marketability, then its professional enough for me. And on the same token, if I see very black and white writing specific information posted, I could care less about the actual content of this information as long as it isn’t offensive in any way or affecting to your chances of selling.

        And then, the honest truth, sometimes when I’m hunting around on the internet, well it’s for the same reasons that you would. Because I’m human and humans are nosy. And the plethora of networking sites have opened up an avenue that makes us feel entitled to information that really isn’t any of our business. But hey, if it’s out there, and I’m interested in you, yeah I’m going to look. If I don’t, someone else is, and then I’m at the disadvantage. Perhaps it’s not ok to admit that, but really, I think we can all agree it’s true.

Sayde: If an author has queried you and you’ve rejected that query/partial and the author emails you asking for details on why you’ve rejected their ms, what is your process here? Do you give specific reasons on why the manuscript may not have been for you?

        Mrs. Spencer: I can’t help but feel guilty every time, but typically I just hit delete. Sometimes I want to help the author and so I leave the email in my inbox for a few days, before I know it I’m consumed with other issues and so the email ultimately meets the same fate. I wish I could offer more constructive criticism but once you open this door it just opens you up to such demands that will quickly become overwhelming. Plus, when you start to offer specifics you’ll quickly run into authors that are combative and argumentative. It’s just not worth it – and it gets too personal too quickly, especially for professionals that don’t have those transcending relationships yet.

        In my rejections I personally try to offer something, it’s always vague, but I’ll say if it’s the writing I didn’t love, or the voice, or the characters, or the pacing – again, VERY broad, but at least something that makes it personalized to the individual stories weaknesses.

 

Thank you so much for participating in the interview Mrs. Spencer we appreciate your time. I know several authors who will be chomping at the bit now waiting for conference. I would also like to announce that last weeks winner of the Gift card for Cat Johnson’s interview was commenter Miranda. Please email me with your email address so I can get this to you. You may contact me at saydegrace@gmail.com.

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12 Responses

  1. The excitement for conference builds. Great interview and insight. I’m looking forward to pitching my romantic suspense to you. This interview makes me more antsy because the pressure’s on !

  2. Thanks for the interview, Mrs. Spencer. Your emphasis that writers need to research to stay abreast of what’s out there or be left behind assures me I’m listening to a dedicated professional.

    It gives me the courage to ask you a question; and it’s one I’ve gotten vague–and opposing– ansers to before. Could you help clear it up for me, please?

    Theoretically: You’ve submitted, and published a single book with one house, but you intended it to continue in series. If, God forbid, you leave that house for one reason or another, who retains rights to those recognizable characters? Is the author allowed to take them with him/her to her next place of employment, or does the current house retain “ownership” of them?

    I’d appreciate any insight you could offer.

  3. Oops! Sorry. Dreaded typo. And to THE Mrs. Spencer, no less! I do know how to spell ‘answers’. May I please call it dyslexic fingers? laughing

  4. “Theoretically: You’ve submitted, and published a single book with one house, but you intended it to continue in series. If, God forbid, you leave that house for one reason or another, who retains rights to those recognizable characters?”

    This is case by case – all depends on the original contract language. Generally speaking though, unless there are extenuating circumstances, if you move houses you start something new. Typically a new house won’t want to pick up an existing series. Again, general rule of thumb where exceptions can be made. And again, case by case depending on contract language in regards to rights to series, characters, world, and also non-compete language regarding titles that might cut into profits.

  5. And please call me Elaine.

  6. What great information already! Wow I wish I had more than UF, paranormals, or cowboy themed manuscripts to offer, alas I don’t so I’ll stick with swindling this great info out of you on the side 😉

    I’ll ask a question while I’m commenting:

    “If you have an offer for a client from one publishing house( a small but good one) then an offer for revisions from a larger house comes in, what weighs most on your decsion here?”

  7. Saydegrace – GOOD QUESTION, the best I’ve heard in a long time. I would take it case by case. It would depend on how I think the “smaller house” would publish – if they could get big distribution and a lot of buzz it might outweigh a heaftier advance from one of the major players where the title might just get lost on the list. Also I would take into consideration the level of interest of both parties, does one seem really passionate while the other seems like they’re just chasing the market? And finally we would take the future into consideration. What are each publishers plans for the author. In this day and age its all about career planning and growth so we would work to figure out which publisher had a vision that was more in tune with what the client and I were discussing. And if the gamble to complete revisions would be worth it!

  8. […] ladies at Southern Sizzle Romance recently interviewed Literary Agent Elaine Spencer (of the Knight Agency) and they also   interviewed literary agent Joyce Holland of the D4EO […]

  9. Whoot! Awesomeness…. now what Cat Johnson books should I buy…

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