What Are Agents Looking For? Find out With Greyhaus Literary Agency, Agent Scott Eagan

Hello and welcome to the final day of the Southern Sizzle Romance Blog anniversary. First let me say a HUGE thank you to all the guests, commentors, and other Sizzle authors. This month we’ve had the pleasure of so many great posts and today is no different.  Today’s guests blogger is Greyhaus Literary Agency agent Scott Eagan. Thank you to him for joining us today. A few months ago I had the pleasure of sending Mr. Eagan a partial submission of my latest urban fantasy, although he ultimately passed on the work I’ve continued to follow him on twitter and his blog. I’ve read a lot of blogs over the years and Mr. Eagan’s blog is by far one of the most informative so when it was time to send invitations out for our blog guests I knew I had to invite him.

Today’s topic is What Are Agents Looking For, which is one thing we are all wanting to know!

WHAT ARE AGENTS REALLY LOOKING FOR?

 

            One of the most common questions agents (and editors) hear at conferences as we sit on panels is “so what is it you are looking for in a submission?” Of course, every time you hear that question the answer always seems to be the same response. “I’m looking for a story with a great voice, a fantastic high concept and characters that grab me.”

            Now, for most writers, this is not the answer they were looking for. In all likelihood, they were looking for something such as, “I’m looking for a paranormal romance with a ghost and a vampire taking on the forces of the angels and demons. The story should be in 3rd person and have an amazingly hot looking character like Hugh Jackman.” Sorry, but that response in not going to happen. Still, if the writers were really listening to what the agents said, they had everything they would need.

            As an agent, we have several things we are looking for. Despite what many writers tell each other, “If you have a great story it will sell,” there really is much more than that. When we read those submissions, for the most part, we are all looking for the same things:

  • High Concept
  • Voice
  • The Story
  • The Marketablity
  • The Author

Let’s look at each briefly

HIGH CONCEPT What do we want here? Not some flashy line that you have crafted in a workshop. We’re talking about the story here. Agents and editors are looking for something new and unique. Not strange, just a new twist on what is selling out there. I had an author once that was rejected by an editor for just this thought. The editor stated, “Your writing is fantastic and is equal to [insert NY Times Author] but we already have that person. Find a way to give us a new twist.

I was talking to a Harlequin editor in Orlando and her comment was the same thing. “All of the submissions we see seem to be copies of what we already have. Give us that new twist.” Agents want the same thing.

VOICE What we want with voice is something that comes across naturally off the page. We aren’t interested in your ability to use the right words, we want to see a great voice that sounds like you are talking to us. One of the last authors I signed, Stephanie Stiles,  has a book coming out next year called TAKE IT LIKE A MOM. Now, when I read her story it was the voice that sold me. It just screamed personality and the editors also loved it. We started marketing it on Jan. 11,, 2010 and had sold it to NAL by the 25th of the month.

THE STORY This is key. We aren’t just looking for two great characters with no plot. Along the same lines, we aren’t looking for a book of action with no point. The story has to be a great blend of character, plot, conflict and all tied together with a purpose. Think back to junior high and your first discussions about literature – THEME, CHARACTER, PLOT, SETTING, CONFLICT. That is what we want.

MARKETABILITY Remember, this is a business. We have to have a product we can sell. You might have a fantastic story, but if the story is not something the public will buy, then the editors will not pick it up either. This is even more the case with new authors. It is simply too big of a gamble to try to sell a new author with something completely out there. I don’t care if you have friends who want to read the book, we need to have a sense that the general public will want to buy the book.

THE AUTHOR As an agent, this is a big one. Remember that this is a team and the agent and the author have to work together. We have to have the same goal and the same focus. If you have a great book but can’t work with an agent, or listen to what they have to say, you will really struggle in this business. I have heard a lot of great stories out there, but had to pass because the personality of the author really clashed with the approach I take.

Thank you again for stopping by. For more information on Mr. Eagan please check his website out and be sure to follow him on twitter. http://www.greyhausagency.com and on twitter as  http://twitter.com/greyhausagency

Canceled Contract? WHAT IS THAT?? Find out from Author Brandi Hall

Hello everyone! Welcome to day 12 of the Sizzler’s anniversary month! We have already had some fantastic guests this month ranging in a wide variety of topics. Today I’m honored to have friend and author Brandi Hall with us. Her topic today is one that is not widely discussed but should be. It’s one of the horror stories that we all hope never happens to us but know deep down it could. But Brandi is proof that authors can forge forward and survive a canceled contract! So without further babbling here is author Brandi Hall and her discussion on canceled contracts.

The Tough Decisions No One Wants To Make—or Talk About

You know how they say, “be careful what you wish for”? Well, I now understand what that means. After finishing my first novel, my hopes and dreams of being published were just like any other debut author’s.   But along the way, I slowly lost sight of that bright and shiny brass ring and was willing to settle for an oddly tarnished one instead. I’m sure you’re asking yourself “but why?” The simple answer is: I lost faith. Not faith in the industry. I lost faith in myself.

After countless agent rejections from queries, partials and full requests, I came to the conclusion that I was never going to land an agent with my first manuscript. Yes, I revised and tweaked my ass off, but it was still never quite right. So when I saw a post come through the FF&P loop about a new publisher who was looking out for the “author”, I jumped at it. Low and behold, they offered me a deal I was only too eager to accept. 

Now don’t go thinking I was some dumb blonde who locked myself into a bad deal—because it wasn’t like that. I hired an attorney to help me work through it, and the contract was fairly decent in the end. But sometimes, it’s not what’s in the contract you have to worry about—it’s what’s not. The contract was surprisingly author friendly, but it was also filled more with more holes than Swiss cheese. Even though my gut said “run”, I still signed the deal because deep down, I hoped I was wrong. Well let me just say—I wasn’t. Always listen to your instincts!

After close to five months of promoting, cover designing, revising and editing, my book was just about ready for the copy editor. What I didn’t say is that during those five months, I was initially given an editor who’s never read or edited in my genre (huh?), I was deceived in numerous ways, and my release dates kept getting mysteriously bumped back because of funding. But still, I was pushing forward to release my book. But one afternoon, I started reading a few blogs from one of my dream agents—and I received the wake-up call I wished I’d gotten months earlier. Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency posted a blog called “Don’t Give Up and Sell Out”—and it most likely saved the life of my writing career. That afternoon, I wrote the most difficult email I’ve ever written, and I canceled my contract and asked for my rights back. Fortunately, my forceful email compelled them to return my rights immediately. But that might not be the case for other publishers. I’ve certainly heard horror stories of it taking more than two years to get back rights.

I’m not here to go down the path of bashing the publisher, because that’s not the intent of this blog. But if I can share my bad experience to help any unsigned/unpubbed authors from making the same mistakes I did, then maybe something good will come out of this nightmare. The most important lessons I learned from this are:

  1. Never give up on finding an agent. You deserve an advocate who will look out for you and your writing. They know what to look for and if something critical is missing, they’ll spot it immediately.
  2. If an offer seems too good to be true—it probably is.
  3. Research and ask questions. This is your career and anything unanswered will only eat at you—or bite you in the ass later when it’s too late.
  4. Don’t be afraid to say “NO!” If you have even the tiniest bit of doubt about a contract you’re offered, don’t do it! Once your name is linked with a less than reputable publisher, it’s on your resume forever.

 

I recently attended RWA Nationals in Orlando where something painful and embarrassing kept happening. Because I sold my book, I was given a ribbon to wear that said “First Sale”. Since I technically did make the sale, I decided to wear it, not realizing the can-of-worms it would open up. By the end of day two, I could no longer handle explaining that I canceled my deal—and why. Needless to say, each time I was asked something, it was like tearing the band-aid off all over again. Even worse, I was humiliated to mention the publisher’s name. I felt like a colossal idiot for falling into such an amateur trap. Trust me when I say, you never want to be in this position. You should be proud of the choices you make.

At the end of the day, you started out in this business with a specific goal in mind. So whether you dream of landing a huge publisher to make it big—or you’re simply trying to supplement your income—don’t settle for less than what you want, just to be published. It’s not worth it. Your writing career will only be as good as you make it. If your work isn’t strong enough yet to get an agent or solid book deal—work harder to make it the best it can be. You only have one chance to make a first impression on your readers.

 Thank you to Brandi for being with us today and discussing a very touchy subject!

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