With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
If you have questions for upcoming guests on the AUTHORNOMICS Interview Series, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vickie is the newest agent with Andrea Hurst Literary Management. She brings a strong editorial eye to her work with her clients, who are a range of experienced and new writers. Her favorite part of being an agent is meeting new people and discussing books and new ideas (with clients and non-clients alike). She represents all genres of YA, and Adult Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. Follow her blog at navigatingtheslushpile.blogspot.com and find her on Twitter using @Vickie_Motter.
1. You are a newer agent. How did you get into the business?
I started right out of college as an intern with Andrea. I immediately fell in love with the business (and working with Andrea). It’s all history from there! And my dad said I’d never do anything with my English degree…
2. What are some of the most common mistakes you see in submissions?
The biggest mistake is submitting a manuscript before it’s ready. So many writers submit their “NaNo” novel, a first draft, which is always riddled with errors (plot, grammatical, flow, dialogue). Actually, even when writers submit their second, third, or tenth draft, it may not be ready. Get more eyes on it–QUALIFIED EYES. Other writers, editors, critique groups.
3. You represent YA, one of the most popular genres right now. What are some trends to keep an eye out for?
I’m afraid to commit to any one thing–it might change by the time this interview goes up! That said, I’ll repeat what everyone says: don’t write to the trends. A year ago, Dystopian was popular, so I’m seeing a lot of Dystopian in my inbox right now. Unfortunately, it’s not all that hot anymore (same goes for love triangles). The trend right now seems to be “the non-trend,” something that hasn’t been seen yet, or a melding of many genres. Unique characters (your main character does not have to be the prettiest, skinniest girl) and distinct voices are a must.
4. Is there a difference between writing YA and writing adult fiction?
Yes and no. I’ll explain. Yes: the voice in YA is obviously going to sound different than an adult voice. This can seen in the way the main character notices objects in a room, interacts with other characters, prioritizes certain events and people. The themes in a YA novel are also going to differ . Lately, there have been articles around the topic that young adult novels are too dark. “Issue novels” can be about abuse, eating disorders, etc. Even non-issue novels often deal with death or loss. One reason you might see this more in YA than Adult is because adults (for the most part) are equipped to deal with tragic or unsettling events. At the very least, adults have experience on their side, and know that they cannot prepare for the unexpected. Whereas many young adults are experiencing tragedy for the first time, and the main theme of the novel is about them growing up, going from an inexperienced teen to an experienced, disillusioned adult member of society. And there lies the appeal.
No: The way Adult and YA are similar: The writing has to be impeccable. The plot has to be tight and engaging. The characters must be real and relatable. In no way is writing YA easier than Adult.
5. You run a popular blog at navigatingtheslushpile.blogspot.com. Can you talk about some of your most popular posts and what it takes to run a successful blog?
The funny thing about my most popular posts is that I’m always surprised when a post becomes popular. A few months ago, one of my posts showed writers how to format their manuscripts so it looks uniform on an e-reader, Formatting your MS, http://navigatingtheslushpile.blogspot.com/2011/04/formatting-your-ms.html.I’d posted it more for my reference, and for clients to refer to, but it remains my most popular post. Another popular post discusses one of my favorite themes in YA (which I already touched upon above): Death. http://navigatingtheslushpile.blogspot.com/2010/12/ya-death.html Of course, no surprise there; people love YA, people are fascinated by death. It works.
My other popular posts represent the other side of my blog. There’s the literary side, in which I gush and discuss everything to do with books, then there’s the business side. As a new agent, this business is still new to me, which is why I started the blog in the first place. I wanted to disillusion writers from thinking agents were this grand, unattainable, mythical creature, and really invite them to learn more about our processes. I talk about possible reasons why manuscripts get rejected, what to do when you have offers, where to go to find more information in forms of blogs, writing groups, and conferences. And I’m always open to new topics.
What does it take to run a successful blog? I guess when I figure that out, I’ll write a book. Passion, I think, is the biggest key. I see so many people with great ideas for blogs, but unless their passion can help them see it through, it flops and goes neglected after a few posts.
6. How important is it for fiction authors to have platforms when they query agents?
Not as important as some people lead you to believe. It’s about the writing, not how many Twitter followers you have (though that doesn’t hurt; marketing is you friend). If I’m on the fence about a project, a well-maintained blog or Twitter account will help. However, if I see a two-year old blog with five posts, and a Twitter account with a few updates, I won’t be too impressed. Some people just aren’t equipped to market themselves; if that’s the case, don’t worry. Your writing will speak for itself. If you want to market, then go for it. You could be the next Amanda Hocking. Or you could meet some really interesting and helpful people.
7. You’re also a big presence on Twitter. Are there any rules of etiquette for writers tweeting agents?
Join in the conversation, but don’t be obnoxious. As agents, we like to know we’re appreciated and that we aren’t talking to empty air. The best places to ask questions are when agents hold a hashtag discussion time, like #askagent or #yalitchat.
8. What is the best piece of advice you would give an aspiring author?
Use your resources. Put your feelers out there. Google. Buddy up with other writers and share information. You never know when a single peice of advice, brainstorming with others, or a contact can lead to a rounded novel, the perfect title, or an agent. Oh, and have fun. As I sign off all my blog posts: Happy writing!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope and a reader for Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.