Welcome Agent Emmanuelle Alspaugh, who has worked in publishing for more than ten years, and has recently joined Judith Ehrlich Literary Management.
Tell us about your agency and yourself.
JELM (www.judithehrlichliterary.com) is a boutique agency that specializes in building the careers of authors over the long term. Before joining JELM this summer, I was an agent at Wendy Sherman Associates and The Creative Culture. Prior to becoming an agent in 2006, I was an editor at Fodor's, the travel division of Random House. I bring my editorial experience to my projects, working closely with my clients to develop their proposals and manuscripts. My list is comprised of about half fiction and half nonfiction. In fiction I represent primarily women's voices and romance in all subcategories except suspense. I'm also interested in historical fiction and literary fiction. In nonfiction, I represent memoir, popular science, psychology, business, how-to, and journalism/reportage. I do not represent genre mysteries.
What kind of book grabs your attention and makes you consider wanting to submit it?
I look for a degree of irresistibility in all my projects. If it makes me keep reading, then I love it. If I find myself thinking about the characters throughout the day, or having a conversation at a cocktail party about the issues raised in a nonfiction project, then I know I have something special. I look for skilled writing. Writing with oomph. Writing that draws you into the author's world. Characters so real, you feel like you know them. I also look for perfect clarity. If I'm reading along and I stumble across a line I don't fully understand, then chances are the next reader won't either. I'm not just talking about word choice; I'm talking about meaning. If I have to ask, "What did the writer mean here?" then I will likely stop reading.
What makes a writer a good choice for you? What makes you a good choice for a writer?
I look for writers who are dedicated to the craft and to their writing careers, who love to write and who can't not write. Writers who look forward to the promotion process and who have lots of great ideas about how to promote themselves and their work, writers who think about not just writing books, but articles, short stories, blogs, and more. In today's publishing world, it helps if writers are multitalented and multi-tasking to stand out from the crowd. The exception is the fiction writer who has such incredible world-building capabilities that that is all I and their readers want them to do-to keep writing more stories. As someone who is completely dedicated to promoting authors and selling their work, I'd be a good choice for any writer within the categories I represent. I believe in transparency and in quick responses, so my clients know everything about the submission process and they can always reach me.
I also believe in developing and maintaining strong contacts. Most of the editors I pitch to I know personally and many I count among my friends. I'm a regular conference participant and I'm very active in New York publishing circles. I meet regularly with editors and other agents.
How much input do you expect to have on a client's work?
A lot. I need to really love a project in order to pitch it enthusiastically, and I will work with an author on a proposal or manuscript until we both feel we are going out with the best possible work, especially when the author is debut. I provide a lot of editorial feedback, but as legendary editor Jennifer Enderlin has said, I won't go in there with a machete and a flashlight. The material has to be 85%-90% there already.
Do you consider yourself a career-builder? Can you give an example?
Absolutely. I advise all my authors on book promotion and career-building activities. For example, I encourage my nonfiction clients to write in the short form for magazines and websites. I've developed relationships with editors at many of the national magazines: Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, Psychology Today, Inc., and O, the Oprah magazine are just a few, and I've submitted to and sold my clients' articles and excerpts. This helps them to build buzz around their books and their writing. I will also sometimes match my clients up with independent publicists, speakers' bureaus, and conferences, when it makes sense. In terms of romance, I will aim for two- or three-book deals. I also have a list of resources (such as this link: https://romantictimes.com/resources_tips.php?cat=Promotion) on publicity and promotion that I send to my clients. Whatever they need, from a website to an author photo to a book video to space and time to write, I'm there to advise them on how to get it.
What is the biggest mistake you think writers today typically make in the genres you represent?
Submitting their work to agents prematurely. I believe in the potential of every project to reach a stage of "readiness," meaning that it can be published, but too often I see queries about projects that are clearly not there yet. It can take years to ready a manuscript and several months or years to find the right agent. It takes hard work and patience, and rushing the process does not pay off. How can writers know their material is ready? I don't have a definitive answer, but I strongly believe in critique partners. If your readers are honestly blown away, and if you take time away from your work and then come back to it and you are blown away, then you may be there. After that you need to take the time to craft an excellent professional query letter, and to research the agents who may be right for you.
How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?
Go for it. Writers should write what they want to write. In terms of selling different genres, we would come up with a publishing plan that makes sense. For instance, completing one series before moving on to another genre, or finding a way to publish in two genres in a way that makes sense for the fans, the publisher and the writer's career.
What kind of support do you offer clients who may have temporary difficulties in producing work?
Space and time. Writers write. Agents sell. I wouldn't know what kind of coaching to offer, so I wouldn't offer any except to say, "I'm here when you're ready." I have a huge respect for the writing process, and it is somewhat mysterious to me. I don't pretend to know what a writer needs in terms of inspiration. I depend on my clients to know that for themselves.
How would you handle a new mid-career client?
Every situation is different, and it depends on what they are writing. There are many ways to revitalize a career.
What are your thoughts about pseudonyms?
There are lots of reasons for which an author might want to use a pseudonym and it's up to me to understand those reasons and advise the author on their options. Pseudonyms can be great for authors writing in two or more different genres, so their fans know what to expect from each name, and for authors wanting to protect their identities, for example.
How have you seen the expanding e-book market working for your clients?
Yes. A lot of my romance authors published in electronic format before going to print, and it was a great way for them to start building their writing careers. So far, sales of e-books for Kindle, Sony eReader, and other platforms have not made a noticeable impact on my other authors' works.
What questions do you wish writers would ask you before becoming clients?
Anything they are genuinely curious about when it comes to publishing or the sale of other literary rights. I always volunteer the important information, and I encourage my clients not to hesitate to ask questions. A well-informed author is an agent's best friend.
How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?
It's important for an author looking for new representation to have severed ties with their first agent.
Do you accept electronic submissions?
Yes, I prefer them. I like to see a query email and the first 10 pages or so pasted into the body of the email so that I can get a feel for the writing.