Scott Eagan is a literary agent with the Greyhaus Literary Agency. Since 2003, Scott has focused his attention on representing only romance and women’s fiction. He holds Masters Degrees in Creative Writing and Literacy and a BA in English Literature. For more information, check him out at www.greyhausagency.com or on his blog at www.scotteagan.blogspot.com or on Twitter (greyhausagency).
MAKE YOUR INTENTIONS KNOWN
by Scott Eagan
I am a big proponent for open communication. Too often I hear of writers complaining about prior agents that didn’t do this or that for them. I also hear this about editors that did something with the author’s book that they really didn’t like. Now I will admit that sometimes, things like this happen and it might simply be about different perspectives on the project or the direction. I do have to say, however, that I believe more of it comes from a lack of communication between the writer and the editor or agent. For today, I simply want to talk about this from the agent’s perspective.
First of all, as a writer, it is your obligation to keep the agent informed of all that is going on, as well as where you would like to take your career and writing. Remember that this is a team effort to get your book on the shelf. The agent alone can’t do it, especially if he or she doesn’t know all of the details. Now we might not always agree, but you have to keep that conversation going. Despite what you think, agents cannot read minds. It would be cool if we did, but we just can’t.
If you have projects you are considering, let us know. Give us a heads up. Sometimes, we know there are editors looking for something and you might have that project they need. If you are thinking about taking a new approach with your writing, let us know that. Along the same lines, if things are coming up in your schedule that might change your writing schedule, tell us that as well.
I have two writers that are currently doing some great work with their editors. One, is a college instructor and will let me know when she is approaching a busy time with her college work. When that happens, we slow down on some of her writing projects. On the other hand, the other author has been on a fairly relaxed writing schedule. When she let her editor know she was available, she was surprised with a great 8-book deal. Not bad, huh?
I have also had writers that simply disappeared. They would tell me they were working on a project and would send it to me when finished, and then we would never hear anything. Eventually, as I would work through files of past clients and I contacted them, it was at that point they would tell me they were done. When did this happen?
Finally, that open communications is crucial if you are having problems. Sure people change agents all of the time. This is part of the business. But I have to say, I am often frustrated when I hear an author tell me they are leaving and I never saw it coming. Even in hindsight, there was not hint of a problem. If you have concerns, let your agent know immediately. Sometimes problems can be fixed relatively easy.
The point to all of this is to talk. Don’t keep things hidden. Make your intentions clear and together, you, your agent and your editor can do amazing things.
* * *
Scott was kind enough to do double duty and answer questions for us, as well.
Tell us about your agency and yourself.
Greyhaus Literary Agency was established in 2003 with the single goal of representing romance and women’s fiction only. It was my belief (and still is) that focusing in on these specific genres allows me the chance to really get to know and understand it.
I came to the business of being an agent after several years of teaching English and writing. Even now, I continue to teach writing at the collegiate level.
I hold a BA in Literature, an MA in Creative Writing and an MA in Literacy. My background in writing and literature, allows me the ability to truly dissect novels and then assist writers in developing their craft.
Along with my work at Greyhaus, I am a stay-at-home dad of three great kids. This, of course, keeps me running with their involvement in a USA Swim team, my oldest daughter and horse riding and my youngest with swim lessons and ballet.
What kind of book grabs your attention and makes you consider wanting to submit it?
We hear this answer all of the time. “I like a well written story.” Understanding this, I want to take it a step further. I am really interested in high concept stories that demonstrate to me the ability of the writer to find something new and unique and, at the same time to do it well. I should be able to see a voice in the writing that is authentic and not simply writing that looks like it came from a “creative writing class” or a conference seminar.
When I pick up a book, I want to never want to put it down. To accomplish this, I am looking for stories with characters that are real and not caricatures. I want situations that are real but always leave me wanting to know more. And more importantly, I am looking for storylines that have a purpose and a clear direction.
I am really picky when it comes to projects. While the story may be something that sells later, if I personally am not excited about it, I will pass on it.
What makes a writer a good choice for you?
As an agent, I have to look at more than just the single manuscript under consideration. I have to find a writer that I want to be able to work with. At Greyhaus, I believe it is a team effort and together we can accomplish great things. I want to find writers that want more than simply to see their book in print.
I am looking for writers that are dedicated to their craft. This means they are open to suggestions and changes. They are open to critique. And most of all, they are willing to grow and learn.
I am also eager to find writers that are professional and know the business. When I talk to prospective writers, I tell them that not only am I representing their work, but when they go out into public, whether it is at a conference or online, that writer is representing Greyhaus and all it stands for. As for the professional element, a writer coming to Greyhaus needs to know the business. If a writer believes they are getting an agent so that they don’t need to know or learn the business of publishing, then this is not the place.
How much input do you expect to have on a client's work?
This really depends on the writer but for the most part, I like to work with writers from story conception to the end. It is always much easier to fix stories before they get too far into the process. I do like to provide critique and feedback for story elements, and, again, depending on the author, I will provide the grammatical feedback.
I will have to say, I have worked with writers that do very well and I just need to look over that final “first draft” to provide feedback. In these cases, they have well respected critique partners that have also been published so I know a lot of the problems are probably being caught early on.
Do you consider yourself a career-builder? Can you give an example?
This is a tough question. I honestly have to say, in my humble opinion, that an agent cannot build a writer’s career. It is entirely up to the writer. With that said, I do believe that it is the job of the agent to “guide” the writer. In my case, I make suggestions along the way, recommending better paths to take at that particular time.
I worked with one author (who later decided to go off and work in the newspaper business instead) who had some fantastic multi-cultural women’s fiction. In her case, she wanted to take these stories to the romance genre and really work them over. Hearing this, we were able to make better decisions to focus in on what was really important in the story – the multicultural aspect – and steer clear of the romance. The feedback we got from editors was fantastic. Did we sell it? Unfortunately, she left the agency before we were able to work through all of the avenues.
What is the biggest mistake you think writers today typically make in the genres you represent?
I see too many writers, even published authors, following trends instead of sticking to what they know. Jumping into a genre that you have not fully researched is a huge mistake. There are definite nuances to each genre and you can’t just fake it. What made that published author so successful was an inherent knowledge of their genre. They didn’t have to think about what to do.
I am thinking of a couple of authors that were very successful in that post chick-lit genre. In their case, they were hanging out in the humorous vampire and werewolf niche. I loved their writing, but they were suddenly faced with a market that was tired of it and wanted “dark” writing. So they shifted and their first books “tanked.” I’m not talking about stories that could have done better. I am talking about reviews that pretty much said they couldn’t write. That was several years ago and I haven’t seen them on the shelf for a while.
For new writers, I see many of the same things. Just because you read something doesn’t necessarily mean you can write it. For new writers, my biggest suggestion is to take your time and learn the craft before you dive into anything.
How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?
Unless the writer is really established and has a followership that will go anywhere with you, I try to discourage it. Build that readership first and then consider making the move. This is really where the issue of “branding” comes into play. You need to be known for something!
I would also encourage a writer to make the move in gradual changes. Slowly work on adding those elements to your story so that the readers, and more importantly the editors, get used to the idea. A great analogy of this would be trying to teach a kid to eat vegetables. We don’t give them a big bowl but slowly work the veggies into the meal and then expand from that.
What kind of support do you offer clients who may have temporary difficulties in producing work?
Writers will always hit this point. Sometimes it is due to writing in a genre for so long they start to get tunnel vision. When a writer hits this point, we just get them to slow down some. Really take some time to re-assess where they are at and where they want to go.
I will also take the time to continually keep tossing ideas out to a writer so that ideas are always flowing. If I am driving home and come up with something for an author, I’ll call them and toss the idea out there. See what they can do with it.
I also keep an ear out when editors are talking. If someone is really looking for something and I have an author that can do it, I make that connection happen. The nice thing about this approach is that it allows the writer to quit “thinking” about their writing and just get a pen to paper. This also allow the writer to maybe head off into a new direction.
How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?
I love when established writers come into the Greyhaus Literary Agency. Having someone who has been there and understands the business is always refreshing.
If you are established, I would want to have:
* The current work or works in progress. This would be obviously un-published but looking for a home. Use the normal submission process for that.
* The query letter should take more time to highlight their writing career, successes and where they see they want to go.
* I would also be interested in honesty in the letter. If they are moving from one agent to the next, we need to know why. Open communication is fine. I don’t need or want the gory details if it was a bad divorce, but the more up-front you can be, the better.
* Most of the conversation I have will be less about the writing in some cases, and more about the career. When Susan Edwards came on board at Greyhaus, it really was less about the current projects she had going, but more about where she wanted to go. This has been a FANTASTIC match!
What questions do you wish writers would ask you before becoming clients?
I think, with any agent, the more you get to know each other, the better. I try to keep all of the basic questions outlined on my FAQ page of the web page. Still there are some things I would want to answer, if they haven’t already been asked.
I am not an agent that massively sends out projects to EVERY editor. I am a believer that your writing fits at specific houses. It is important for a writer to know what my thoughts are about the project. I do discuss this though when I make “the call.”
I also want them to ask when and how they should be contacting me. I think many authors sit back and wait for an agent to call them. I try to tell them to let me know of EVERYTHING that is going on. Again, open communication.
How would you handle a new mid-career client?
Again, this is always on a case by case basis but the first is to really assess where the writer is and where he or she wants to go. Sometimes, by this mid-career point, authors really start to plateau. It is at this point I would really work with the writer to make adjustments to continue to tap into their current readership but to expand into new directions. In this way, the writer can re-brand themselves.
I do have to say, a lot of writers really get stuck at this point and really don’t know why they have suddenly stopped having requests for more material. Sometimes editors start to reject them? In these cases, it was really the author not expanding and growing as a writer. This is not a major issue, but if not dealt with immediately, it can lead to problems.
How have you seen the expanding e-book market working for your clients?
I really don’t have a problem with the e-book market. I think there is this big stress that it is replacing the print market and, in my humble opinion, it is far from that point. For my published clients, the e-book market has really been a benefit. With that said, I have to clarify how they have used it.
The publisher I work with will always release the print books first. Then, after a time, they will release the book in electronic format. This has always provided links to other print books and the authors sales have continued to move upward.
Many of the publishers have also released smaller e-book titles for these authors that have then promoted the print books. This too has been great.
I have to say, my only concern is the quality of the e-book format and product. Too often I see stories (as well as finished books) that look far from quality. Covers look cheap, the editing is less than stellar and the writing is really second rate. If done properly though, the e-book market is a great addition. Please note, I say addition, not replacement.
Do you accept electronic submissions?
I have two ways in which an author can submit electronically.
The first is via a web form. This way, I can make sure that the author has submitted all of the necessary material.
The second method is a standard email query. In this case, I simply want the query letter and pitch. I am not interested in any attachments. I won’t open these due to the number of viruses out there.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
For writers that are interested in exploring what Greyhaus has to offer, I encourage you to visit the website at www.greyhausagency.com or on my blog at www.scotteagan.blogspot.com. I am also on Twitter – (greyhausagency).
Thanks to Ann Lethbridge for inviting Scott to blog with us.