Eleanor Wood (B.A. New York University, M.A. Bryn Mawr College) is the founder and president of Spectrum Literary Agency. She is also Agent for The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Her list includes authors of science fiction, fantasy, suspense and other areas of commercial fiction as well as a smaller number of nonfiction writers.
What makes a writer a good choice for you? What makes you a good choice for a writer?
A writer is a good choice for me if A) I find the work compelling, and B) I have the right contacts for that kind of work. For example, I don't read self help books; even if one came along and it seemed well written and I found interesting, I'm not sufficiently conversant with what's published and my contacts in that area are limited. As to what makes an agent a good choice: beyond the scope of an agent having contacts and experience in a particular area or genre, there are other factors: Do you "click" and feel comfortable with the agent on a personal level? Do you feel he or she is trustworthy?
How much input do you expect to have on a client's work?
Writers differ on how much editorial input they want. While I make comments occasionally, I don't generally don't offer a lot of comments, unless there's something that I think will keep me from marketing it successfully. Editors respond differently to the same work. Let the editor offering a contract - the one who's putting up the money - make editorial suggestions. However, I read the material and am glad to make comments, if requested.
How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?
There have been a lot of cross-genre novels in the last few years, and it's certainly true that readers seem open to this melding of genres. Paranormal mysteries, for example, are bringing in fantasy as well as the mystery audience. Vampire novels have cross-genre appeal, and fantasy romance has become a staple at several houses. I have a successful writer known for her mysteries who now also attracts the fantasy market with the paranormal slant she's added to her most recent mystery series. However, a writer who makes an abrupt departure from his readership may run into big problems finding a new editor and rebuilding a readership.
What changes have you seen in publishing due to the current economic climate? How do you see this moving forward through the next year?
Well, we've seen consolidation of imprints, which has resulted in a number of fine editors being let go. There's also less support staff, and editors are truly an overworked, often underpaid group of people. The number of fantasy and science fiction titles has remained fairly steady over the last few years, but it may dwindle somewhat. I've already seen a tendency to move away from hardcover, at least for writers who aren't very well known.
Has the economy affected how you approach your clients' work or taking on that of new clients?
Not appreciably. I'd say the same rules apply. You just have to realize there's a lot of competition for slots, and publishers tend to be increasingly conservative in their advances, based on declining bookstore sales. Many independent bookstores are closing, sales at the chains are down, and Borders is in big trouble.
How would you handle a new mid-career client?
That's often the hardest: A fine writer who hasn't really made it big, but is not (or no longer) perceived as the promising up-and-coming author. Look at how many established mystery authors, for example, are now published by small houses. In many cases these books are getting starred reviews from Publishers Weekly or Booklist. The works are excellent; however, past sales don't meet the high-bar expectations of the large, well financed publishing houses. How I'd advise a mid-career author varies on a case by case basis.
How have you seen the expanding e-book market working for your clients?
I've been generally underwhelmed by e-book sales on royalty statements- and rather overwhelmed by all the e-piracy on the internet. Many agents and publishers rhapsodize about the world of e-books. It is true that e-book market share is growing. However, I haven't seen that translate into substantial sums of money or improvement in royalties. I will say, however, that I've been delighted by the explosion in fiction regarding the internet for audio books. Digital downloading has been a huge boon to audio book companies and authors alike, and that has added significantly to the overall income of a number of writers I represent.
How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?
Spectrum's website gives the guidelines for submission. A brief cover letter and synopsis and (for fiction) approximately the first ten pages of the manuscript, along with SASE. If I want to see more, I'll ask for it. (I don't take electronic queries or submissions.)
"Established writer" might be interpreted different ways: someone who had one or two books published years ago, or a writer whose writing continues to be in high demand? A letter is probably best, though if it's a referral from someone I represent or work with in publishing, the person should mention it in the cover letter.