By Marie-Claude Bourque
Last week-end, I was very lucky to attend the wonderful Emerald City Writers Conference in Bellevue, WA. It’s great that I live so close.
The conference was a success as described here at Barbara Vey’s Blog (Publisher’s Weekly) .
I sat in front of a panel of impressive agents and editors and though I’d share what I heard from them here at Musetracks. So present at the panel, where agent Alexandra Machinist of the Linday Chester Literary Agency agent Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency, agent Steven Axelrod, editor Megan McKeever from Pocket Books, Wanda Ottewell from Harlequin (she edits the Superromance line) and editor Peter Senftleben of Kensington.
So here we go (disclaimer, this is what I heard, and maybe not what they actually said!)
On being asked about submission and pitching and what they hate, Senftleben said that if a book is not finished at the time of pitching, just don’t mention that. Pitch the book as is it is finished then send the whole thing if requested. And please don’t CC to all your agents on your list while doing an email submission (yes, he said, it did happened to him.) Axelrod said he will forget any mistake in pitching and submissions if he thinks he can sell your book, Ottewell doesn’t like receiving manuscript that are not targeted to Superromance. Machinist cautions against saying that you are a cross of a all famous authors at once. Perhaps a name or two to get the flavor of your writing but not go overboard. McKeever loves authors who are excited about their book while pitching and that have creative ideas. She also remind writers to always include the ending of the story in the synopsis.
On author promotions, Senftleben pointed that more and more publishing houses rely on authors promoting themselves and that attending writers conferences such as RWA are a great way to network, which may help in finding authors willing to provide cover quotes. On the other hand, Axelrod said that online promotion doesn’t really work that much and authors should really focus on writing a good book. Spencer also said that promotion is on the author’s plate more than ever. Authors still need to realize that their priority is to write their best book but they also do have to do something towards promoting themselves. Machinist warned authors not to get too obsessed with Amazon ranking.
On romantic comedy, whether it is a dead genre or not, Senftleben said that nothing is ever out but some things are more in favor at times and romantic comedy is still equated with chic lit which is down at this time. Axelrod commented that romantic comedy come and go and that is very hard to write universal romantic comedy, a humor that will please a lot at once. Spencer said that it doesn’t help to say it is funny in a query. She recommends calling it contemporary. Your humor will be obvious at first read and she suggests focusing on your voice while writing.
On epub, Senftleben said that sales for electronic books at Kensington are not that big 5-7% of total sales. Axelrod said the market was about to explode and that it was a fabulous way to distribute books, especially for commercial books. He pointed that it would be harder for literally fiction who depend on independent bookstores for their distribution and promotion. Ottewell mentioned that the good thing about ebooks was that books would not go out of print and Spencer mentioned that we do need to pay attention to that trend and that 5-7% of Dan Brown latest sale was still a large number of readers out there willing to buy electronics.
With fellow GSRWA member and Dorchester author Gayle Ann Williams at ECWC
On what it meant when an agent said that a submission was almost right but not quite, most on the panel agreed that this was a polite way of saying they passed on it. Senftleben also mentioned that to take in a submission, not only does he have to love it, but it also have to be good enough for all the other editors.
On what they are looking for, Senftleben takes all kinds of romance including erotica and please no terrorists, Axelrod is looking for wonderful storytellers, Ottewell wants depth, complexity and emotion for her HQ Superromance line. McKeever tell writers to write what you want to write and what you are good at. In romance, she takes paranormal, suspense and historical. She also said she likes sexy book. Nothing sweet.
So there you are. Get writing, and pitch and submit.
I was lucky enough to do a group pitch to Megan McKeever and she basically started our meeting by telling everyone to send their first chapter and synopsis. It seems to be the norm these days as far as I can see. So next time you pitch, I suggest you relax and just show why you are so passionate about your story!