The Agents’ Panel

The agents’ panel at Sleuthfest 2017 started at 8:30 a.m. Friday. I missed a few minutes right at the start (I had to bring some books to the book store, and it didn’t open until 8:30), but I heard most of what the agents had to say. The four agents were: Sandy Harding (Spencerhill Associates), Alec Shane (Writers House), Kirby Kim (Janklow & Nesbit), and Steven Axelrod The Axelrod Agency). Victoria Landis moderated the panel.

Vicki asked each agent—

What are you looking for?

Sandy wants psychological suspense, out-door mysteries, and a world you learn about.
Steven is more interested in voice. The narrative voice. For him that is more important than the world the story is set in.
Alec is looking for mystery/thriller/suspense, but he’s really interested in books geared toward young male readers (YA and MG)
Kirby is also interested in young adult and middle grade books.

What do you want in a query letter?

Sandy wants to read chapters, so she doesn’t put much emphasis on the query letter. However, the writer needs to know the market and where the book fits.
Kirby wants brevity. Describe the book succinctly. Voice is important to him.
Steven is looking for voice and a description of the story
Alec wants to know why the author has come to him.

All four said DO NOT USE A 3rd PARTY SERVICE.

Do you tweak a writer’s manuscript?

Kirby does work with his authors, but expects them to send the best they can. He said 4 or 5 drafts weren’t unusual before he felt the work was ready to send out. After revisions, the writer may still need to do 2 or 4 more revisions for an editor.
Sandy said she’s very into developing a piece. She’ll only send out a top product.
Steven said he’s not a good editor. He looks for what will eliminate a book. Does not do much editing at all.

How many queries received?

60-120 a week. Most didn’t have assistants, so they have to look at each. If they are listed in Writers’ Digest, they get zillions. (Their words, not mine.)

How do you feel about writers who have a series and are dropped?

Steven said he wants to know what happened? Why was the series/writer dropped? What marketing was done? All that makes a difference in how he views the situation.
Sandy wants to know what the author’s expectations are. That can make a difference.

What are Red Flags in a query letter?

Sandy doesn’t like aggrandizing or writers who say, “If you want to know more, go to my web site.” Or “Check me out on Twitter.”
Alec is put off if the writer doesn’t know the word count for the genre he/she is pitching. Or writers who oversell themselves. (If you claim you sold thousands, you better have. They do look up the stats.)
Steven is put off by misspelling (especially in the email’s subject line).
Kirby said misspellings in general, and talking about how great the story will be as a movie, even casting the movie. Or talking about other books.

Would you take on self-publish books?

Kirby felt if the author had multiple titles published, that was a red flag.
Alec found books already self-published hard to sell, but if the writer has new work, he will look at it.
Sandy finds it hard to sell a self-published book to a publisher. However if a writer has self-published and is now coming out with a new title, that’s fine.
Steven has bought self-published books and sold them to traditional publishers. He said Amazon is now promoting books they publish.

For you, what is the most compelling aspect of a story?

Steven-Voice. Knowledge of the world the author created.
Sandy – Character and voice. Woman’s fiction. Story and plot. Suspense and thriller.
Alec – It’s a gut feeling. A character or characters he falls in love with.
Kirby – Voice is the most important aspect for him. Sentence structure. What the genre requires makes a difference on concept.

How important is it if the writer has won a contest?

Steven – Not at all (unless it’s the Edgar).
Sandy – Shows the author is not afraid to get his/her work out, but Sandy didn’t have any favorite contests.
Alec – Thinks having short stories published is more important than winning a contest.
Kirby – Publish credits more important than contest wins.

All agreed that it’s to the writer’s benefit to be published in a reputable magazine.

What are the trends?

Kirby – Trends are gone by the time a manuscript crosses his desk.
Alec – Has noticed an uptick in first person present tense manuscripts. Also new voices, race, and diversity.
Sandy – Thinks psychological suspense is still going to be around
Steven  – Listed romantic suspense, but he also said big books are not making it.

General information:

Editors don’t know what will be the trend.
Books are already slotted for 2018, so they’re buying for beyond that.
Word count is only important if it’s too long or too short. Mysteries generally run around 90K. 140K might be too long. YA 45-55K. The agents felt under 50K created a red flag.
Regarding format, all suggested writers read their (the agent’s) guidelines. (Except, I think it was Alec who didn’t have any guidelines.)
They feel it’s best, if asked to send pages send them as an attachment so the formatting doesn’t get screwed up.
They said do not over worry when pitching (in person) to an agent. Writers are writers, not orators. Most agents/editors will ask for pages to see the writing.
Best way to get an agent is look in Publishers’ Market Place and see who’s selling and to whom.
Beware of agents asking for reading fees, editing fees. There should be no costs up front. Check out the AAR guidelines.
Don’t feel you have to do an exclusive and don’t offer to give an agent an exclusive (if not asked to).
There’s no need for you to tell an agent if you’ve queried other agents (or how many).
Even if offered representation, you don’t have to say yes.

They take on very few new projects in a year. It depends on their work load.

Tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Agents’ Panel

  1. Thanks for laying it out so succinctly. It’s a scary world out there and you’ve cleared up many thoughts. Thanks again.

  2. Maris,

    Thanks for sharing this information with us. Very helpful!

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    Fabulous information. Very good to know and keep in mind as you query!

  4. Sharon Ervin says:

    My twelfth print-royalty novel, MEMORY, is out today. Steven Axelrod looks to me like the ideal agent. I need able editors, but haven’t had much luck revising for potential agents. Have sold my work myself. Thank you, Maris, for sharing.

  5. Good info. I’d missed this panel so I am happy you offered a recap.