Agents Panel at Sleuthfest2018


left to right: Mitchell Waters, Annie Bomke, Evan Marshall, Jenny Bent and Michael L. Joy

The Agents’ Panel was moderated by Michael Joy, Co-chair of Sleuthfest 2018. The four agents on the panel were: Mitchell Waters, Literary Agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd.; Anne Bomke, The Annie Bomke Literary Agency; Evan Marshall, The Evan Marshall Agency; and Jenny Bent, The Bent Agency.

Michael asked questions, which I’ll paraphrase here, and the agents answered.

How many submissions do you get a day or week?

Waters: 40 – 50 a week. Mostly email. Nowadays snail mail gets his attention because he receives so few that way.
Bomke: 7 – 10 a day. She prefers email. She said sometimes snail mail has a cigarette smell.
Marshall: 25-30 a day. He gets almost 100% email. He does YA and Fantasy.
Bent: Does not take snail mail. Her numbers are around the same as the others. She’s closed to queries now, but said she’d take queries from people at the conference if they mentioned that when they contacted her.

What are you looking for now?

Domestic suspense. They mentioned Laura Lippman’s new one is doing well. They want stories that are female driven In the fashion of Gone Girl, Woman in the Window.

Marshall said he’s looking for well written Amish romances. Romances that are sexy/erotic. (He said they have words and acts that will shock you.) In mystery, he likes cozy and historical mysteries, but with cozies the writer has to come up with something fresh.
Bomke likes psychological suspense and cozies, but no paranormal, vampires, angels or devils.
Waters is not looking for psycho killer mysteries. He likes the P.D. James approach to murder. Mysteries devoted to solving a crime. He does like historical fiction and mysteries.

What guarantees a rejection?

Don’t say: fiction novel (a novel is automatically fiction)

Waters: misspelling, typos in query or first page, and if he can tell you’ve submitted to multiple agents (by using blind copies with the email).
Bomke: the writer misspelling name, submissions that aren’t the genres she represents. Submissions that are above or below the required word count for the genre. Name of sender is different person from the one sending it. No name of the book or their name in the query.
Marshall: A query that lists all possible genres; i.e., “It’s a erotic romantic suspense, paranormal thriller time travel.” Lack of knowledge of the genre. Queries for genres he doesn’t handle. And don’t try using the blind CC. He can tell if it’s sent to multiple agents. They didn’t say multiple submissions were bad, just don’t use one email to submit to a dozen agents at the same time.
Bent: She’s turned off by queries that say, “This isn’t a …” Queries using tiny fonts. (Use Times New Roman 12 point) If an attachment is sent, it must be easy to open. Word or PDF. She prefers Word docs.

Most of the agents said they didn’t want attachments, unless they ask for one. They said to go to the agent’s website and see what an agent actually wants.

What is Up-Market fiction?

Book Club fiction. Character driven or plot driven. A well written commercial plot. The kind of book that would have discussion questions at the back of the book. A story to think about.

What happens when an agent takes on a writer?

Bent: An agreement signed. A couple rounds of edits. (She does a lot of editing before she submits to editors.) When she feels the book is ready, she does a wide submission. If more than one publisher interested, they hold an auction. She has a UK colleague who submits the book over there and worldwide.
Marshall: Usually asks for some editorial changes. Client signs a contract. He does multiple submissions (because many editors nowadays are not responding with a yes or no.) He shows the book to foreign rights agents and film agents.
Bomke: Also gives editorial feedback. She said that might take 6 months. She also sends out to multiple editors. She said she sometimes never hears back. She grants worldwide rights.
Waters: He said agents are as frustrated by lack of responses as writers are, but he feels sorry for editors who have lots of work. (He said they’re overwhelmed nowadays.) He feels that’s a shame because personal responses showed an editor’s tastes, which made knowing which editors to submit to easier.

How can writers get feedback?

Critique groups. Conferences. Beta readers (You can find them on-line) If an agent or editor says something in a rejection letter about contacting him/her again, DO SO! Also, thank an editor or agent for taking the time to read the submission. Follow agent on Twitter or Facebook. Find out what they’re reading. Go to #mswishlist on twitter. (MsWishlist)

What should a self-published author send to an agent?

Unless a self-published book sells 8,000/month for every month published, they’re not interested in what’s already out there. Sales must be consistent. They’ll want the sales figures for all of that author’s self-published books. (That’s even true for traditionally published authors.) Pricing is important. Selling a million copies at .99 cents is not impressive.

Send new work. It’s not as easy to re-sell self-pubs as it once was. The writer needs a strong platform. Forget doing a series that was started as self-published. Even traditionally published series that are dropped are difficult to find new publishers for.

Do short stories help?

Not essential, but it is a credential. Shows you have fans.

How to promote?

 A website is essential. A writer can’t do everything, so pick the social media you like. Show an interest in others in your genre. Build relationships.

Success is a combination of luck and how a book is published. The cover, how many bookstores carry it, is it placed in a co-op (up front in the store). Much of the process is outside of a writer’s control.

Additional comments?

See if an agent you’re querying is an AAR member (Association of Author Representatives) or adheres to their guidelines. (AAR)

Many said to paste a submission into the body of the email.

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16 Responses to Agents Panel at Sleuthfest2018

  1. Thank you, Maris. Your contributions to my writing life hover like a murder of crows, waiting for my use. I was going to say implementation but I wasn’t sure of the spelling. Thank God for automatic spell check. I’m waiting for a new website as a paranormal romance writer. Right now the old one is still up.

  2. Maris,

    Very informative. Thanks for sharing. I have to say I’ve heard before that unless a published writer has large sales the major agents aren’t interested in representation. Discouraging!

    You might want to check out my latest blog on POV–how to find the right voice.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I will check out your blog, Jacqueline. I always enjoy your blogs and learn from them. Regarding sales, yes, whether we’re self-published or traditionally published we’re haunted by our past sales.

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    Wonderfully helpful! I love reading about your time at Sleuthfest!

  4. paula says:

    I’ve always appreciated the information you bring to our group about agents and editors. This is a great compilation of Q/A too. However, I clicked on the Twitter handle you provided and it gave me a lady from Germany. Many of her tweets are in German. She’s the only one with that Twitter name too. (?)

  5. Lucy Kubash says:

    I always enjoy hearing about Sleuthfest. It’s good advice to always follow an agent/editor’s directions for how to submit to them. Why have one strike against you by not doing that? Yet so many writers think it’s not necessary.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Lucy, I’m always surprised by the stories the editors and agents tell about submissions, queries, and cover letters that are absolutely crazy. They could write a book about it.

  6. Nick M Nero says:

    At Maris’ request to a personal email, I am clarifying a statement by an agent that a “a novel is automatically fiction.”

    If you google non-fictional novel you will find many definitions for this genre. Essentially, the genre was created in 1965 with Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” according to Capote who boasted having invented the genre on several TV interviews.
    While falling out of favor for a while, it is alive and well today as my latest work, “96 Frame: A Non-fictional Novel about the Murder of President John F. Kennedy,” as will attest. It is based on my non-fiction work, “JFK: Assassination Rehearsal.”
    An interesting interview with Truman Capote by George Plimpton appeared in the NYT on 1.16.1966, titled “The Story behind a Non-fiction novel.” Nick M Nero

  7. Brian Johnston says:

    Thanks for this great information. However, getting an agent interested in your work is still difficult to say the least. For my last book, I queried about three dozen agents and for all of them followed their directions exactly (which is time-consuming because they all have different ones). About a third sent rejections and about two-thirds never responded. One sent me a rejection email literally four minutes after I submitted. Another claimed my manuscript needed a lot of work, even though I hadn’t yet shown him any writing samples.

    Are they even reading these queries? I understand they get a lot of them, but it’s still discouraging. I’m aiming to get my next book done sometime this year and I’m thinking about just self-publishing again and not even trying to query agents. I can’t afford to spend several hours crafting one query after another on the 1% chance someone sends a positive response.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Brian, I understand your frustration, and you are not alone. One reason so many writers, new and seasoned, are turning to self-publishing is because of the problems you’ve mentioned. And even if you do get an agent, there are no guarantees the agent will find a publisher to take the book. Publishing houses are looking for those books that are going to make gobs of money. Agents are looking for clients who are going to sell to the big publishing houses (so they, the agents, will make gobs of money.) Wonderful, well-written books are being passed over because one or the other or both don’t see the potential for making that large amount of money, and we, the readers, are the losers. Whether to keep trying to find an agent or not is a difficult decision for every writer. Good luck with your journey.

  8. Great info,Maris!
    Thanks for sharing
    Good luck and God’s blessings