It’s always been about books, literary agent Ann Behar wrote in her bio. Ms. Behar took a wandering path to becoming a literary agent at Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency, Inc. Stops included earning a law degree from the University of San Diego Law School and becoming a full-time mother and wife.
In 2002, she decided to return to work and found “one of the few businesses in the world where an English degree and a law degree are equally valuable.” She joined SCG.
Five years later, she took over the firm’s list of juvenile writers and has been searching for “wonderful children’s books, from picture books to YA, ever since.”
Her path has now led her to the “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” Conference slated for April 20-22, 2012, where she will listen to pitches from attendees. In her bio, she described the type of work she hopes to find:
“I am looking for anything that is beautifully written, with a strong, distinct voice and characters that come alive on the page. Ideally, a book should grab my attention from the very beginning and hold it there, and leave me thinking about it for a few days after I am finished.”
She is currently open to queries via e-mail only. Submission guidelines are here.
Sarah: Ann, thank you for taking the time answer a few questions today about your upcoming visit to the Missouri Writers’ Guild conference. You are the first agent I’ve interviewed for our conference preview, so I’m looking forward to your responses. I’ll begin with the question, the answer to which, everyone wants to know. You’ve given a general overview of the type of writing that perks your interest. Do you have specific types of manuscripts you would love to find? Or specific types of work you are tired of seeing in your slush pile?
Ann: I’m not being coy or evasive when I say I am looking for anything that is exquisitely written, with vibrant characters and a compelling plot. I have a book coming out this summer about a human girl and vampire boy who fall in love. Hello? Although part of me felt I had to steer clear of a book with such a TWILIGHT reminiscent plot, the writing turned out to be so extraordinary, the protagonist so unique and authentic, the setting so rich and textured, I just had to try and sell it. And I did! Am I seeing too many queries for paranormal, dystopian and steampunk-based books? Yes, but great writing will always catch my eye, seduce me and hold me in its clutches.
Sarah: Cory Doctorow, one of your authors, has released several of his books under a creative commons license. Has this been an effective marketing tool for him? What are your thoughts, from an agent’s perspective, regarding authors releasing work under a CC license?
Ann: It has been rocket fuel for Cory, but like all rocket fuel it has to be handled with extreme care, by experts. I am certainly not going to come on here and say, "Hey everyone, release your works for free!" as if it were just another personal marketing technique like tweeting. It has worked for Cory because he has applied it intelligently, working in close consultation with his agents and publishers.
Cory has a well-thought out philosophy about the free sharing of ideas and he believes strongly in the vision of the Creative Commons license. Starting from that vision, he uses the CC philosophy as the cornerstone of a marketing strategy involving free PDFs of his work.
Others who are not prepared to sign on to the CC attitude toward copyright can still benefit from the idea of giving stuff away in order to gain new fans.
For our client Diana Gabaldon we give away free mass market books -- actual books. For our client James Rollins we have given away free audio books and $1.99 ebooks. Other clients have given away (or sold at a very low price) novellas set in their signature universes, as a reward for fans or a way for new readers to dip a toe in their waters. None of these involves a CC license.
It's all about getting new readers to try something. CC licenses are a very powerful way to do that and they integrate well into Cory's larger approach to copyright freedom. But writers who aren't yet willing to go that far can still take advantage of the basic idea. Particularly if you've got a series. If you lose money on free copies of your first novel but as a result your later novels triple in sales, are you going to complain?
Sarah: It seems like a majority of your authors write some version of juvenile fantasy or science fiction. Is there something about these genres that appeals to you? If so, could you give us more insight into what you like in a juvenile fantasy or science fiction novel?
Ann: My agency became known for adult science fiction and fantasy long ago, as Russ represents Arthur C. Clarke, Terry Goodkind, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey and so many other fantasy and science fiction greats. So I suppose it’s natural I would get a lot of queries about science fiction and fantasy juvenile books. But I cannot tell a lie, these genres were never favorites of mine personally. I have read very few adult science fiction or fantasy novels. I’m more of an Anthony Trollope fan! But at the risk of being repetitive, if a book is extraordinary, I don’t care if it’s about faeries, dragons or stamp collecting. A great writer can make any subject gripping. So, a fantasy or science fiction novel would have to have three-dimensional characters that I come to care about immediately, a detailed, fascinating world that makes me feel as if I am a part of, and a tightly structured plot that holds my attention from the start to finish.
Sarah: What advice would you give to writers who are considering pitching you at the conference?
Ann: Tell me about the plot as succinctly as possible, and briefly outline the main characters in a way that makes them sound like people I’d like to meet. And I want to know the protagonist’s goal, and the consequences if that goal is not attained. Be prepared to let me read a sample, so I can get a sense of the voice. And finally, have a thick skin. I’m pretty blunt. But I try to be constructive!
Sarah: If a writer were to query you, what is your average response time?
Ann: Sometimes I get a chance to start reading a manuscript and know right away it’s not for me. In a case like that, I will get back to the author within a week. But if that doesn’t happen, I try to have a response in 1-2 months.
Sarah: Once you’ve signed a client, how do you define your role as their agent?
Ann: It is my job to help clients forge a career as a full-time writer, and shepherd them through it every step of the way. I am their advocate. I am committed to making their experience in the publishing process as smooth and easy as possible, so they can do what they do best—write. I want to give them the confidence that I am handling everything besides the writing: submissions, contracts, subrights, bookkeeping, etc. In addition, I absolutely love to edit, and many clients send me pages from new projects and ask for my response, and we work on it together until we are happy with it.
Sarah: Thank you again, Ann, for sharing your insights with us. I know I speak for everyone when I say that we appreciate your advice for the upcoming conference and general publishing insights.
Ann is one of several agents participating in the individual pitch sessions this year. If you think Ann might be a good agent to pitch, you can learn more about her by reading her spotlight on Literary Rambles, a blog all about “Children’s Book Authors, Agents and Publishing” or by visiting the Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency website.
All pitch sessions are assigned first come, first serve. You can request a pitch session with Ann today by registering for this year’s conference over on the Missouri Writers’ Guild web site. In addition, if you register before Dec. 31, you’ll lock in the early bird registration rates and get even more savings!
Click here to register for the “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” conference to lock in your early-bird discount.
Thank you for visiting, and let us know what you think. We always love feedback, so if you have any additional questions for Ann or conference questions for Tricia, feel free to ask them below in the comments. One lucky commenter will win a Missouri Writers’ Guild Tote Bag with the 2012 conference logo. Please post your comments by November, 26th. As always, sharing this interview via Twitter, Blog posts and Facebook will earn you extra chances to win! Just let us know how you spread the word when you comment.