Mystery, supernatural and women’s fiction writers will be interested in this next agent spotlight for the Missouri Writers Guild Conference.
Ann Collette has been an agent with the Rees Literary Agency in Boston for twelve years. Before that, she was a freelance writer and editor for fifteen years. As an agent, she's very open to working with new writers, particularly in the mystery, thriller, horror, suspense, and supernatural categories. She also represents upscale commercial women's fiction. Some of her clients include Carol Carr, Vicki Lane, Barbara Shapiro, Mark Russinovich, and Clay and Susan Griffith. She doesn't represent YA, children's, sci-fi, or high fantasy (Lord of the Rings-type books).
During the Missouri Writers Guild Conference, Ann will take pitches on Saturday in addition to presenting a breakout session with one of her authors, Carol Carr. The session, entitled “The Author/Agent Relationship,” will cover how the two women came to work together, what expectations they have of each other and what it takes for a successful author/agent relationship. Attendees may also glean insight into what an agent looks for in a query, the process of preparing a manuscript for publication and author/agent expectations once a book is published.
Sarah: Ann, welcome to the MWG Conference Notes blog. Thank you for taking time to answer a few questions about the upcoming conference. It’s hard to believe it’s only a couple months away.
Ann: I've never been to Missouri before, and am delighted my introduction will be as an attendee at the MWG Conference.
Sarah: To get us started, your breakout topic seems very original. Could you talk about how you and Carol decided it would be a good subject to present? Also, please include in your answer how you decided to structure the session.
Ann: Over the twelve years I've been agenting, I've attended quite a few conferences. One of the most frequently asked questions I encounter is, "Once I get an agent, what should I expect from him or her?" Since Carol lives in Missouri, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for both she and I, as agent and client, to talk about this very thing. We'll start off with Carol talking about her search for an agent, and what she did to find the right one. Then I'll talk about what, as an agent, I look for in a query, then later the manuscript. I'll talk about what excited me about Carol's submission, and how I went about offering representation. She'll talk about why she decided to work with me, and then together we'll talk about the submission process, and how involved the client is or isn't.
We'll talk about critiquing and editing a manuscript before it's submitted, and how well informed an agent then keeps a client once the manuscript has been submitted. As Carol's agent, I'll talk about how I passed along news of any rejections she received, and Carol will talk about how she dealt with them. In this case, after a few rejections, I sold Carol's first book to Berkley, so we'll talk about what happened once the sale was made. From there, we'll trade back and forth how we established our ongoing business relationship, and its parameters.
Sarah: In the dozen or so years you’ve been an agent, what is the worst (or funniest) story you have to tell about receiving a pitch at a conference?
Ann: Without a doubt, the worst is this man who fixated on me as an agent he thought he was working with. He both emailed and phoned me constantly, and no matter what I said, I wasn't able to deter him from thinking I was his agent, though we'd signed no agreement. My heart was really in my throat when I saw he signed up for a conference that I was attending that involved him traveling hundreds of miles. I was so nervous about this that I actually asked the people who were running the conference to keep an eye on him for me, just in case he crossed a line. I remember sitting in the ballroom searching the hundreds of faces that were looking at me as I sat up there on the dais, wondering which man this creep might be. I was sure I had him pegged when I found this scary looking guy who looked shifty and disheveled.
When the panel was over, I waited for this guy to come up to me, but instead was approached by the real deal, who turned out to be someone genuinely ignorant of how any aspect of publishing worked, let alone what it means to sign with an agent. I was able to be brusque with him because I was due to appear on another panel, but that conference turned out to be both the best thing for both him and me as far as any "relationship" between us was concerned. It opened his eyes to what it really means to sign with an agent, or at least I think it did, because he never bothered me again. That was a few years ago, and I haven't heard from him since.
Looking back, I think he just didn't know any better. But being around other writers at a conference showed him the reality of a business he had no conception of. Still, his near-obsession scared me because he had so little understanding of boundaries.
Sarah: Oh my! That is a great example of what not to do. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with the writers interested in pitching you during the MWG conference?
Ann: Keep your pitch terse. If you can't tell me what your book is about in a couple of sentences, then I'm going to feel you don't really have a grasp of your material. Expect me to ask you questions; I may even ask, "How does your book end?" Remember, I'm trying to evaluate if I can sell your book or not, so may need to know the answer to a question like that.
Sarah: That’s great advice. Thanks. You’ve tweeted often that you’re not interested in Civil War stories, in addition to not reading high fantasy or YA. Are there any other story subjects or genres that you don’t read of which we should be aware?
Ann: I don't understand science fiction, and am not open to Middle Eastern terrorists, particularly any from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Editors have seen too many of those kinds of books, and aren't looking for any more, so I don't want to waste my time with such books.
Sarah: Do you have a specific story that you’d like to see in your slush pile?
Ann: I'm always on the lookout for a believable kickass female protagonist in either a thriller or mystery. I'd also love to come across something set in Southeast Asia.
Sarah: What are three adjectives that describe you as an agent?
Ann: Conscientious, honest, and thorough.
Sarah: Why did you pick those three?
Ann: Conscientious because as a writer myself, I understand how much is riding on this for everyone who queries me. Honest because I do an author a disservice if I'm not. Thorough because the business of publishing demands it.
Sarah: Your tweets about queries you’ve rejected are eye-opening, to say the least. I’ve enjoyed them. Based on your own experience, do you think it’s important for prospective writers to be on Twitter? Why or why not?
Ann: The number one advantage of being on Twitter is that you learn how to edit. I strongly encourage any budding writer to tweet, because limiting yourself to 140 characters really helps you learn how to use language precisely.
Sarah: Finally, what advice do you believe is overrated?
Ann: Speaking personally, when an author sends me a query, I want to know what the book is about right off the bat. If the author must include personal information, I think it should come at the end of the query, and only be a few sentences. I've heard other agents say they like learning about the personality of the writer, but to be honest, if I'm not interested in your book, then I'm probably not going to be interested in you.
Sarah: Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope they will motivate attendees to pitch their best work and get the most out of the “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” Conference.
Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a one-page query critique from Ann. Sharing this blog via Twitter, Facebook, or a blog post earns you additional chances to win. Just let us know in the comments.
Don’t forget to register. If you’ve learned something from reading this blog, please consider attending the 2012 Missouri Writers Guild Annual writing conference. We would love to see you in April!