Hey all, just in case you missed it, this page is now mostly inactive. All my blog content as well as new things (including info re: editorial services) can now be found here: http://shannonepowers.com/
Unfortunately there isn’t an excellent way to merge all the features of a regular WP blog into a new site, so I’m keeping this site around for archival purposes for now 🙂
As some of you may know, things have been somewhat transitional for me over the past several months in terms of my professional life, which is why I have been closed to queries and not actively taking on new clients. This post is to give an update and explain what’s going on to the few (but appreciated) who have been asking!
While there’s a long and boring story here, the short version is this: I am stepping away from agenting. As of this post officially, I will not be taking on clients or handling a list. My email for submissions will no longer be active. And I’m no longer affiliated with McIntosh and Otis.
I feel I have to say this decision didn’t happen because I don’t love books or publishing or didn’t like agenting. Not the case! It was such a privilege to be an agent for a time and have people share their work with me. Books and reading and stories have always been my passions and always will be. However, to keep it brief, being an agent turned out to not be the right path for me, at least at this point in my career/life. That said, while I have a new day job, I’ll be staying involved in the book & publishing world in other ways, probably through some freelance editorial work and consulting (coming soon) and maybe even doing some writing of my own 🙂
I’m not totally sure what’s around the bend, but my blog Spine & Page and my new pretty website (a work in progress, but designed beautifully by the talented Rich & Hated Grafixx – check him out!) will remain active and reflect the new things I’ll be doing, whatever those may be. I hope you’ll stick around for that as it’s been so nice to connect with the people reading. I really appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read my posts – I hope they’ve been helpful.
Anyway, that’s it for now! On to the next chapter.
Just an update that I am currently closed for queries as of 1/6/2017. Any queries received after 2pm on this date will not be considered.
Please refer to this space as well as my twitter for updates re: when queries will reopen.
This does not apply to requested material, just unsolicited queries.
If you receive an offer of represenation or publication on a query you submitted BEFORE 1/6/2017, please notify as normal (in the same email chain in your original query with OFFER OF REP in the subj line).
One of my favorite things to do here on Spine & Page is to lift the curtain on the publishing world, as I know there are many misconceptions (many of which I have held myself at one point or another) about it out there. The misconception that is my favorite to SMASH WITH A HAMMER is that to work in or be good at publishing you have to major in English.
Now, I shall preface by saying that a good many of the lovely people who work in publishing studied English in college. HOWEVER. There is a small but vibrant minority out there of people who work in this glorious industry who did no such thing.
And I am one of them!
I’d like to share a little bit about my own academic background to show that a) not every publishing person was an English major and b) that’s ok! Agents and editors come to their jobs from different perspectives. Some of those variations are academic. So this post is mostly meant to explain one different perspective (mine) and perhaps be an example to any young aspiring professionals out there for an alternative path to how I wound up doing the book thing. Here’s a little Q&A:
So, you got to college. You liked books. Why not just do the English major? Well, friend. That is a long story that mostly involves adolescent indecision. However, I knew that though I LOVED books and reading, I didn’t really love the idea of reading literary criticism all day long (which, surprise, is apparently a thing for English majors).
The thing I liked about books was the stories and thinking about them as processes. Also I was a major nerd for history. (Like, I learned how to write basic Egyptian hieroglyphics when I was a kid). So I tumbled into History as my major and found that it actually fit very well.
History. Gotcha. How on earth is that helpful? Well, in terms of content, it isn’t. Really. At one point, I took a class on pirates. Like, the swashbuckling kind. Seriously.
However, what a History major does is teach you how to read critically and recognize structure and patterns. It also teaches you how to take ridiculous amounts of information and present them clearly. It gives you research abilities that borderline on terrifying. It also teaches you how to write like a badass. All of these are crucial publishing skills. I found History to be the best way to get them without having to read a Marxist critique of LITTLE WOMEN, or something absurd like that. No offense, guys, but when I saw the stuff my English major friends were reading I was like
Majoring in history is also nice in this field because I have reading/editorial interests that set me apart a bit from the many English majors who work in publishing, and have a slightly different perspective. For example, I feel that history has taught me to be more concerned with plot and the underlying reasons behind events, or even character decisions, in stories. (Not that English majors aren’t, but my brain was academically wired to think about those questions – of process, cause and effect – first).
I also have a theory that being a History major is what solidified my love of working on mysteries because I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED AND WHY.
Also I love historical writing/fiction MORE THAN ENGLISH MAJORS AND I HAVE A DEGREE TO PROVE IT. Jk. Sorta. Love you, guys!
So they let you into publishing without an English Major Card. How? Here’s the trick! So, truthfully, this is the big secret to getting into publishing at all. You can major in literally anything and work in publishing. What matters more is your work experience.
So while I was learning about pirates and American deindustrialization other weird stuff from long ago that I nerd out about, I was also interning in a wide variety of book and non-book related places, beefing up my resume. All of my internships involved writing or communications in some form. So when it came to apply for Publishing Job X, I talked about that, and was able to create a narrative out of the mess of weird academic and job experiences I had in school (another History-learned skill!).
I also hate reading literary criticism and over analyzing things I originally enjoyed reading. What other majors work in publishing? Again, there is no specific publishing-friendly major. English lends itself well, of course, but so do many others. (Side note: I am personally not a big proponent of studying publishing as a major or in a school setting. That’s a different issue that perhaps I will write about another time). As I said, your experience is really more crucial, but some of the majors that have typically led folks to publishing are: Communications, Mass Media, Journalism, Writing, Comp Lit (sort of English but no), Liberal Studies. Basically, you have to prove that you can write well, read critically, give good feedback, have an amazing attention to detail, and be good with people. So whatever you think will get you there is fine!
Hopefully this helped you gain a little broader perspective about potential agents, editors, etc! We are all unique and some of us spent good tuition money to learn about pirates in class. Remember that. 😉
Halloween is my favorite holiday. Fun fact: Halloween originated in Ireland as the festival of Samhain, where the line between the world of the living and the dead is thinnest.
As a lover of all things dark, spooky, gothic, mysterious, and eerie, you can get why this hoilday is my scene. Especially when it comes to books. If you don’t have a creepy reading list for this weekend, never fear. I am here to help with books you may not have thought of. And give you nightmares. Let’s begin.
1. HANGSAMAN by Shirley Jackson
Now, you know Shirley. She wrote “The Lottery” and a lot of other books that probably freaked you out. This title is one of her lesser known works, but is so FOR SHAME. First of all, it’s based on real experiences of Jackson herself AND the real-life disappearance of a college student in the 1940s. The main character, Natalie, goes to college to escape the pressures of her controlling family and winds up involved in some dark stuff. It’s not a book that’s very committed to reality, so you’ll have to judge for yourself which of the unsettling events are real. You’ll also be deeply unsettled. Enjoy.
2. THE FALL by BETHANY GRIFFIN
This was my favorite book of 2014. THE FALL is smart, dark retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, told from the perspective of the ill-fated Madeline Usher. If you’re anything like me that’s all you need to know and you’re already on your way out the door to procure a copy.
3. THE CORN MAIDEN AND OTHER NIGHTMARES by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is a legend, but sometimes I feel her horror writing doesn’t get enough credit. This collection is amazing. First of all, anything involving children and corn is creepy. I read this a few years ago and still vividly remember specific lines from these stories, which range from one about children conducting a strange ritual to one about trepanning to one about seriously messed up twins. Lots of good stuff to creep you out and have you fliching as you turn the page. Perfect for those nights you want to light some candles and read creepy stories out loud in the dark to your roommates and family to freak them out. Wait, no one else does that? Just me?
4. SERVANTS OF THE STORM by Delilah S. Dawson
FIRST OF ALL THE COVER OF THIS IS FREAKY AS HELL. The longer you look the worse it gets. This is some Samara level creepy. This is the kind of book I recommend if you love spooky atmosphere. It’s set in Savannah after the city has been devastated by a hurricane, leaving the city prey to rot, disease, and demons. The main plot is about a girl trying to determine if her best friend (thought drowned in the storm) is still alive. There were some things about this book I didn’t love, but a grimy, haunted Savannah, already the most haunted city in the US in real life, is totally worth the ride.
5. BLACK CHALK by Christopher J. Yates
This is an under the radar read for those of you who like to get your chills from the psychological. Six best friends at Oxford University play “The Game” – a silly competition of childish dares. Slowly, however, The Game escalates into something horrible. Fourteen years later, the consequences of The Game rear their head, and the players must meet again for a final round. “Who knows better than your best friends what would break you?”
Enjoy the terror, folks! And have a safe and happy Halloween!
Working at a literary agency is great. For someone like me whose life is basically run by books, it’s the dream. However, I do get a lot of assumptions about my job, which are basically this: “Don’t you just sit and read all day?”
Sadly, my friends, no.
(I also got this question when working as a bookseller. Even though you can go into any bookstore and see employees doing lots of things other than reading, but people have their ideas…)
There is a lot of reading involved in a literary agent’s job. But, there are a lot of other things involved as well. I wanted to write a bit about them to shed some light on what exactly we do all day. And for those of you waiting for responses on submissions, now instead of picturing the agent just ignoring your email (they are most likely not!), you can picture them wanting to get back to you but doing one of these things instead 😉
Of course, every agent’s approach to work and every agency is different. I am a junior agent at an agency that has been around for a long time, so my responsibilities are different from others. This is just a general idea of what a literary agent COULD be doing, not everyone’s job description.
Here we go:
I constantly say that working in publishing is basically training to be a detective (mostly because being a detective is my dream job and it sounds exciting). At the agency I work with, there is a lot of history to dig through as we’ve been around a long time. Someone may come calling about an old title we handled and we need to figure out if it’s still in print, if the proprietor (author or their descendants, usually) is around, if the rights are with the author or with the publisher, and what that publisher is today vs. 50 years ago when the book was published. This involves a lot of searching through records, reading old contracts, and doing online research. I have landed in many a Wikipedia-spiral because of these searches, reading lists of things like “50 Forgotten Science Fiction Magazines from the 1950s ” Fun!
Research can also involve things that are more “frontlist” oriented (frontlist meaning for current, active clients), like researching publishers for a project, reading up on potential editors, or reading up on current books being published to be familiar with the market. All of this goes in the agent’s knowledge bank so that when they take on a project, they have a great idea of where it fits in the market and what editor/publisher might be interested in it.
EDITORIAL WORK The nature of publishing these days is that editors expect (and require) much more polished work than maybe ever before. This means that agenting has taken on more of an editorial role, so agents do a LOT of editorial feedback for their clients. Some agents are more hands on than others, but it’s an essential part of the job no matter what.
Agents typically edit for the “big picture” questions and issues of the manuscript (ex: the pacing is slow in this section, this character needs more development, etc) rather than nitty gritty editorial things like grammar and punctuation. In most cases, they will do the bulk of content editing on the project. It’s totally normal to do several (what seem like endless) rounds of revision with an agent before they say it’s ready to submit. That means a lot of time spent working on editorial feedback as an agent in a day, especially if they have many clients.
MAKING FRIENDS! AKA NETWORKING Publishing is a relationship-based business. A huge part of an agent’s work life is networking with editors that they may want to submit a project to one day, knowing their interests, and establishing a relationship with them. This can start from something like an industry event (we have mixers – they are just as awkward as they sound, but still great), or from something like Twitter (in which I read an editor’s twitter, develop a professional crush* on them, and then reach out to introduce myself).
*Professional Crush: The feeling of finding a fellow publishing professional whose interests align with yours, has worked on projects you like, seems like they’d be great to work with, and who also seems like an all-around cool person that you want to get to know. (E.g. “I stalked Sally Editor’s #MSWL feed on Twitter and now I have such a professional crush on her.”)
It’s great to meet in person with editors as much as possible. Luckily, most people who work in publishing are downright lovely and totally fun to grab a cup of coffee or lunch with to talk about books and industry happenings. And agents do that a lot to build up their network and keep current on what editors are looking for, hoping one day to play matchmaker to an editor and your project!
NEOGTIATING CONTRACTS/HANDLING AGREEMENTS This is a huge part of an agent’s day, at least an older, smaller agency like the one I work with. If you’re an author and you sell a book to a publisher, you and the publisher will have an agreement to outline the terms of how they are going to publish, how much you’re getting paid, etc. An agent’s job is to get the author the best deal possible. You all probably know that! But you may not know what that process actually looks like – whether it’s a back and forth with an editor/contracts associate, phone calls, redlining of the agreement, getting approval on changes, on and on to eliminate any doubt about what everyone’s responsible for in this arrangment.
Some larger agencies have their own contracts departments that will handle agreements, while in other cases, agents draft their own contracts. Being an agent actually gets you a pretty decent primer in legal language 🙂 Contracts can be a lot of fun (if you’re a nerd and enjoy them like me), but they also take up a lot of time. Agents want to be thorough and make sure everyone is happy!
Another aspect of contracts you might not think about is that there are many different uses for a literary work. There are translation rights, audio rights, film/TV rights, performance rights, the list goes on. If someone wants to use just a selection from a book, they need to approach the rightsholder (often the author) to do so, which requires – you guessed it – a written agreement. As I’m sure you can imagine, written agreements are really the backbone of publishing and ensure that everything runs smoothly by letting everyone know to expect. So, they are definitely a huge part of an agent’s day to day.
*That is not true.
There are TONS of other things an agent might do in a given day – corresponding with authors, managing social media, exploring new writing opportunities, managing/organizing things like files and sumbmissions, attending conferences and author events, etc. The exciting part about working at a literary agency is that every day can be different! And yes, we do get to read a lot which is also exciting. Hopefully this post gave you just a slightly more in-depth glimpse at what an agent might be up to inbetween manuscripts 🙂
Thanks to Amy at Chasing the Crazies for picking my brain about those crucial first 5 pages! Hope this is helpful – enjoy and be sure to check out her blog for more great info and advice on the query process.
If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.
The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get just the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.
Today, I’m proud to share Shannon Powers’ perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.
Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?