April 2014 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
Agent, MacGregor Literary, Inc.
WG: Hello! Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.
WG: To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
HL: Thank you so much for having me on here. I'm thrilled every time I get the chance to talk about my new job as full-time agent with MacGregor Literary, Inc. Chip MacGregor, the president of MacGregor Literary, hired me a little over a year ago as his assistant, and then mentored me in all ways agent. We originally met at a book reading - I was reading from one of my novels. I had no idea he was a well-known publishing guru. He took me on as a client, and then I started helping with MacGregor Literary edits and proposals. I own Lorincz Literary Services and hold a Master's degree focused in writing and literature, so it was a natural fit. Luckily, he thought I was competent. I was made a full agent at the start of 2014; I work out of the Mac Lit office with Chip on the north Oregon coast, one block from the Pacific and fifty feet from a coffee shop and a bookstore, occasionally flying out to Chicago or New York or Dallas for industry events. Life is pretty good.
WG: Can you tell us why you decided to pursue a career as an agent and what steps you took to get you where you are today?
HL: While I have an obsession with books, I have to admit it never occurred to me to pursue agenting. For one, I don't live in New York and, for another, I had a very successful career as a teacher with no plans to leave education. I taught high school and college writing, English, and speech communications for fifteen years, receiving 2007 Oregon Teacher of the Year and two national teaching awards, coaching my speech team to two state champions. But then I was forced out of the game by an illness. I was in bed for a year, and pretty shaky for another year, but in that time I built up my editing business and wrote my first novel. That directed my interests into the publishing industry and I've never gone back - though I am still teaching, this time as an instructor at writing workshops or working one-on-one with authors.
Finally, Chip has helped me realize agents and publishers are not required to live on the East Coast, but it is imperative we travel to writing conferences and meetings with publishers to maintain contacts and stay in tune with the industry. So, you know, it's "imperative" we go to BEA every year . . . surrounded by books and people who love books in the middle of Manhattan . . . dream come true.
WG: What genres/lines do you currently represent?
HL: I am focusing on fiction. In particular, I am collecting literary westerns (think Cormac McCarthy), political/conspiracy thrillers, contemporary and frontier/historical romance.
WG:      Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?
HL: Maybe some dystopian stuff, because who doesn't love falling asleep reading about disturbing worlds? But, really, I'm trying to stay focused for a while, get my feet under me.
WG:      Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?
HL: Children's books, poetry, young adult, screenplays. . . I love reading from all those genres but I don't think they're a good fit for my personality. I have no desire to work with gruesome horror or porn.
WG:      Do you represent any authors of non-fiction? If so, have you been successful in selling their projects? If not, is this a market that interests you?
HL: I do have one client who writes non-fiction self-help, but it hasn't sold yet. I am interested in working with more self-help authors eventually but I don't think I'm ready to focus on it yet.
WG:      What genre(s) do the majority of your recent sales fall into? Has this changed over time? How so?
HL: I wish I could answer this question . . . only time will tell. My current client list revolves around political thrillers, literary fiction, historical romance and westerns. Remember, I'm new so I'm still building my list. I'm trying to be smart about it, though, and make sure I also continue to work closely with the authors I already have signed on.
WG:      What publishing houses/lines have you sold to in the past 12 months?
HL: One of my clients has his literary western (a fantastic book) placed at Five Star, and another client has her historical romance with High Hill Press. This list will be much more impressive in a year!
WG:      Approximately how many clients do you currently represent and what is the ratio of published to unpublished?
HL: I represent ten clients. Seven of them were already published before they came to me.
WG:      Approximately how many works by first time authors have you sold in the past 12 months?
HL: Two manuscripts.
WG:      Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
HL: As I said, I am actively seeking new authors but I'm taking it slow. I would be most likely to jump on a manuscript in the political thriller genre, written by a published author with an established platform.
WG:      How would you describe your agenting style? What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning? Or is your relationship strictly the business side of contract negotiation and as author/editor interface?
HL: I would like to get to the point where my authors view me as a mentor. I work hard for my writers, and I try to stay in close contact. I enjoy running out story ideas with the authors, developing or problem solving when needed. We discuss career planning from the time we meet, to make sure I understand their needs and goals, and to offer help and advice where I can. Our agency provides a contract manager, thankfully, so the two of us will work with an author on building and understanding a contract. I also help authors with media training because I understand the majority of writers do not enjoy being on a stage and, yet, once a book is published the author has to actively do interviews and readings. I have a background in public speaking (I went to university on a debate scholarship and coached speech for years) and understand how important it is to make a strong impression on any listener who might also be willing to buy a book.
WG:      Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?
HL: Yes! I love jointly working through developmental edits when possible. I also enjoy writing proposals because it helps me to really understand the material the author is working on. It is incredibly satisfying to help authors get their words in front of readers.
WG:      Given that you feel an individual author's manuscript is marketable, how important is it that you personally like the work in order for you to pursue acquiring it?
HL: You know, one of the reasons I am proud to work with MacGregor Literary because we provide books that strive to make a difference. I believe whole-heartedly in this concept and I keep it in mind when I'm reading through queries or listening to pitches. If I believe a book is the vehicle for a valuable message, whether implied or obvious, then I am more likely to enjoy it and I am willing to take a closer look, assessing it for marketability.
WG:      How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions?
HL: I let my authors know when I receive positive feedback, even if it's only a request to see the manuscript. But I wait to talk to them about the rejections until the list of editors I've approached have all turned a manuscript down, and then I have a conversation with them about whether or not we need a new game plan.
WG:      What is your process for submitting work to editors? Is this different if the editor is one you've had no prior contact with as opposed to one you've already built a working relationship with?
HL: Again, since I'm new, I don't have a working relationship with many editors. Right now I'm talking to our other agents for their suggestions, as well as searching Publisher's Marketplace and bookstores to find editors who have recently published a comparable title. Then I will email a proposal to one or two editors and hopefully a phone call is initiated if they are interested.
WG:      How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?
HL: I'm still trying to discover what individual houses and editors are looking for so I'm trying to send out one manuscript to only one or two editors at a time.
WG:      Once a work has been sold, do you provide any input to the author and/or editor in the area of marketing and promotion for the book?
HL: Yes, we try to help develop a possible marketing platform before a proposal is sent out.
WG:      What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship? In the agent/editor relationship?
HL: I have worked with authors for years, helping them write well-developed stories; I come at this from the point of view as a novelist (I've studied and written novels) and from the point of view of a reader with a book-a-week habit. Probably my strongest asset, however, is my strong understanding of message and audience, thanks to years of writing speeches; because of this, I can make sure the intended message is being conveyed, and that we are finding the proper audience, whether we are dealing with proposals or the book itself. I should add, that on a personal level, I am naturally interested in people and truly enjoy engaging with my authors. I like talking to my clients, whether they want to have personal conversations or they are seeking professional direction.
WG:      Do you feel that writers' conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors? With editors?
HL: Absolutely. I prefer listening to pitches rather than reading queries, though I do like it when authors bring samples of their writing with them to the pitch. And that time is invaluable for creating an opportunity to meet face-to-face with editors and get a read on their personalities and current market desires.
WG:      Have you ever been involved in the sale of movie rights? Foreign rights? If so, did you handle this yourself or did you work with someone more specialized in this field?
HL: No and no.
WG:      Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
HL: Right now, my response to queries is veeerrrrryyyy slow because of a huge influx of queries - I have received over 300 queries just this week. And by slow, I mean 6-7 weeks. I need more hours in the day.
WG:      Do you feel an agent based in New York has a significant advantage over one who is not? Why or why not?
HL: Yes, because you have more opportunities to go directly to the publishing houses. Luckily, however, I work with Chip MacGregor, who is well connected and helps me make my own connections. We also travel throughout the year in order to build and maintain networks.
WG:      What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an agent's role is?
HL: Possibly the editing angle, when clients want full edits and I don't have time for that, not when I'm dealing with anywhere from ten to twenty books at a time, trying to do the market research, write the proposals, tailor those proposals to possible editors, and then track who has been sent what when.
Also, I know a lot of new authors are unrealistic about advances, thinking they'll be enough to live on. Today's advances are usually small, especially for debut authors or authors who have been out of the game for a while.
And then there are the unpublished authors who are sending out queries - I've been in their shoes, I understand the anxiety and vulnerability involved. But these writers need to understand that agents and editors are receiving dozens, possibly hundreds, of queries per week. It is not logical to assume you will get a response immediately, maybe not even that month, possibly not at all. And by resending your query with a nasty note you are not increasing your chances of being read, at least not by me. Further, these queries should be tailored to the particular agent or editor's marketing focus - but you should not be referencing the pictures you dug up on Face Book from my son's birthday party six months ago. I get trying to make a personal connection with the person to whom you are handing your baby, but there is a fine line between outing yourself as a stalker and revealing a shared interest in something from the agent's official company bio or an industry interview.
WG:      In your opinion, when is the right time in an author's career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?
HL: When a manuscript is done, including a professional edit, and the author has begun to build a platform.
WG:      What piece of advice or 'pearl of wisdom' would you like to offer authors who are considering approaching you (or any agent) for representation?
HL: Make sure you come across as professional. I want to know you can meet deadlines, work cooperatively with other industry professionals, and be part of a marketing blitz without coming off as . . . not professional.
WG:      Do you think contest credits help authors further their career before and/or after making that first sale? Have you ever acquired a client that you discovered via a writing contest?
HL: I think most editors believe if a book has been vetted by a contest's submission committee and considered a winner then that book must have some merit. I encourage my authors to enter contests. Another benefit is that most authors will feel they need to do another edit before they send their creation off to be judged, which just means more polish is happening.
WG:      Do you visit the websites and blogs of authors you work with or of authors you are considering working with? If so, is there something in particular you look for that potentially impacts your view of the author and their work?
HL: I do. I like to see if the author is savvy with social media, especially since they will need to play a huge role in marketing their own books once they are published, traditionally or not.
WG:      How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer's career? Is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?
HL: Self-promotion needs to be handled with a soft touch, not a club. You can't flood the same Face Book or Twitter audience over and over again with pleas to buy your book. I think it is more effective for an author to join blogs and chat rooms, responding to the current conversations and at some point, quickly and casually, offer information about your book. And, in that same vein, one mistake authors make with their author page is that the websites tend to be all about the author but, really, a reader is coming to an author page to see what he or she can get out of it, like free short stories or writing tips or even a contest for a free book.
WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share?
HL: My favorite quote can be seen as the antithesis of reading but I like how it applies to our connections with our family and friends:
"If you do not understand my silence, you will not understand my words."
WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
HL: A famous journalist.
WG:      What do you do to relax and have fun?
HL: Cuddle with my son and two springer spaniels. And, of course, read, preferably in the bath tub :)
WG:      Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?
HL: Depends on the day. I like literary or genre pieces, anything as long as the storyline is strong and the characters are interesting. The best novel I've read lately is Cutting For Stone, and I'm in the middle of a science fiction collection of short stories. I'm an eclectic reader.
WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
HL: I like serials. Heroes, Suits, 24, Lost, Game of Thrones . . . I get caught up in character lives very easily.
WG:      Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
HL: Wow. At many points in my life, I've read something that has shaped or directed me. Chronicles of Narnia, The Yearling, 1984, Frankenstein, A Prayer for Owen Meany. I still remember as a 17 year old where I was sitting, what the air smelled like, when I read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning and truly understood creating meaning and value despite suffering.
WG:      Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the agency?
HL: I recognize how lucky I am to be working with one of the top ten agencies in the US, an agency that puts the authors first.
WG:      Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your agency?
HL: Our agency website is at www.macgregorliterary.com and my editing and publishing services are at www.literaryconsulting.com
WG:      Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit in this month's spotlight. It was delightful 'visiting' with you here.