Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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LUCIENNE DIVER
Spctrum Literary Agency

 

WG:  Hi Lucienne!  Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.  

INTRO

WG:  To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.  

LD:   I've spent my entire fourteen-year career at Spectrum Literary Agency.  Prior to that, the sum of my publishing experience amounted to editing my college's anthropology magazine and my high school's literary journal.  When I graduated college with a BA in English/writing and anthropology, I applied to jobs in publishing and to graduate schools for forensic anthropology.  Publishing got back to me first.

The story of landing the job with Spectrum, initially as an assistant, ties into both.  When I came in for the interview, I happened to be reading a novel by Ken Goddard, who runs the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Lab in Ashland, Oregon, not even realizing that Spectrum represented him.  When I saw his books on the shelves, I was able to quite honestly gush about his work, which led us to a wonderful discussion about books even more than my qualifications.  I really think it was the enthusiasm that won me the job.

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?

LD:   When I first started at Spectrum Literary Agency, I thought it would be a stepping stone on the way to becoming an editor.  After a while, though, it was clear that I was already living my dream.  I love what I do.

FOCUS

WG:  What genres do you currently represent (i.e.: have clients published in or actively submitting to)?

LD:   I represent all kinds of commercial fiction, primarily adult but some young adult as well, everything from mainstream to genre (romance, fantasy, mystery/suspense).

WG:  Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?

LD:   I'm not so much looking to expand in particular areas as looking to add authors who really excitement with their voice and originality.

WG:  Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?

LD:   I don't do non-fiction, children's, poetry or dramatic material.

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?

LD:   Forensic anthropology and psychology books appeal to me a great deal as a reader.  However, this isn't a market I know well and I don't want to spread myself too thin.  It can be a challenge just keeping up with all of the fiction editors, what they've bought and what they're looking to buy. 

WG:  What genre(s) do the majority of your recent sales fall into?  Has this changed over time?  How so?

LD:   When I began at Spectrum, the majority of its list was science fiction and fantasy and so my list grew most quickly in those areas.  Now, though, I'd have to say it's about evenly divided with about a third romance, a third fantasy/sf and a third mystery/suspense and those novels less easily categorized.

WG:  What publishing houses/lines have you sold to in the past 12 months?

LD:   Berkley, St. Martin's, NAL, Harlequin/HQN, Bantam, Avon, Pocket, Tor, Dorchester…you name it.

WG:  Approximately how many clients do you currently represent and what is the ratio of published to unpublished?

LD:   I represent over forty authors.  Only two of my authors are currently unpublished.  However, several of my published authors started out that way!  In fact, I have two novelists debuting this year – PROM DATES FROM HELL by Rosemary Clement Moore (Delacorte, March 2007) and BOBBIE FAYE'S VERY (very very very) BAD DAY by Toni McGee Causey (St. Martin's, May 2007).

WG:  Approximately how many works by first time authors have you sold in the past 12 months?  The past 3 years?

LD:   Oops, jumped the gun and answered part of that above.  Charles Davis' ANGEL'S REST, a wonderful southern literary suspense novel was a 2006 debut and a Book Sense Pick.  The year before that my debut novelists were bestselling paranormal romance author Marjorie M. Liu (TIGER EYE) and off-beat romantic suspense writer Jennifer Skully, who also pens erotica as Jasmine Haynes.  I hope you don't mind me throwing the names in here.  I figure that if it gets the authors some publicity, that's great, but it may also give people an idea of a) how eclectic my taste is and b) the kind of things I like.

WG:  Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?

LD:   I have a very busy list right now, so I wouldn't say that I'm actively seeking new authors so much as always open to another wonderful writer like those listed above who really knocks my socks off.  I love quirky and I love dark – go figure.  I'm a sucker for a truly original voice.

WORK STYLE

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?

LD:   I'm a very approachable, hands on agent.  I do provide editorial feedback and career planning, but really, it's a partnership and as much about listening as advising.  Some authors come to me at the concept stage, lay out a few ideas and we discuss which seems best to pursue from a marketing and strength of skills perspective.  Others come with a finished novel and ask me to critique from there.  Every author is different and sometimes their needs change from one book to the next.  My job is also about submitting to the editors I think will connect best with a work, handling negotiations, haggling over contract language, chasing down checks, smoothing over disagreements and generally making things move like a well-oiled machine.

WG:  Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?

LD:   I live for the deals.  And who doesn't love a good auction?

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 represent it?

LD:   I think it's very important.  One of the things I think I bring to the table is infectious enthusiasm.  On the other hand, I think it is possible to respect and appreciate works that aren't necessarily your cup of tea and approach them from a marketing standpoint.

WG:  How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions?  How specific is the feedback?

LD:   That too depends on the author.  Most of mine want to receive copies of rejection letters and I oblige them.  Others don't want to see them at all.  I keep my authors updated on submissions when they go out and when they come back.

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?

LD:   Not all submissions are the same.  If I believe I know just the right editor at the absolute optimum house for a novel, I may give a single submission with the understanding that the editor will get back to me quickly.  Other times, I send out a multiple submissions, generally calling the editors to generate enthusiasm in advance of the material.  If it's an editor whose taste I don't know terribly well, I'll call or e-mail to be sure that he or she is the best person for the novel I'm sending out and try to get a sense of the person. 

WG:  How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?

LD:   See above.  I'm for it, since it generally means quicker responses and a better deal for the author than operating without any competition.

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? 

LD:   I'll discuss marketing and promotion with the editor and talk with the author about what he or she can do individually.  I also keep my authors apprised of promotional opportunities that they may want to take advantage of.

WG:  What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship?  In the agent/editor relationship?

LD:   Agent/author: business savvy and knowledge of the market, someone to bounce ideas off of and act as a buffer for any problems, general manager – keeping track of checks, contracts, submissions, rejections, royalties and statements, rights reversions, subsidiary rights, etc.  Agent/editor: I'm always on the look-out for wonderful new authors or new novels by established authors to bring to them.  Some editors I've worked with call me up from time to time just to ask if I've found anything new and exciting.  I'm also very direct and up-front, which I think is very important to healthy working relationships.

WG:  Do you feel that writers’ conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors?  With editors?

LD:   I've met several of my authors at writers conferences – two of whom weren't previously published and three who were, so yes, I find them very valuable.  The same with editors – there are several that I've known by name or by phone but never met (even though we're all in New York) until we bumped into each other at a conference.

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?

LD:   There are a few different film agents we work with.  Thus far, two of my authors' works have been optioned for film and television and I hope and expect to have more news on that front soon!  As far as foreign rights, we work with subagents all over the world and meet with foreign agents and editors every year at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

WG:  Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials?  Fulls?

LD:   It all depends on volume, which seems to be significant of late.  Still, my time frame for responding to any of the above tends to hover between one to two months.  Eleanor Wood, our founding agent, takes between one and three months generally.

WG:  I see you are based in New York.  How important do you feel this is in enhancing your effectiveness as an agent? 

LD:   A lot of wonderful agents operate outside of New York and I don't know that I won't someday be one of them.  Even in New York, I spend a lot of time on the phone or communicating via e-mail rather than in face to face meetings.  For now, though, I love being readily available for lunch, drinks, receptions, etc. 

ADVICE

WG:  What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an agent’s role is?

LD:   Some authors expect agents to be publicists, which is one of the few things not generally part of our job description.  While I'm happy to act as liaison between the publishing house and the author as regards promotion or to advise the author on the most useful methods of self-promotion, I'm not the one who actually arranges signings or sets up interviews.

WG:  In your opinion, when is the right time in an author’s career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?

LD:   Once you've written that first fantastic novel, workshopped it or had it critiqued, revised it, spell-checked it, sweated blood and then come up with a way to boil it down into a synopsis or query letter.  Really, it's a good thing to have an agent right from the beginning of your career to help get off to the right start with the right publishing house(s).  Still, a lot of first novels don't sell, so don't get discouraged and take every personal letter you receive as advice and affirmation that you're getting there.  Agents and editors don't take the time to respond personally to something they rejected out of hand.

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?

LD:   Do your research to make sure you're contacting a reputable agent and one who will be right for your work.  Follow that agent's guidelines.  Also, don't be in such a rush to get your novel out there that you don't take the time to do it right and to put the final polish on.  There's too much competition and a professional's time is at too much of a premium for a diamond in the rough to get the attention it might deserve. 

JUST FOR FUN

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?

LD:   Not inspirational maybe, but here's Robert A. Heinlein from The Cat Who Walked Through Walls:
[on writing]: "Believe me, darkling; I've had this disease for years, I know how to manage it.  Let me have a small room and a terminal, let me go into it and seal the door behind me, and it will be like having a normal, healthy husband who goes to the office every morning and does whatever it is men do in offices – I've never known and never been much interested in finding out."

         and

         "…But I did not explain to you the other insidious aspect of writing.  There is no way to stop.  Writers go on writing long after it becomes financially unnecessary…because it hurts less to write than it does not to write."

I guess that's always says a lot to me.  No matter how frustrating a business this can sometimes be "it hurts less to write than it does not to write."  I think that's the sign of a real writer and someone who will ultimately succeed.

WG:  What do you do to relax and have fun?

LD:   Yoga, scrapbooking, jewelry making, reading, writing, sun-worshipping, playing with my son.

WG:  Other than your client’s work, what do you enjoy reading?

LD:   My husband calls me a "mystery slut," because I'm such a big fan.  I also love anything paranormal or forensic.  I thought Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers was a wonderful book.  I love everything from the more mainstream, like Sharyn McCrumb and Joshilyn Jackson, to the more commercial, like Janet Evanovich and Laurell K. Hamilton.

WG:  What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows?  Why?

LD:   Buffy, Firefly, Psych, Monk, House…fantastic characters and wonderful sense of the absurd, great dialogue.

WG:  Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life?  In what way?

LD:   The first full book I read was The Secret Garden.  I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember that I was stuck in the hospital and it made the hours fly by.  I haven't stopped reading voraciously since.

WRAP UP

WG:  Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the agency?

LD:   Not that I can think of. 

WG:  Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your agency??

LD:   Yup, it's www.spectrumliteraryagency.com.

WG:  Thanks again, Lucienne, for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit in this month’s spotlight.  It was delightful ‘visiting’ with you, as always.

 

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