Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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MICHELLE GRAJKOWSKI
3 Seas Literary Agency

 

WG:  I’m starting off my new Industry Spotlight feature with a very special guest, my very own agent, the wonderful and very savvy Michelle Grajkowski from 3 Seas Literary Agency.

So let’s dive right in.  Welcome, Michelle, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.  To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself. 

MG:  Thank you so much, Winnie, for asking me to be your featured guest on your Industry VIP page.  What an honor!! 

I first opened the doors to the 3 Seas Literary Agency in August 2000.  So, I’ve been agenting for about six and a half years.  Every day is a new adventure, and I am loving every minute of it!

People often ask how I got into agenting, and honestly, I took a very unusual road to get where I am!  When I was in high school, my aunt wrote three books for Harlequin.  And nothing was cooler than when she dedicated one of her books to me!  I was hooked.  I loved reading romances, and I wanted to follow in her footsteps – to become a writer.

So, fast forward to college – I decided I wanted to pursue a career in journalism.  But, while I was in school, I took a part time job my freshman year with the UW Hospital Purchasing Department.  And, all of a sudden my focus changed.  Business was really where my heart was.  So, I continued with my journalism degree, only I focused on the advertising/public relations track.  Right out of college, I was offered a fantastic job selling computers to the education market in the state of Wisconsin.  It truly was a blessing as it taught me the networking and project management skills that I use today.

During my college years, my aunt fought a health battle which pulled her away from writing.  To get her back into the swing of things my mom, my aunt, my grandma and I formed a critique group to get her back into writing.  SO, I started writing.  By this time, I was completely enamored with business.  I loved going to the critique group meetings, but I found myself more eager to edit, brainstorm and critique THEIR work rather than to write my own.  One fateful meeting I told my group that I would rather sell their stuff then write my own.  My aunt, THANK GOODNESS, piped in to say that people actually do that! 

So, I decided that I had found my dream career.  I promptly quit writing, joined RWA, quit my job in sales and went back to work as the OR buyer for the UW Hospital where I learned amazing contract negotiation skills.  I then quit my job at the hospital and jumped into agenting!  The rest, as they say, is history! 

On a very exciting note – last June my amazing aunt decided that she wanted to agent!  Cori’s been a fantastic support to me and for 3 Seas from its inception, so I was thrilled to say the least that she wanted to take a more active role in the business.  She’s a tremendous asset to the company.  She’s building a wonderful client list, and is doing great things for her clients.  In fact, one of her first sales was a very cool auction!  For more information about Cori, please feel free to visit our website:  www.threeseaslit.com.

 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?

MG:  Hee – sorry Winnie!  I answered that above! 

FOCUS

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

MG:  Currently I represent mainly romance, women’s fiction and children’s books (more specifically YA and middle grade).  I also do a few mysteries and thrillers as well as select nonfiction projects.

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

MG:  Honestly, I would love to see more nonfiction projects.  Parenting, health, money and self-help are all keen interests of mine.

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

MG:  I don’t represent poetry or screenplays.

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?

MG:  Again, I look for non-fiction projects that really call to me.  One project I sold was Alesia Holliday’s EMAIL TO THE FRONT, a fantastic humorous, yet poignant look at being the spouse left behind holding down the homefront while her service member is off on deployment.  Because my husband is also in the military, the proposal grabbed me from the title.  When I read more into the story, I knew that it had to be sold.  We ended up selling the project at auction.  It was a very fun deal – one that will always be near to my heart. 

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

MG:  Most of my projects are romance and women’s fiction.  When I started agenting, it was important to me to really focus on a genre, to get to know the editors and the houses that acquire in that genre and then to grow from there. 

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

MG:  I’ve sold to the majority of the major publishers in the past twelve months including NAL, Berkley, Harlequin, Pocket, HarperCollins, Dorchester and Kensington.  Please feel free to visit my website – I have a list of our sales history which can be found by clicking on the bookshelves link.  www.threeseaslit.com.

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

MG:  Right now I’m repping about 35 clients, and Cori has about 10.  About 95% of my clients are published .

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

MG:  One of the most exciting parts about being an agent is selling an author for the first time, or selling them into their dream house.  And, over the past seven years I’ve been able to make a lot of those “first” calls. 

Many of my bestselling authors started their careers with me.  New York Times Bestselling Author Katie MacAlister and I have been together from the start.  She signed with me in October 2000, just as my business was getting started, and we sold her first book, NOBLE INTENTIONS to Dorchester in May 2001.  She’s an amazing author and she has a fantastic business sense.  We’ve watched her career flourish, and it’s so amazing to know that we’re in this together.  I am so proud of her and her accomplishments – and she never fails to amaze me with the wonderful books that she pens. 

Another one of my clients, Stephanie Rowe, was a Golden Heart finalist when we signed together.  She, too, blew me away with her amazing writing style and her fantastic prolific nature!  Since we signed together, we’ve sold more than 20 projects.  She’s currently launching a YA series with HarperCollins under the name Heather Brooks and is writing a fantastic new paranormal trilogy for Warner under her own name which will be released back-to-back-to-back in 2008. 

On the category side, Anna DeStefano also is one of my “firsts.”  We love to talk about how she “stalked” me at a conference so I would read her materials.  Well, it worked!  I rushed home, read her proposal and fell in love with it!  We soon after signed together and we made her first sale to Harlequin Superromance together.  She’s building a fantastic career, and it’s so much fun planning for the future.

Just this past year, I’ve had three fantastic firsts.  Two of my clients, Cathy McDavid and Lisa Mondello have been with me from the start.  And while we had sold projects into some of the niche markets with publishers like Five Star and Avalon, their goal was to write for Harlequin. And this year I was able to make those calls!  Lisa sold her romantic suspense into Steeple Hill, and Cathy sold a fantastic story to Harlequin American.  What a JOY to call them!!!

And, most recently, I had a very exciting call to make to my client, Cheryl Lyn Wilson.  Cheryl was a past Golden Heart finalist and wrote an amazing epic fantasy titled Tairen Soul.  When I first read Tairen Soul it was well over 800 pages long.  But, the book was too amazing to ignore.  I fell instantly in love with her strong characterization and world building and I couldn’t put her story down!  A couple of months ago, we sold this project at auction to Dorchester.  They are publishing this fantastic story in back-to-back months this fall.  It was an amazing deal, and one of the most fun first calls I’ve ever got to make. 

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

MG:  I am looking for new authors.  What really catches my eye is when an author has an amazing, unique voice.  Where the storytelling sweeps me into the world and the characters that the author has created.  Where I can’t put the submission down.

When reading submissions, I read the chapters first before I read the synopsis.  I love the stories that draw me in and engross me to the point that I can’t wait to see what happens next in the synopsis. 

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?

MG:  Just as every author is different, so is their need for an agent.  I am a very hands on agent, and structure my relationships based on what my authors need from me.  Some of my authors call me when they are stuck in their current WIP and we brainstorm.  Others just ask me to read their drafts for suggestions.  And others turn their materials in straight to the editors, and just want me to work on the business aspect of their careers. 

But, in any case, career planning and communication is vital.  I like to do as much as I can to help my authors plan their careers.  Every deal we make, we look at from all angles to make sure that the deal makes sense not just today, but also makes sense five years from now. 

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

MG:  I love every part of this business.  It is so much fun to read my clients’ new works and to offer advice and suggestions.  And I love to brainstorm.  So, the creative aspect really appeals to me.

But, to combat this, I LOVE business. Every single part of business. From marketing new projects, to following up with the editors, to career planning phone calls, to brainstorming publicity ideas, to negotiating a contract and keeping track of royalty statements.  This business is so much fun, and every day is a new day.  I love the feeling of always being on my toes. 

WG:  Given that you feel an author’s manuscript is marketable, how important is it that you personally like the work in order for you to represent it?

MG:  It’s huge to me.  I love to brag about my clients and their careers.  And there is nothing more exciting then to be marketing the total package – a fantastic proposal, an amazing author and a bright career. 

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

MG:  Whenever I receive a rejection on a project I notify my clients, normally by email.  I copy in the complete rejection letter and forward that on to them.   Also, I track all the submissions/responses in a fantastic database so at a moments notice I can provide a written summary of the submissions for my clients.

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?

MG:  This honestly depends on the project.  Normally now all submissions are done by email, which is really nice because it helps with the snail mail lag time.  How many editors I contact depends on the type of project.  But in general, I like to start out with five submissions which I send to the top five houses that I feel would best fit the manuscript.  Then I start doing my initial follow-ups a few weeks after submission of the project.

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

MG:  I think it’s key.  It’s not very often that I offer an exclusive.  But, if I have a really special project that I’m working on that I think would be ideal for one particular editor, sometimes I do offer an exclusive.

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?

MG:  Yes, my clients and I do discuss different ideas for marketing and promoting the book.  I also work with the publisher to make sure that we are utilizing every avenue in our promotional efforts. 

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

MG:  I think my biggest strength is my excitement for this business.  I honestly live by the motto that you can catch more flies with honey, and I try to keep optimistic and positive in every aspect of this business.  I strive to be the kind of agent that authors like to work with – to make my authors feel comfortable and taken care of.  On the flipside, I strive to be the kind of agent that editors truly like working with.  Someone who is polite and professional, but also a fun lunch date. 

That being said, I can be a bear protecting my cubs in negotiations. 

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

MG:  YES to both counts!  I mentioned above that Anna DeStefano and I like to joke that she “stalked” me.  But, it seriously was a wonderful way for me to get to know her personally, so when I read her manuscript, I felt confident that she would be not just a great writer, but also a fantastic person to work with.

My list is getting quite full, so meeting an author in person really helps me to make the decision on whether or not to offer representation.  Editors have told me that I have fun and nice authors.  And they are right!  I love to work with authors who are outgoing and positive and are just all around great people. 

Conferences are also a great way for me to connect and reconnect with editors.  Normally at a conference things are more laid back, and it’s fun to hang out in a weekend setting like that. 

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?

MG:  Yes, I have sold both film and movie rights.  In all cases I have used subagents. 

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

MG:  We try to live by the 1-2-3 rule.  One month for queries, two months for partials and three months for fulls.  But, it really depends on the workflow that we have at any given time. I think right now we are just getting into our December submissions…

WG:  You’re not based in New York.  Do you feel this puts you at a disadvantage in any way? 

MG:  Not at all!  There are so many amazing, successful agents across the country that have been my mentors.  When I first started the agency I was a little concerned with my location, but on my first trip out to New York, I queried the editors about that concern and they told me there is nothing to worry about.  One even told me that she sees the out-of-town agents more often than the in-town ones because we make a point to come into the city.

Also, I am a member of the Agent Cartel, a fantastic group of romance agents.  We have a great networking loop set-up, and we meet annually at Nationals.  They are a great group of ladies, and we share a lot of very useful information.

ADVICE

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

MG:  Probably the biggest misconception is that authors often think that just because they have an agent that their book is going to sell – tomorrow.  Unfortunately this statement is just not true.  We can do our best to put the manuscripts out there in front of as many eyes as we can, but we have no guarantees that the project will sell.  Also, while we may get faster reads in most cases, there still is a wait time from when we submit projects. 

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

MG:  Honestly, this answer varies from author to author.  If an author is currently unpublished, it would be smart for them to try to find an agent first before submitting their project to the publishers only because an agent will know who best that project would work for.  Also, marketing your proposal takes a lot of time, time that you could be writing.  So, an agent can take that task off your plate.  That being said, many authors enjoy marketing and negotiating contracts.  In that case, they might feel better having that control over their own career.  It’s almost like selling your home – you can do it on your own, but it might take longer, be more stressful and might have less traffic walking through whereas if you leave the hassle to a real estate agent, they might be able to sell faster at a lower bottom line cost for you.

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?

MG:  My best advice is to be upfront and honest about your career.  When you get the call, be ready to ask a lot of questions and be sure to really feel good about agreeing to work with an agent.  You’re entering into hopefully a long, long-term relationship.  And it’s so easy to say, YES!  But, before you jump, really consider the offer.  Will that agent be the best one for you?  Take the time, ask the questions, and celebrate!  J

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?

MG:  “Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”      --Ralph Waldo Emerson

How true is THAT?  You can’t be around a happy person and still feel grumpy.  I try very hard to be that happy person.

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

MG:  Relax???  Winnie!  You know me better than that!  J

Kidding!!  I love playing with my kids.  Whether it’s going for a bike ride or hanging out on webkinz.com, they truly know how to make me smile!

And, I also love hanging out with my grandma.  Honey (that’s my grandma!) and I have started walking every day.  It’s an amazing time to connect, and I love the Honey/Michelle time.

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

MG:  I love to read magazines.  Anything from Cosmo to Ladies Home Journal.  I love the short, snappy articles, and I’m determined to find one real weight loss plan in one of them! 

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

MG:  Now you’re talking my talk!  DVRs are the best invention ever! 

My favorite show is THE UNIT.  Being a military wife I can sure relate to what those ladies are going through.  And I love the realistic jobs that the men are doing in the show.  The characterization is amazing.

I also love MEN IN TREES.  What can be better than watching a strong woman/author who reinvents her life in Alaska surrounded by yummy men?  Oh, and her agent cracks me up! 

GREY’S ANATOMY is another must see.  Again, the characters are so cool and so real.  I love the writing in that show.

And, finally I LOVE the APPRENTICE and am so worried that this will be the last season as I think I am the only person in the world still watching.  But, I’m hoping there’s more like me out there!

Luckily, I can get my game show fill with ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A FIFTH GRADER!  What a great show!  My kids and I have fun watching that one.

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

MG:  GONE WITH THE WIND has to be the book that has had the most impact on my life.  Miss O’Hara is solely to blame for my gold hoop skirt that I wore to junior prom.  That and my overly-puffy white wedding dress, too.  Seriously, though, what an amazing tale of relationships and love.  And history, too.  I instantly fell in love with anything historical after I read that book.  It’s amazing.

WRAP UP

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

MG:  Winnie, thanks again so much for the opportunity to appear here!  It’s been a ton of fun, and I would be happy to respond to any questions that anyone may have.

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

MG:  Sure!  Our website is www.threeseaslit.com.

WG:  Thanks again Michelle.  Visiting with you was fun, as always!

 

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