AUGUST 2009 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
Literary Agent, The Irene Goodman Literary Agency
WG: Hi Barbara! Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.
WG: To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
BP: I am an agent with Irene Goodman Literary where I specialize in thrillers, mysteries, humorous non-fiction, and historical romances. I come from a strong background in both copy writing and editing, and love love love my 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?
BP: It was the only career that combined my tenacity with my voracious reading skills. It’s as if the job was custom designed for me, as next to reading “winning” is my favorite thing ;).
WG: What genres do you currently represent?
BP: Lots of everything in fiction and non-fiction :)
WG: Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?
BP: I occasionally take on a paranormal romance if it blows me away. I am extremely pleased with my list. I know my strengths and I insist on excellence from myself as well as my authors, but if something phenomenal came along in a different genre I would absolutely go for it.
WG: Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?
BP: I can’t ever say I would have ABSOLUTELY no interest in anything. Good writing is good writing, but right now I am not actively looking to add any prescriptive non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, erotica, children’s, graphic novels, memoir, or contemporary romance to my client list
WG: You mention that you represent authors of non-fiction. How successful have you been in selling their projects?
BP: I have several non-fiction sales that range from prescriptive to memoir to humorous and parenting books to pop culture. Because the current non-fiction industry is so platform driven, it is hard to find that perfect project that combines creativity with media reach, but I do enjoy a good humorous NF with a fabulous hook and wide reaching national platform when it comes across my desk.
WG: What genre(s) do the majority of your recent sales fall into? Has this changed over time? How so?
BP: Oddly enough, although I feel like I deal with a lot of mysteries and thrillers, the largest percentage of my sales fall into historical romance. I know what I like in historical and I am able to do very well with them; this has been the truth since day one, I just know where to match an author with their historical! Otherwise, the rest of my list varies greatly. I mostly just go with my gut, if I love something, I HAVE TO REPRESENT IT, no matter what.
WG: What publishing houses/lines have you sold to in the past 12 months?
BP: Gosh, that’s a long list. I think it is safe to say I cover the imprints and houses fairly well.
WG: Approximately how many clients do you currently represent and what is the ratio of published to unpublished?
BP: I was told there would be no math in this interview.
WG: Approximately how many works by first time authors have you sold in the past 12 months?
BP: A lot. I would say maybe half, actually.
WG: Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
BP: That’s hard to say, I am being extremely picky right now, so I would say a fabulous hook with stellar writing would be the only sure bet.
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?
BP: My agenting style: elbows out. I go as deep as need be which is sometimes to the ankles sometimes to the neck. And all of my clients have my office and cell number, they can call me whenever.
WG: Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?
BP: I just love love love my job. Across the board.
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?
BP: It's the #1 factor. I have turned down a true crime book that later went on to sell for 6 figures because I found the angle distasteful. I am not going to participate in something unless I am 100% invested in the tone and execution.
WG: How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions? How specific is the feedback?
BP: Again, this is case by case, I always discuss what the author prefers .
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?
BP: Poelle Trade Secrets.
WG: How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?
BP: My opinion varies greatly on this, too many layers to accurately decipher.
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?
WG: What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship? In the agent/editor relationship?
BP: I was born to do this job.
WG: Do you feel that writers’ conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors? With editors?
BP: Yes, and Yes! Unequivocally.
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?
BP: We utilize some of the best sub-agents in the business. Our film rights agent is located in LA and has closed monster deals and our foreign rights agency is absolutely the best in the biz. No doubt.
WG: Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
BP: Sometimes 48 hours, sometimes 5 months.
WG: Do you feel an agent based in New York has a significant advantage over one who is not? Why or why not?
BP: Dunno, never been an agent anywhere else.
WG: What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an agent’s role is?
BP: They want to empty their drawer and have me sell everything without understanding that I am about BUILDING a career not just selling books. I have a clear idea of every career path when I sign someone. It’s not an arbitrary flinging of manuscripts hither and thither.
WG: In your opinion, when is the right time in an author’s career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?
BP: When they have a manuscript that is in pristine shape and has a unique take on a common theme in the genre.
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?
BP: We are not gatekeepers. We are not magicians. We are just humans who love books. Have a chat and a smile and see if we click.
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?
BP: Good writing will out. It can’t help it. Contests or no, good writing will out.
WG: Do you visit the websites and blogs of authors you work with or of authors you are considering acquiring? If so, is there something in particular you look for that potentially impacts your view of the author and their work?
BP: I just like their blogs!
WG: How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer’s career? If so, is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?
BP: YOU MUST SELF PROMOTE. YOU MUST, YOU MUST, YOU MUST. Do all of it. Every day. YOU MUST.
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?
BP: Elbows out!
WG: What do you do to relax and have fun?
BP: Believe it or not I love to grab my husband, an icy diet coke and a blanket and sit in a beautiful setting and read.
WG: Other than your client’s work, what do you enjoy reading?
BP: EVERYTHING, YA…Lit Fic…cereal boxes….
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
BP: Clue and The Closer. And The ‘Burbs. And Dexter. And BUFFY BUFFY BUFFY. And So You Think You Can Dance. And Murder She Wrote. And Arrested Development. There, mix those all up in a Petri dish and you have the chemical make-up of my brain. You figure it out.
WG: Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
BP: There are 11. They are all different genres. I just know what I love when I read it.
WG: Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your agency?
BP: On Tuesdays I blog on a blog called Hey There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room. You will probably learn more about me than you ever really want to, but I love love love doing it once a week.
WG: Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit in this month’s Industry spotlight. It was fun getting this inside look at the way you work and play.