Today, we’re fortunate to have agent Scott Eagan visit RU to talk about how category romance authors benefit by having an agent. Scott was generous enough to write a short lecture and answer a few questions as well. Feel free to pose your questions for him in the comments.
This issue of category romance authors having an agent came up when I first opened Greyhaus Literary Agency in 2003. I was actually sitting in a session, listening to a panel discussion from editors when someone asked if it was necessary to have an agent when pitching to a category house. What amazed me, at that time, was the answer. This editor began first with the answer I already knew – “We accept both agented and unagented submissions.” O.K. so far, so good, but then the editor continued, “However I have to say that we actually prefer unagented submissions.” Arrghhh, screeching tires, “what did this editor say?” They preferred unagented?
Fortunately the moment of panic didn’t last for that much longer. She went on to discuss the issue of contracts and the fact that they use a pretty standard contract with not much room for negotiating. What she was really saying is that there really wasn’t much need for it. Over the years though, I have come to the conclusion that, while for contract purposes, the agent might (please note I say might) not be necessary, there is indeed a strong argument for having an agent. In fact, I don’t see much of a separation between having an agent for a category house or for any other house.
I do think there is a misconception that all agents do for writers is negotiate contracts. While I am sure some do, there are also a lot of agents out there that do a lot more. An agent is really that one reader that has the ability to see both sides of the equation when it comes to publishing. They can see that creative side of the author, but they can also provide that “inside” look at what editors and book buyers are really wanting. That is a valuable resource.
I have seen a lot of great category writers out there that suddenly find their career coming to a standstill as they wonder why the editor just wasn’t happy with that last project they sent off. They scream, “what do you mean they didn’t want my next book?” The agent, in all likelihood, could have prevented that from happening. Not because they can argue for another book and negotiate the next deal (although they can do that), it is because they can prevent a writer from making a huge mistake with that next work in progress.
Category writing is difficult in the fact that a writer has to maintain the single voice and theme of the house, without becoming too repetitive in terms of style and voice. Take the “baby” stories. How do you find different ways of telling the surprise baby theme? I am a firm believer it can be done and it just takes some team work and the agent can help with that. While the writer might think they have a new story, the agent, as that outside reader can look at it with truly an objective eye and make sure the writer doesn’t just copy what she has done before.
I think there is also another element that we don’t often think about. When I first opened Greyhaus there were a lot of publishers out there that would accept unagented submissions. That number has dwindled significantly. Instead of dealing with the “slush piles” the editors have passed that stack down to the agents. So, now we are the ones that get to deal with the stories. To the editor, a writer that has an agent has already had the story approved one time. In other words, the editor is confident in knowing it has already passed muster.
As an agent, I love working with category romance authors. These are writers that are truly dedicated to the craft and their genre. It takes a lot to keep those books coming and not lose focus. It isn’t easy to keep finding new and unique stories and still maintain that theme the editor is looking for.
I want to reiterate a comment I made earlier. I really don’t see much of a difference between having an agent for a category house or any other house. Having an agent gets a writer a lot of benefits they might not normally get with simply their critique group.
Kelsey: Can you share with our readers how you work with your clients on the creative aspect of the writing process?
Scott: I am a firm believer in working with my writers through all stages of their writing. Of course, each writer is different and some of my clients have stronger support systems at home to assist that process. Still, the more interaction I have with the writers from the beginning is always a great help.
One of the biggest reasons I want to work with the writers is a time management issue. The Greyhaus Literary Agency writers have always been known for their fast turnaround times on times on projects. When an editor wants revisions, we always get the projects in under the deadline. When there is a need to create a new project due to a need with a publisher, the Greyhaus writers are always some of the first called. By working with writers early on in the process, we can eliminate the sometimes lengthy process of having to go back and seriously over-haul a project.
As many writers know, having to make global revisions on a manuscript, after it has been written is difficult. Changes that you make to the first part of a story, you often find there is a domino effect or a trickle-down effect to that change. If I can catch projects early on, before we get too far with the idea, we can generally get the project moving faster without that serious “back tracking.”
If you are a Greyhaus client, we often start with developing a list of potential projects that you think you might be interested in writing. When I see this list, I can often shape the direction you want to head. Sometimes the project you want to write might not be the one that an editor would want first. Sometimes there is simply a need for another project. Together, we discuss those ideas.
I also like to look at projects after the story gets going. I will frequently read projects at the first, third and fifth chapters just to make sure we are on track. Again, this is just to keep the writer heading in the right direction.
I do think the added bonus is that I can frequently call editors and discuss potential projects. Many times, I will have editors that request one story over another in the early drafting phase. Truly, another added bonus of that “hands-on” approach I take here at Greyhaus.
Kelsey: What trends are you seeing in the category romance market?’
Scott: Why does everyone ask this question? Trends are really a tough call considering what seems to be hot right now will not necessarily be hot later on. In the case of the category romance lines, I really don’t see much of a difference between what they are doing and what the single title romance lines are doing. Also, each of the things I am seeing varies from one subgenre to the next. Let me just bullet point this one.
- Paranormal – More and more angels and demons and less of the vamps and were’s. Of course, in my humble opinion, the writing is still the same with just a change in words. I am also seeing more of a shift to what was once called “urban fantasy” in this paranormal line.
- Contemporary – While we still see many of the same issues we have always seen in category, I do think more and more of the traits from the women’s fiction genre are creeping in. Writers are trying to bring in more and more of the controversial issues into the stories. We’re talking the things that make headlines in newspapers now.
- Romantic Suspense is really trying to do more than simply kidnapping issues. I think, due to the rise of the single title Thriller and Suspense writers (Steve Berry and the like) writers are trying to incorporate those ideas into their projects. Simply put, we are seeing more of an international feel to the stories.
- Historicals, as most of you know is one of my favorite. In the category lines, the writers are really adding a lot more depth to their stories. Instead of just placing the stories in a specific time period, the authors are tying the stories into major event in history. Reading authors such as Bronwyn Scott and Nicola Cornick will show you just that. These are big stories in a small package.
That should give you a feel for what is going on.
Kelsey: What category lines are aggressively looking to acquire new authors?
Scott: Be careful of this one. Just because someone is acquiring does not mean you should go out and write the stories. Still, there are some genres that really struggle finding great authors. One in particular is the Medical romance line. These are tough to write but if a writer is in the field, they have an added advantage.
I think the easier way to look at this is to focus on what is pretty swamped right now. The Teen line, Romantic suspense/mystery, historical and urban fantasy is really tough. Everyone seems to be writing these. I would always recommend working on those powerful contemporary stories.
Kelsey: Could you give us a feel for a category author’s career arc? Is it still possible to make a career writing category romance?
Scott: Writing category romance is always tough. The key is to be able to come up with constantly new ideas and yet, at the same time, maintain the central idea that is inherent to that line. Writing the same thing over and over again is really a sure sign to eventual failure in the line.
This is also a line that production is really key! Since the marketing for the category romances is different from many of the single title authors, keeping your name out there on the shelf and in the face of the public is even more important. This means fast and consistent writing. My category writers are currently producing 3-4 full length books a year, combined with numerous smaller stories for the category electronic lines (somewhere between 3 and 4 of those). These authors are also writing under other names with other houses. Right now though, the focus is keeping their name out there.
Staying in the single line is not a problem, but I always encourage writers to find a way to branch off, either into 1 other category line, or even into a single title line. Remember though, as soon as you branch off, this means the category production could potentially decrease. You don’t want that to happen.
I do believe it is important to establish yourself as a brand name within a category line. If you think about the category romance authors, you will find that you come back to the same names over and over again. This is due, not so much with the simple quality of a single book, but the consistency of their writing over time. In other words, to build your brand name in a category line is going to take a while. You can’t just do that in one year.
As far as making a career of writing category, this one is tough. Again, it is all a matter of production. You cannot make a career writing only 3 books a year. Finding authors making a career of their writing is really tough. Many are supplementing with single title books, or if they are fortunate, have either a job or spouse that is assisting with the income.
In the end, I would never encourage a writer to consider giving up their day job to write until there is some certainty, and even then, there is never a guarantee.
RU Crew, what questions do you have for Scott about the agent/category author relationship or other agent-related issues? Fire away!
Don’t forget to join us Wednesday when Laurie Schnebly talks about the Greek guy we all love: the Alpha Male!
Scott Eagan is the agent at Greyhaus Literary Agency. Opened in 2003, Greyhaus has focused exclusively on the romance and women’s fiction genres. Scott draws on his two MA degrees in Creative Writing and Literary as well as his undergraduate work in literature and writing to provide hands on assistance to his writers. Scott is actively looking to acquire category romance authors. Please review the website for specific details but please remember, when submitting, be prepared to: A) know which category line you are submitting to; B) be able to explain either in writing or in a discussion how the story meets the criteria for that line; and C) be able to have either additional stories or works in progress that also fit that same line.
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- Weekly Lecture Schedule for May 24-28: Scott Eagan, Laurie Schnebly Campbell & C.J. Redwine
- Holly Root on Negotiating Publishing Contracts
- To Be or Not To Be…Agented, That Is
- Category Romance: Ask the Authors, Day 1