Posted On May 24, 2010 by Print This Post

Category Romance Authors – Benefits to Being Agented

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.

Welcome, Scott!

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!

Bio:

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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33 Responses to “Category Romance Authors – Benefits to Being Agented”

  1. Scott–

    Thanks for joining us at RU! I heard from an author that category is an author’s bread and butter. I believe she wrote one ST and 2-3 category per year.

    Do you concur?

    Thanks again,
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 24, 2010, 5:17 am
    • Tracey,

      I have heard the same thing from other writers as well. Obviously, the single title books will bring in more money on an advance, having a constant stream of well written category stories keeps your name out there as well. Also, consider the time it takes to write those stories. Two of my strongest writers are loving category and can produce a story in 30 days if they need to. Of course that means no outside activities, but they can accomplish 1 chapter a day of writing.

      Scott

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 9:01 am
  2. Scott –

    We’re delighted to have you at RU today. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat and answer questions.

    You mention it’s a challenge for writers to make a living from category alone (if I understood your comment correctly). Could you offer any ballpark numbers on how many category authors you know who make an idependent living (meaning full financial support) and how many are able to make a good “supplementary” income?

    Thanks so much!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 24, 2010, 7:28 am
    • Kelsey,

      I honestly don’t have the numbers on this one. Remember the key to category is keeping your name out there a lot and having books come out all of the time. Remember though, there are few authors out there that can do nothing else other than write. For those people, they have either that ultimate blockbuster hit, or have been writing for a while

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 9:04 am
  3. Scott-

    You said the teen line is swamped right now,but what are the main themes that are swamping it right now, besides Vamps and weres, because that is all I have seen. Also, what types of themes besides those do you think would sell right now or rather be chosen to sell?

    Thanks,
    Bethanie

    Posted by Bethanie Armstrong | May 24, 2010, 8:49 am
  4. Bethanie,
    The last time I talked to the editors, they said they were really interested in anything that is going to be a hit with the teen market. With that said, you can see why the paranormal stories are making such a big hit. I don’t think it is an issue of other themes not selling, but the fact that these are the stories that are flooding the editors desks right now. This is what they have to pick from.

    Scott

    Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 9:06 am
  5. Great info!

    I agree about the value of having input on both the creative and business sides of things. Yesterday I brainstormed with my agent about some revisions, based on her knowledge of editors’ likes and dislikes, and it helped me to see some things I couldn’t pick out on my own!

    She really is this link to a world (Editorland!) that I can’t visit myself, but she’s in constant contact with it and understands the nuances of how it operates. I can stay at home and write while she does all the warrior stuff!

    Posted by Donna Cummings | May 24, 2010, 9:40 am
    • Donna,
      That is certainly a great benefit. I am always frustrated when I hear writers really only wanting an agent to sell his or her books. That connection between the editors is really a direct line to information most would die to have. Sounds like you have a great relationship with your agent.

      Scott

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 9:48 am
  6. Morning Scott –

    Great to have you here!

    My question is on your agenting techniques. I find it fascinating that you go through that much with them, going over upcoming projects and what to write etc. I had no idea! What do you do with a client who is a pantser – who doesn’t come up with an outline, who just has a germ of an idea and then starts writing?

    Further, what do you think of a client who wants to start in category and then break to single title later on?

    Thanks for being here, Scott – it was a great article!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 24, 2010, 10:04 am
  7. Carrie,

    Great questions.
    As far as the pantster issue, I do have writers that use this approach. What we find is that things tend to take a bit longer to get through a story. The edits for a full manuscript are always going to take longer. Still, the writers I have that take this approach tend to have a great support group backing them. We still try to discuss projects as fully as possible, in those early stages, to hopefully catch the possible problems.

    As far as a writer wanting to move to single title, there is really not a problem with this. I would say that many writers that do this will still continue writing in the category lines as well.

    One thing to remember is that category writing, just because it is smaller, is not a training ground. In fact, to tell a really big story in such a small space really is harder than having that extra time.

    Scott

    Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 10:19 am
  8. Hi Scott!
    My question is about representation – speaking from an agent perspective on category romance only (as there’s more structured guidelines to follow) what do you do about handling similar books/authors within your agency who are competing for the same limited slots that are available to be filled at certain houses? Do you run into this ever, or do you keep your client base diversified enough to circumvent this kind of a problem?

    Murphy (BTW – great blog post on greyhaus today! And so timely with the conference coming up. Thanks for the tips!)

    Posted by Murphy | May 24, 2010, 10:43 am
    • Murphy,

      Great question and certainly one of the reasons why I like to keep a small agency. I do my best to always find ways to keep writers from having to compete against one another. Obviously, some of the time we run into issues like this, but I have been pretty lucky. I do think a good analogy though is something that happened to one of my authors. We had a response that came back from the editor rejecting a project. The reason was simple. The writing was as good as one of the major authors but too like it. Their comment was simple – “We already have someone doing that.”

      Scott

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 1:56 pm
  9. Are historical lines looking for stories set outside the Regency/Victorian periods? While doing research for my current work in progress, I didn’t find much set during the time period I’m writing. I guess I’m hoping to start a new trend and not have simply written something unmarketable.

    Also, genre-bending stories, i.e., historical romances with paranormal elements — very dark paranormals with some horror elements, etc. — are the category lines considering them?

    Posted by Ericka Scott | May 24, 2010, 11:15 am
    • Historicals are really looking at a wide variety of areas. Yes, these are big right now but editors are always looking for other areas. Like everything though, things run in cycles. These may end up being not so hot and something else takes the lead at some point. The key is to write what you like.

      Do the category houses look at genre-blending stories? Sure. The key is to still make sure it fits the guidelines of that particular line.

      Scott

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 1:58 pm
  10. Hi Scott:
    Some of my writing friends think I’m a little obsessed with the idea that category writers need agents, so I’m going to point them to your post today 🙂

    I’m not currently a category author, but my RS category finaled in the Daphnes and is off for judging at HQ. I considered starting another RS, but two inspy historicals have been nagging me to write them, so I temporarily left the darker side to work on one of them.

    Obviously, I have no problem with the idea of branching out! It strikes me as sound advice given that lines change/close, etc. But, I wonder at what point this becomes a good idea to do.

    I realize, of course, that the answer may depend on a lot of factors at the time, but, in general, when in a career is this good to do?

    Thanks

    Posted by Debbie Kaufman | May 24, 2010, 12:53 pm
    • Debbie,

      We were actually discussing this at the WisRWA Conference. The one thing I always stress is to write what you know. Jumping from one genre to the next, early in your career, is not a good way to build that readership, especially in category when we want to see you produce several projects in one of the lines. Your editor is working hard at making your work fit that line and sinc each line is different, it makes it a bit hard to coach.

      Since you are still unpublished, jumping around is fine until you find that niche. With that said, though, always make sure you have serveral additional projects in that line that would work.

      Scott

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 2:02 pm
  11. Hi Scott. Thank you for being here with us today. I have heard that category is a great way for a new writer to break in and build a following. Do you think it is easier for a writer to break in with a category book vs. a single title?

    Great interview. Thank you!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 24, 2010, 1:00 pm
    • Adreinne,

      I think the only thing that makes it a bit easier is the number of available options a writer has. When you think single title, you have to know that houses have a limited number of slots each year and within each of the sub-genres. With catergory, they are producing a ton each month. Odds are better.

      As far as builing a following, that is really something that is up to the author. It all comes down to the amount of work you do with publicity and marketing.

      Scott

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 2:05 pm
  12. Hi Scott. Thanks for your post today. I’m all in favor of having an agent, tho getting one seems harder than winning the lottery!
    My question is: are there other publishers beside Hqn-Sill looking for category-length fiction?

    Posted by Jan Lorman | May 24, 2010, 1:34 pm
  13. That’s pretty much it. I guess you can argue for some of the other lines at other houses that have a pretty select focus on their line, but that is pretty much it.

    Scott

    Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 2:07 pm
  14. Hi Scott!
    Great post.
    I am trying to break into category and am lucky to have signed with an agent a few weeks ago. She’s read my work and has made wonderful suggestions. I feel so lucky to have her, and not just for her connections. She offers support and guidance and keeps me focused.

    Also, with regard to medical romance, that is the line of Harlequin I am presently targeting.

    Posted by Wendy Marcus | May 24, 2010, 2:13 pm
  15. Scott,

    I have enjoyed you post today. You have given me a lot to think about in terms of category and ST. I like the odds better with category.

    You mentioned you are looking for medical romances. Is there anything else you are looking for as far as sumissions?

    Thank you.

    Posted by Deanne Williams | May 24, 2010, 2:27 pm
  16. Hi Scott!

    I read your blog and it’s always full of great information, especially for new writers like myself. Great to see you here on RU!

    Jen 😀

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 24, 2010, 5:58 pm
  17. Scott –

    I just wanted to chime back in and say thanks again for visiting with RU and our readers today!

    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 24, 2010, 9:50 pm
    • Glad I could help out. And for those of you coming to Orlando this July, make sure to catch me in the hallways and say hi!

      Will also be visiting some writing chapters at the National conference. If you chapter has a get-together, let me know and I can swing by and say hi.

      Scott

      Posted by Scott Eagan | May 24, 2010, 9:58 pm
  18. An awesome post. I appreciate the honest and realistic approach to category, and yet your advice was motivating at the same time. Thanks so much!

    Posted by Deb | May 25, 2010, 12:12 am
  19. Scott, do you think it would be easier for an author to break into category romance with an agent or can it still be done without one? Also, what trends would you like to see, if any? Or what ones would you like to see less of?
    Margay

    Posted by Margay | May 28, 2010, 9:25 am
  20. When is a romance not a romance?
    Why can there not be more than the two “love-lorn” characters (ten couples in all) in a war-time novel depicting the hopes and fears of men and women, who – marry for companionship – are already married – meet and fall in love – find happiness once more after losing a loved one – are forced through a callous divorce procedure and then face a cruel and horrible death after merciless persecution?
    Is that then not a romance?

    Posted by Thomas Sharkey | June 7, 2010, 2:56 am

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