Confessions of an Agent Panel: Women's Fiction 4-1-1

If you are writing for the women’s fiction market and are hunting an agent or publisher, this article is for you. 

In July, at the Annual RWA-WF mini-conference, we asked three well-reputed women’s fiction literary agents (Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates, Ltd., Michelle Grajkowski, of 3 Seas Literary Agency, and Courtney Miller-Callihan of Greenburger Associates) a series of industry questions.  Here are their responses:

 

What appeals to you?  How do you know you’ve found a gem? 

NA:  A unique story.  She loves quirky characters dealing with relatable/common issues in a fresh way.

MG:  Really looking to expand her women’s fiction client list.  She focuses on strong characters (think Tony Soprano), likes a little grit, and also has some ideas for historical fiction.

CMC: Women’s fiction is only a narrow sliver of her list, but she looks for voice and a strong story hook (summarize your book in one great sentence).

 

What aren’t you seeing enough of, or conversely, what is too common? 

The panel agreed on a few points.  Firstly, if you’re taking on the common tropes (multi-generational, sister, marriage-in-jeopardy), you have a better chance at breaking out if you turn it on its head.  Add an unusual twist to the expected story.  Also, the pages need to be tight.  Make every word and scene count.  Watch out for familiar scenes (bars, girls having drinks, etc.) and only use them if they must be used to push the story forward. 

Secondly, there was some consensus that there might be an oversaturation of small town romances at this point.

 

Is there a “best” publisher for Women’s Fiction?

The secret isn’t which publishing house you choose, but whether the editor and house work well together and have enthusiasm for your project.  Can that editor motivate her marketing department?  Editor enthusiasm is a critical component of acquisition and promotion.

 

What are your thoughts on genre trends?

Don’t write for trends because, by the time you’ve finished your book, the trend may have shifted.  Write what you love so that passion will come through in your voice.

However, in women’s fiction, pay attention to economy.  Chick lit books started failing when the economy went south, because reading about acquisitive young women became less appealing.  

Also, pay attention to the sense of place and setting of your story.  It tends to be especially important (takes on a character role) in women’s fiction.

 

Is WF really restricted to the one-woman’s journey?

No.  Many stories layer in multi-generations (although sometimes it is better to break them into multiple books if the cast becomes overwhelming).  Additionally, romance has a place in women’s fiction (readers tend to enjoy a romantic thread), but it doesn’t need to be central to the story.

 

How will Amazon Unlimited affect authors?

Current wisdom is that authors shouldn’t be overly affected.  As long as ten percent of the downloaded book is read, authors will receive a fair royalty.  The bigger concern is that, over time, programs like this may cheapen the value of books, and might make it harder to charge a reasonable price for a book.

 

How does Indie-publishing impact agents?

It has become part of every conversation with their clients.  Many agents now work with authors who choose to go hybrid.  It is important for an author to include their agent in their indie plans so the agent can still steer the overall career in a cohesive manner (also manage deadlines and conflicts, etc.).   

In terms of its impact on agents and their traditional publishing lists, indie-publishing has created a bit of a saturation problem, especially in the romance market, making it harder for agents to get their authors discovered.

 

Does the WF label marginalize women authors?

It’s more of an industry term than something readers think about, so they don’t think so. 

 

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