Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Industry Insider: Agent Jennifer Schober

For this month's Industry Insider post, agent Jennifer Schober from Spencerhill Associates joins us for an interview about the important role an agent can play in an author's career.  Welcome, Jenn!

Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been an agent, and what led you to Spencerhill Associates?

First let me say thank you so much for having me! It’s great to be blogging for the Pink Hearts—I represent a number of very talented category authors and it’s great to have the opportunity to meet more.

I joined Spencerhill in the summer of 2006 and have been acquiring for about 3 ½ years at this point selling over 100 books; my clients range from unpublished writers eager to break out, to New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling authors.  Before I came to Spencerhill I was looking for a big change in my career path; I was gravitating towards writing actually. I never expected to become an agent… but one thing led to another and I met Spencerhill’s President Karen Solem, fantastic agent and my mentor! It seemed that the fates had aligned. I often say that when I started agenting, I finally felt at home--- all of my skills and education had once felt at odds with each other now merged perfectly— I feel lucky to have found a perfect fit and I like to think this has a positive effect on my clients.

I am still looking for new clients, published and unpublished and in all genres of women’s fiction. I also rep category and YA but no children’s. Check out our website at www.spencerhillassociates.com for more up to date info on submissions.

Why should a category author have an agent, given the boiler plate contract?

Lots of reasons-- Agents can provide a great deal more to authors than contract negotiation at this stage—although there still are key components of a category contract that can be negotiated!! I focus on career planning and career building which are two important aspects of maximizing your category career. This is especially important for those category writers who dream of writing single title, it’s helpful to have an agent who has experience building authors with this goal in mind. Also, helping an author navigate through the publishing business while enhancing their creativity and productivity is a part of my job that I love, and I think any author writing at any stage can benefit from this guidance.

I see myself as a business partner, guide and coach for my authors; sometimes I am even a mid-wife! Selling an author’s book is incredibly exhilarating and very important obviously, but helping an author to grow in her writing and her career and especially her readership is about having a long term perspective, not just a short term ‘sell the book’ view. Balancing the expectations of clients and that of the publisher is a big part of this job that can create a lot of stress on the author, and I actually enjoy helping the author in achieving an optimal work/life balance with the goal of building a sustaining career.

What are the top three things you looks for in an author? Is it any different for a category/series Romance author?

Talent, Professionalism, Moxie (drive, motivation, a little somethin’ special…)

A sense of humor is always appreciated in this line of business too!

Do you specialize in certain types of category? If so, why?

No, I don’t, but looking at my client list, I tend to gravitate towards the PRESENTS and DESIRE lines at Harlequin. I guess those Alpha Males strike a chord

What do you look for in a submission?

I look for talent, professionalism and moxie… that sounds familiar… I like when author’s really nail the line they are targeting…if they are targeting Desire their query has the tone fitting for a Desire. I like to know about the author, the history of this work *has someone asked to see it? The length etc. Show me what you got! Make me email you asap to read more!—please go to our website to see our guidelines www.spencerhillassocaites.com if you want to submit to me.

What makes you stop reading a manuscript?

Unpolished work, typos, bad grammar. If the writing isn’t strong, I don’t represent the genre you have submitted, etc. Rejections are a huge part of publishing so please remember: I am not rejecting YOU I am rejecting your WORK, don’t take it personally.

What makes you contract a manuscript?

If I feel something tingle in my spine, or deep in my gut… I know there is something special in the writer’s work. It’s a visceral thing for me. I also will feel confident that the book has commercial potential and that one of the editors I know will want to read a book just like this and then propose to it!

Do you suggest any books on writing or classes? If so, which ones?

Not really. I think it’s important to do your own research and discover what speaks to you and your process when choosing a workshop or book.

Which houses are actively acquiring and what do you hear is in demand? (e.g. Susie so and so from Whoosiewhatsit asks if I have any flapper YA every time we talk) Are those trends the same in category as they are in single title?

Every publishing house is looking for a fantastic story that melts hearts, heals wounds, cracks funny bones, requires boxes of Kleenex, makes you start a book club, etc. so trends shmends. Writing purely for a trend is a sure fire way of coming up with a clunker. Write what makes you feel passionate and your work will make an impact on that agent or editor of your dreams. Having said that, being aware of what is working in the marketplace is just good business and will help to make the book of your heart even more desirable to agents and editors, and eventually the reading public. A perfect book to me is one hits the right spots in me and in the market.

Should aspiring authors submit at more than one line, or target one specific line? (e.g. Presents, Desire & Blaze or just focus on Intrigue)

It’s best to target one line first. Eharlequin.ca has a great site for writers looking for guidelines for submissions. Each line has different requirements, so make sure you target the right one for the tone of your work. Don’t carpet bomb Harlequin with your MS! Editors like to think you know where your work fits before you send it.

What sort of stories do you wish you saw more of?

As I said above, I am looking for really deeply emotional women’s fiction right now with a commercial feel.

What is the best part of your job?

Besides selling the first book of a debut author? Being a part of the creative process of my clients is an honor and inspires me every day. AND for this bookworm you can’t beat reading for a living!


Check out Jennifer and Spencerhill Associates at their website:  www.spencerhillassociates.com.  Thanks for visiting with us today Jennifer!

12 comments:

  1. Wow, this is such an interesting topic for me. I'm unagented at the moment. I love writing category but am also thinking seriously about developing a single title project.

    Have always wondered what happens during the revision process of a project if you have an agent. Is the agent likely to get involved? Do they offer revision advice before the ms is submitted? etc. I expect it all depends on the particular agent/author/editor relationship but it does fascinate me.

    Also, is it better for a Brit author to get a Brit agent as there don't seem to be many here that rep category authors?

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing this info Jennifer! Very interesting.
    :-)

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  3. Jenn...I can attest to your wonderfulness! LOL One of the things I like is that now my editor and I just talk about the writing, and not the business part. I like that A LOT. And I love knowing you're there to bounce ideas and thoughts off of.

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  4. Jenn --
    Donna keeps telling me wonderful things about you and your agency! Thank you for taking the time to be here.

    Is the submission process different for an established author than an unpublished one?

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  5. Also ignore my awful grammar. I haven't had coffee yet. ;-)

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  6. Hi everyone, thanks Donna for inviting me by. I wanted to say i have not had coffee yet either so excuse my typos.
    To address an earlier comment, agents are very different in their take on editing client's work. Some do a lot of revision with clients and other's dont do it at all. I let my clients know upfront that I am not an editor, that my forte is selling the work to an editor that can bring out the best in your work-- but i do help in the work's development towards the most marketable product. I look at concepts, characterization, HOOK, dramatic scaffold, etc. but dont ask me to line edit, or look at work that isnt polished or ready for an industry professional!

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  7. Michelle,
    To answer your question-- submitting a project by a published author gives your project more credibility out of the gates and will often get more interest/enthusiasm sooner. Ps- I just went to your website and your newest cover is to die for!

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  8. Great blog Jennifer. Thanks for your wise words. As an unpubbed it's sometimes a bit like a minefield out there knowing whether to sub to an agent or not! Take care. Caroline x

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  9. Caroline, yes it can be very daunting to look for an agent-- make sure you do your research and the fit feels right before you sign

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  10. Jenn, I noticed Heidi asked about Brit authors, and I had someone else mention this not long ago. Heidi said: "Also, is it better for a Brit author to get a Brit agent as there don't seem to be many here that rep category authors?"

    What are your thoughts on this?

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  11. I just wanted to stop by and say that Jenn has been part mid-wife and career coach for me. Category authors can definitely benefit from a passionate professional agent like Jenn!

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  12. to answer the question about the British author getting a British agent-- I think it's a matter of fit for you more then anything.
    The internet has made it possible to work anywhere but if you are an author who puts a lot of stock in face time with editors in the business, then you may want to look at agents who work here. (unless of course you are targeting M & B!!!)

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