Friday, February 25, 2011

Q & A with Agent XT- Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency

ETA: Announcing the winners of this weeks ARC and book giveaways! Monday's winners of the One Was A Soldier ARC: Beth Anderson, Laura DiSilverio, Rayelenn and Donna Coe-Velleman. Wednesday's winners of One Was A Soldier: Laura Benedict, Michelle, Elizabeth D and Janet. Winners of Bury Your Dead: Carolyn and J. Winner of Drive Time: Leslie Angel.

E-mail me (julia at juliaspencerfleming dot com) with "JRW Winner" in the subject line and your mailing address. USPS trucks are standing by!

Julia
: Beside, behind, and in front of almost every successful writer you will find a literary agent assiduously paving the way for th
at success; believing in and supporting the author even when precious few others do. When I signed on with the Jane Rotrosen Agency, Christina Hogrebe was working as a first reader, assistant, and spunky girl sidekick. After serving her apprenticeship, she began representing her own clients. I've seen her develop from a "baby agent" to a literary powerhouse-in-the-making, with an impressive and growing list of authors. She's agreed to answer some typical questions posed by the as-yet-unpublished writer and by the experienced professional. Christina plans to be available for comments on the backblog, so please get involved in the conversation with questions of your own!

The Novice: What does a literary agent do? Do I have to have an agent?

Christina
: The best literary agents wear many hats. Depending on your needs, an agent may be a coach, a cheerleader, a consigliore, and a sounding board. But primary to any of that, an agent is your business partner; he or she will help create ideas and edit your material (depending on your needs), help you set goals and work to grow your career, promote your interests, create opportunities for growth based on current relationships in the business, negotiate agreements, vet your contracts, collect and process payments, and-this is key-be there to protect you if anything goes wrong.
With a few exceptions, traditional (non-independent) publishers will not accept un-agented material. But logistics aside, an agent is a specialist who can manage your business, allowing you to do what you do best: write.

The Novice: What is the best way to contact you, or any literary agent, if I'm trying to market my first manuscript?

Christina: I read my own queries, and I encourage first-time authors to pay careful attention to submission guidelines listed on an agency's website. You can see my specific guidelines here and learn more about our agency on our website, www.janerotrosen.com.
I know that first-time authors agonize over the query process. Don't! If you've spent months honing your query letter and hundreds on a query doctor , you're not asking the right questions. If you're like me, and you love books, they're not just a pastime; they work their way into every corner of your life, and happily so. So my unsolicited advice to authors is this: become involved. Attend conferences, and readings, and signings. Get to know authors and bump into agents. Talk to booksellers and librarians and read, read, read within your genre. Read reviews, join a book club, and connect to other readers online. Tell an author how much you admire their work, knowing that a kind word from a reader means more than any bad review.
It's worth noting that the majority of JRA clients come through client referral. And that doesn't mean that your great aunt Buffy has to play bridge with a New York Times bestseller for you to get an agent. But it does illustrate the power of being involved.

The Novice: Can an author send a manuscript to more than one agent at a time?

Christina: Sure, but never to more than one agent within the same agency and it's always considerate to note when it's a simultaneous submission. I'll also add that if you are submitting to multiple agencies and you receive an offer before hearing from everyone, it's professional courtesy to notify the other agents of the offer, noting the timeframe for their response should they wish to throw their hat in the ring.

The Novice: Do I have to pay an agent? Do you have a contract with your authors?

Christina: Agents don't work for free. Agents make money when you make money. Period. You can read more about how reputable agents are compensated at the website of the Association of Authors' Representatives .

Not every agency requires a contract with clients. Our agency agreement outlines terms of our working relationship. Keep in mind this is a business partnership and before you enter into that partnership officially, whether the agreement is verbal or in writing, you should understand the expectations and have an opportunity to question those terms.

The Pro: What if I'm not entirely happy with my current agent? What's the ethical way to seek new representation? Do I have to discharge my old agent first?

Christina: If you've discussed your dissatisfaction with your agent, and it's clear that the relationship has run its course, the most ethical way to proceed is to first sever the relationship in writing before looking for new representation.

The Pro: I want to start writing in a genre my agent is unfamiliar with. Do I need to get an additional agent to represent my new work?

Christina: An agent can't be a specialist in every genre. If you're considering changing genres, that should be part of a calculated business strategy which you've discussed with your agent beforehand. Since your agent is already ga-ga for your writing (that was part of the reason you chose her, right?) it's possible that same affection will translate to any genre you write. Many agents will not work with other agencies because in most cases it muddles the contractual waters.

The Pro: I'm querying agents after being unrepresented for a time. What's reasonable for an agent to request before she'll represent me? All my prior sales data? Or my most recent book?

Christina: When entering into a new relationship, it's important that you clearly express your expectations for the road ahead to your new agent. With that in mind, it's crucial for a new agent to know the details of your sales history. I'll say it another way. The agent should be privy to the same information that publishers and booksellers will have when they decide whether or not to buy your new work, and at what level. Bad track records can be overcome, and it's crucial to discuss those obstacles-and your strategy for clearing them-up front.
In addition to sales history, your new agent may ask about your past contracts so that she understands your obligations to any past publishers.

The Pro: I don't feel like I really have my agent's attention. What's a reasonable amount of time between making a call/emailing and getting a response?

Christina: I can't answer with specifics, since situations vary. Universally, it's always important to keep communication lines open and money flowing in a timely manner. If you feel as if your voice isn't being heard, that needs to be the topic of a serious conversation.

The Novice and the Pro: The big question everyone wants to know is: how can I tell a good agent from a bad agent?

Christina: Good agents live and breathe the life of the book. They have contacts in the New York publishing industry that they maintain on a constant basis, regardless of where their home office is located. A good agent reads your work, all of it, and can tell you how to make a big book bigger, but she also finds time to read for pleasure. She's vocal, persuasive, and knowledgeable. She knows how to meet your goals and she knows how to stage a rebuild. She knows when to admit that she's wrong, she knows where to go to learn more, and she's always a tireless advocate for your work. A good agent is all of these things at once.

The Pro and the Novice: Okay, you sound good. But why should I consider representation with a young agent?

Christina: I've been at Jane Rotrosen Agency close to 8 years, but the agency has nearly 40 years of experience backing me. They didn't just turn me loose my first day on the job. A younger agent at a well established agency has probably grown as an apprentice to an agent, and will have the resources of her peers, the time and hunger to help you develop your work, and will be interacting with up-and-coming editors with the same mind frame.

I love meeting authors and other book people and am scheduled to attend the following events. If you're there, say hello.

April 27: MWA Agents & Editor Party, New York, NY
April 29-May 1: Malice Domestic, Bethesda, MD
May 14: CTRWA Fiction Fest 2011, North Haven, CT
June 3-4: NJ SCBWI Conference, Princeton, NJ
June 28-July 1: RWA National Conference, New York, NY
July 7: International Thriller Writers AgentFest 2011, New York, NY
October 21-22, 2011: NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, Iselin, NJ

22 comments:

Roberta Isleib said...

Christina thank you for such a thorough and helpful interview! Maybe we'll see you at the New England Crimebake too??

Regarding conferences, what percentage of the pitches that you hear would you say you request more from? And how many clients actually get signed because of their conference pitches?

Again, thanks for your time and hard work!

MaxWriter said...

Thanks so much, Christina, for sharing your experience and expertise with us. I'm just readying my query to send out - you'll be on my list now!

Here's a (novice) question: If I query you (without an inside connection), how long should I expect to wait for a response? And about how long does it take for a response to a request for a full?

Edith
http://edithmaxwell.blogspot.com/

Hallie Ephron said...

Hi, Christina! What a great interview! Love what you said about what makes a good agent.

Piggybacking on Roberta's question, is it different if a query comes in (not at a conference) and it's a referral -- the query says that one of the authors you already represent suggested that this writer query you?

Melissa Cutler said...

Christina,
Thank you for taking our questions. Would you tell us a little about some upcoming releases you're particularly excited about? Thanks,
Melissa

Rhonda Lane said...

Hi, Christina - Looking forward to seeing you (and Hank) at the Connecticut Fiction Fest. I was wondering if you could give us some pointers on how to make a great pitch? Thank you for visiting Jungle Red.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

What an absolute delight! Such fun to read about your success...and hard work. Thank you!

When you read a submission--how long does it take for you to think--yes! (or no!)

OH, and finally--has there ever been a moment when you started reading something out of the blue--and thought--wow. This is it!

Kristen howe said...

Thanks for your insight Christina. I'll be querying you real soon. I do wonder, if it's okay to query a new agent in the same agency that passed on your work, if they don't mention it on website/listing.

Christina Hogrebe said...

Good morning everyone, and thank you for having me.

These are all great questions and I'll get to them in order.

Roberta, I love the Crime Bake and I'd be delighted to see you all again this November. Sign me up!

To answer your question, I probably ask for 2 full manuscripts a week on average. I'm sure I'm in the minority here, but I haven't yet signed a client based on a conference pitch. I did, however, meet one of my current clients for the first time at the Crime Bake. At that time she was happily represented, and we had a blast talking about her characters. Years later when she was looking for a change, we reconnected.

Christina Hogrebe said...

Edith, I'll look forward to seeing your name in my inbox!

I wish I had a more concrete answer for you. I tend to work on queries in waves. Since I review everything that's sent to me, the times vary from immediately to weeks and weeks depending on my work load. As ever my priority must remain with current clients.

Christina Hogrebe said...

Hello Hallie! Good to "virtually" see you again.

I'll admit that I give priority to queries sent by client referral since our clients know our taste so well. But I give the same priority to query letters that demonstrate the author has done her homework: reference to one of our recent publications, or that she saw our name in the acknowledgments of her favorite book.

Christina Hogrebe said...

Thanks for asking about our upcoming releases, Melissa. In March, I'm looking foward to Rhys Bowen's next Molly Murphy mystery BLESS THE BRIDE, Robyn DeHart's next Legend Hunters historical romance TREASURE ME, and Jacqueline Lepore's paranormal/historical mashup IMMORTAL WITH A KISS.

And of course, Julia Spencer-Fleming's highly-anticipated release ONE WAS A SOLDIER hits stores in April!

Rhys Bowen said...

Hi Christina!
I have to help toot Christina's horn and say how much I love working with her at JRR.
I've seen her come from baby agent to the full bloom of power-lady!
She and Meg Ruley are my champions, and what's more they answer emails before I can blink.

Sometimes we have an agent who is fine. Who does the job. Other times we really luck outand get someone who becomes a friend. I really lucked out. So did Julia.

Christina Hogrebe said...

Rhonda, your question is so relevant. Who doesn't get nervous for the pitch session? I worry that authors put too much pressure on themselves to have everything "pitch" perfect during pitch meetings. So I'll say that it's important to relax. To my knowledge, no one has ever walked away from a pitch session with a publishing contract or agency agreement in hand. Use this time to talk, reader to reader, about books. It happens that the topic is your book, so you should be prepared to digest the book's appeal into a sentence or two (think "jacket copy").

Christina Hogrebe said...

Hello Rhys! Thank you for your kind words. It's an utter joy to work with you and to read your perfect, perfect writing.

And in tooting the horn back 'atcha, congratulations on your nomination for Audible.com's Audie Award for HER ROYAL SPYNESS!

Another nice feather in Georgie's cap!

Christina Hogrebe said...

Hank, I'm an emotional reader (get out those hankies, turn on the lights) so I often feel a great leap of heart when I'm reading. If I'm reading a submission, I'm always thinking "who can I sell this to" and "where does this fit in the marketplace". Those questions are just as important.

I'm lucky to have a few happily-ever-after stories. Most recently, I began reading a ms by Menna Van Praag that made me lose all sense of time and had me clearing my schedule for the night. She's now our newest client. Stay tuned!

Christina Hogrebe said...

Kristen, I don't mind at all when I receive a query from an author whose work a colleauge of mine had previously declined. You should be up front about the history, though.

Maryann Miller said...

Great interview and such helpful information about agents. Thanks Christina.

I noted on the Website for the agency that there is an agent handling foreign rights. Is that just for existing clients?

Christina Hogrebe said...

Maryann,
The subsidiary rights department is one of the services we provide for clients, and yes, it's for clients only.

Becke Davis said...

Thanks for this informative blog - I hear great things about the Rotrosen Agency!

Sheila Deeth said...

Great interview. You answered lots of my questions. Thank you. Wish conferences weren't so expensive.

Raya Khedker said...

Dear Christina,
I met you at the N.Y. Writer's Conference on Nov. 13,2010 where you kindly gave me your card and asked me to touch base when my novel was finished. (I was the enthusiastic old lady with comments on the Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and Snow Falling on Cedars.)
I have just finished writing and will be querying you very soon...my name, by the way, is Raya Khedker!

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