As many of you, if not most of you know, my agent is Lucienne Diver. She's sort of easy to spot at conventions by the trail of drool left by assorted male admirers. However, she's not all -- not even mostly -- image. I've worked with Lucienne for six (?) seven (?) years now, and I've found she's smart, well informed and helpful in the marketing of my books. Imagine my surprise when I found out she also is an author and a dang good one.
Anyway, I've twisted her arm and got her to give me an interview on both of her careers and on the field today.
Q: You're known in the field as a tough and smart agent. Now you're also becoming known as an outstanding writer. Either of these is enough of an achievement for normal human beings. So, other than your secret magic keyboard that allows you to do this, (though you can reveal that too, if you wish) how do you manage it? And why? (Beyond a love of books.)
A: As, shucks, I’m blushing. Really, it’s not just the scotch. Seriously, it is a love of words. I grew up knowing two things with absolute certainty: that I wanted to write and that I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on. (Okay, and that John Stamos was/is a fox, but that’s hardly relevant here.) I was a voracious reader, and borrowed from the library, from my mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandparents. I read cereal boxes, tooth paste tubes, newspapers, street signs…you name it. Give me five seconds without words and I’d start reading tea leaves. I just can’t help myself. I started writing in the fifth grade, where a class short story assignment turned into a 110 page “novel.” My teacher was wonderfully encouraging, and I was hooked. Also, I found that it was more socially acceptable to write a story and allow my characters to talk to each other rather than talk back to them myself.
Q: What are the differences in thought pattern and interest between the two roles? Do you find sometimes one bleeds over into the other? Does agent Lucienne sit on the shoulder of writer Lucienne and quip about what she's doing? "That will never sell? Do you know how hard it is to sell vamps these days?" If so, how do you get her to shut up?
A: Oh, Lord, yes! My agent side is every bit as dominant, if not more so, than my author side. I know, shocker, right – a dominant agent? I’ve actually had to ding dong ditch my agent self by waking up before she does to write. I set the alarm for oh-my-god-it’s-early and wake up before my inner editor so that I can hear my characters’ voices and not my own. I can edit in the evenings, once my inner editor has her copious amounts of caffeine and awakes to her musty, crusty self, but my flow is best in the mornings. Really, I’ve a bit of a split personality where writing is concerned. I joke, but that’s really the way it is. I can’t write during the work day…even if I wanted to. My brain automatically switches over to all my agently chores…submissions, haggling out contract language, talking career strategies with my authors. I’m not the same person. My agent-self shuts down the voices in my head—and thank goodness!
Q: Your main character in Vamped is a beautiful, tough young girl. I loved the way that she can care about clothes and makeup and hair and yet not be a bimbo and have feelings that are much deeper than the surface. Having seen you being followed around by starry-eyed males at cons (and not just those who want representation) how much of Gina's fashion sense -- and how much of her tough and caring personality -- is autobiographical?
A: If you’d seen me in junior high and high school, you’d laugh yourself silly at the thought of me writing a fashionista. I was far more like my hero, Bobby – a geek in every sense of the word. I was a brain who played D&D, entered speech competitions and the science fair every year without fail. I did theatre and chorus. I love the show Glee, because it’s so me, except that I got severe stage-fright whenever it came time to sing a solo. (And Kurt…I used to do his eyeliner for him in homeroom, only he went by a different name
Q: I went out and bought your book -- Vamped (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Vamped/Lucienne-Diver/e/9780738714745/?itm=1&USRI=vamped) -- after hearing you read the beginning at Lunacon last year. Do you have an mp3 on line so other people can share that delightful experience? I know you were a theater major. Does that help with the reading and appearances?
A: Aw, you’re the best! I’ve thought about doing a reading that I can post and actually had my husband film it, but I hate the sight of myself on video. (I think it harkens back to my old, insecure days.) I never thought of doing an audio file. I’ll have to get on that! The theatre experience does help in doing speeches and all as an agent. I give my agent “persona” free rein and can talk all day. As an author…it’s a little more nerve-wracking, because I’m putting my creative work out there and risking ridicule. You probably remember from that Lunacon reading, which was my first ever, that I was pretty apologetic about the whole thing. The audience was doing me such a favor just by listening. I wonder if I’ll ever stop feeling that way.
Q: As an agent -- gives Lucienne time to change her hat -- in a field in turmoil, how do you feel about the future of the profession?
A: I think that if anything, agents are more relevant than ever. There are so many things for writers to consider, so many directions and so much advice out there (good and bad) that in addition to being an author’s advocate, we’re important to guide an author’s career on the straightest path to success. Whether we’re talking about electronic, audio, film, foreign, serial or initial print publication rights, we’re talking about contracts, terms, definitions like “net” sales, non-compete and reversion clauses…all kinds of things that it’s important to get right so that a writer doesn’t find him or herself boxed in down the line.
Q: In a world in which it is increasingly easier for the writer to reach the public directly, what do you think of the traditional role of mediator between agent and publisher?
A: Yes, authors can reach the public directly, but they have to be writer, editor, designer, publicist, marketing guru and more all in one to do so successfully (or pay someone to take on these tasks). Even then, sales don’t reach the same levels as with a publisher that can get the books into the brick and mortar stores, the chains, supermarkets and airports, Walmart and Target. They have deals in place for e-books with Apple iPad, Amazon’s Kindle, Sony e-Readers, etc. Publishers have the resources and contacts to reach readers and reviewers that are difficult to replicate directly.
Q: Do you see agenting changing and growing other "value added" side functions?
A: A lot of agencies, like The Knight Agency, take an active role in promoting their authors’ work as well as in selling it and negotiating terms. For example, we have a very active website and blog where we run giveaways, organize chats, promote forthcoming books, post author interviews, book trailers and links, etc. We have a monthly newsletter. Several of us have our own blogs.
Links: The Knight Agency website: http://www.knightagency.net/
The Knight Agency Blog: http://knightagency.blogspot.com/
My blog: http://varkat.livejournal.com
Nephele Tempest’s blog: http://nephele.livejournal.com/
Old school, though, one of our value-added functions is that we also work editorially with our authors to make their work the best it can be prior to submission. There’s so much competition out there right now, even for published authors, that this can be the difference between an auction, a sale, or silence.
Q: We keep hearing the market is dying, if not dead already. Is this true?
A: Absolutely not. Publishers are cautious right now. The number of hoops editors have to jump through to offer on a project has probably increased, and as a result of that and the lay-offs within the past few years, response times are down. However, publishers are definitely still buying and still on the look-out for hot new fiction and non-fiction.
Q: What do you look for in a new client? What attributes make a manuscript (or query, or proposal) pop out of slush at you? Conversely, what characteristics in a manuscript, query or proposal make you "throw it back in the water" no matter how good the rest is?
A: I find that what often distinguishes the fantastic from the good is voice. Two people could write very similar stories and one could feel fresh and phenomenal and the other lifeless all due to the originality of the point of view. I really love a unique voice. I love a good story, well plotted and paced. I like to be surprised. Predictability, cardboard characters and/or over-telling will all get me to set a manuscript aside, as will a voice or plot that doesn’t sound convincing and authentic.
Q: As both a writer and an agent, what do you think of self-promotion? I came into the field at a time when publishers at best ignored authors’ efforts and at worst disapproved of self-promotion. Now they seem to expect it. What do you think of this, and how do you think it will change going forward?
A: Self-promotion has become increasingly important, especially with the proliferation of social media and networking sites as a way to connect writers and readers, libraries, bookstores. Publishers work with so many writers that they generally have a standard process they follow – a particular list of reviewers who receive advance copies, publications where the books get advertised, etc. For their bigger authors, they may arrange tours, expand the scope of their ads, do novelty promotions, trailers, etc. Generally, though, it’s up to the authors to take up where the publishers leave off and publicize their own work through blogs, blog tours, appearances and signings at conventions and the like (though often if you’ve got local stores, etc. in mind for signings, your publisher will help you arrange them). It’s also important for writers to let local publications, alumni newsletters, etc., about their upcoming releases and to make the most of any contacts they have, coordinating efforts with their house’s publicist, of course. For anyone interested in more about promotion, I went into a little more depth over at Barbara Vey’s Beyond her Book blog for Publishers Weekly. (http://www.publishersweekly.com/blog/Beyond_Her_Book/29594-Ask_the_Agent_Lucienne_Diver.php)
Q: Anything else you'd like to share with us?
A: Hmm, you’ve covered a lot of ground here already! I guess I’ll just leave you with some links for anyone who wants to hear more.
My blog: http://varkat.livejournal.com
My author website: www.luciennediver.com
My agency website: www.knightagency.net
My character’s blog (because it’s not enough that she talks non-stop to me, she wants to talk to you too): http://ginasgems.livejournal.com
I hope you enjoy!