Saturday, March 27, 2010

Interview With Lucienne Diver


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 .) Now, though…well, now I’m a bit of a clothes horse. I’m confident and much more the kick-butt and take names kinda gal. Gina definitely gets that from me. Mostly, though, I thought it would be a blast to play with a character as unlike me as I was in high school as possible and put her through her version of hell. I mean, a fashionista without a reflection, with no way to fix her hair and make-up—now that’s horror!

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!

24 comments:

C Kelsey said...

Fantastic interview! I went looking for the book at Barnes and Noble today, but didn't find it. Guess I'll have to go to Amazon. I like the character blog too.

Speaking of character blogs... 'Thena's not talking enough, Sarah. :P

matapam said...

Would we all get thrown off Facebook if our characters started arguing with each other in public?

FAFCRP. Facebook Action Fictional Character Role Playing.

C Kelsey said...

matapam,

I know I'd be booted from FB. Some of my characters are INSANE.

matapam said...

Well, we'd all have to pick our characters carefully, so as to advertise, not scare off potential readers.

Martha Ramirez said...

Awesome interview! Thanks for posting it:) And yes, Vamped is a great read! Can't wait for the next installment.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris,

Ah! Well, the proposals for DST sequels are hung up on... numbers. For Toni to be able to buy them, numbers must go up. It's in your hands, dahling.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam,

My problem with this -- and my hat is off to Lucienne for actually doing a blog -- is that my characters don't want to JUST talk. They want to be in books. Sigh.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris,

Only SOME of them are insane. Man, some people have ALL the luck.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam,

In my case there's a fine, fine line.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Martha,

It's a very scary idea that my agent can write that well. :)

Also, vaguely unfair. I mean, look, really, why should she be allowed to do two difficult things well? What's for an encore? Walking on water?

C Kelsey said...

Sarah,

Yes, only SOME of my characters are insane. In fact, I have one specific character in mind. The rest are totally normal... assuming that characters that fantasize about HALO jumps to an assault on a corporate skyscraper are normal... :P

Lucienne said...

Sorry I'm late to my own party . I was out dolphin watching today. I love the idea of our fictional character arguing with each other! (Although Gina takes exception to "fictional" and prefers...well, she's not sure yet. Something hot and stylish. I'll get back to you on that.)

C Kelsey said...

Gina takes exception to fictional? Awesome, because Rae is adamant that she's real and I'm the one who's fake. I keep pointing out that nobody has as many issues as she does... she refuses to take responsibility though. It's why I don't let her out in public and force Dan to handle her instead. Poor Dan.

BTW, welcome to the party!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Lucienne,

Have you tried Fig-mental? My characters like that. For some bizarre reason.

Sarah -- who once stood in the middle of a grocery store arguing with a character (Lucienne and Matapam can probably guess which!) who told me making tomato paste from canned tomato sauce and feeding it to the kids was child abuse and he should report me. Yeah, I'm afraid I argued back aloud. On the good side it cleared the isle a treat.

Lucienne said...

Hmm, right now she's leaning toward "unrestricted by reality." And yup, I can guess .

Kate said...

Fascinating interview - thanks Sarah and Lucienne.

I'm not sure I should do anything involving letting my characters have their own blog or facebook posts. I mean... Drac? There's only so many times you can post a link with the comment "IMPALE THEM!" before it gets kind of old.

As for Jim the uber-snarky urban vamp trying to make sense of Texas's weirdest town... Um. I don't think facebook has a sarcasmometer big enough.

Amanda Green said...

You mean the characters aren't fictional? Does that mean we are? Now I'm really confused ;-p

Great interview and thanks for for all the info and insight. Sarah asked what you look for in a new client. I guess I'd like to know what one piece of advice you'd give a writer looking for an agent right now.

matapam said...

Well, Sarah, I tried to get Eldon to talk to Athena, but he said something about her being shy.

It worried me a bit, until I remembered that he was a cross dimensional criminal and Athena probably figured her Dad had hired him to kidnap her.

http://eldondenison.livejournal.com/

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sarah and Lucienne. Insight is always a good thing :).

Linda Davis

Lucienne said...

Amanda, Thanks so much! (And for plugging the interview on Facebook.) I guess the advice I'd give is to persevere. We're all crazy busy right now and a bit cautious because of the market, but we're always excited to find something we just can't resist. So, write the best work you can, polish it to a fine sheen and keep sending it out until you find the agent who's as excited about your work as you are. Yes, it is possible. It's like dating...sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs (or send out a lot of submissions), but it's all worth it in the end.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Oh, yeah. At one time I was the Writer of NO Future. I got 100 rejections by March weather I needed it or not.

Then I realized I was writing for other people, not just me. Yeah, I know. Funny that...

And things started selling.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

Cross-dimmensional criminal probably covers Thena too. And now, NOW I'm stuck with a secret agent and a lost king. WHAT have I done to deserve this?

matapam said...

Sarah,

Lack of imagination. GD&R!

Anthony J Langford said...

Thanks alot of posting. Interesting interview. Always nice to hear the other side. I've been waiting for months on some query's. Even a courtesy form rejection email is getting hard to come by.
But informative.
thanks again.