For those of you who don’t know me, I started my publishing career back in the Stone Age as an editorial assistant at Silhouette Books. I loved my job and was strongly encouraged to stay in the field, but life and children intervened and I wound up taking a hiatus from the business that lasted several years.
When I decided it was time to get back to doing what I loved, I started off with some freelance reading for Karen Solem at Spencerhill Associates. I had come full-circle. Karen was my first boss in publishing years earlier at Silhouette. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted to learn the agenting side of the business and get back to the industry that I love.
Authors frequently want to know how to find an agent–wanting to be an agent meant I had to find some authors!
Queries, client recommendations, conference pitches – these are all excellent ways to find great writers to represent. Ultimately I think finding the right authors is 25% good instinct and 75% good luck. So far my instincts have been pretty darn good, but my luck has been even better. Signing each new client requires a mix of artistic, business, and personal compatibility—each author and situation is as unique as the writing that drew me to them in the first place.
Here are just three examples of some ways it’s all come together:
I was living North Carolina at the time and decided to stop into a local writers’ group meeting in the coffee shop section of a local bookstore. It was a small group of unpublished writers, and they had exchanged pages before the meeting for critiquing. I stuck out like a sore thumb as they discussed the work they had all read. I kept quiet and listened, then asked if I could get copies of the pages.
We stayed in touch, and over the next year I gained some clients and experience while she finished her book. I loved the completed novel as much as I had loved those first few chapters, and so I signed her up.
A few months later she was choosing between two offers and ended up signing a 2-book contract with a Big Six publisher. How’s that for a fairy-tale ending…I mean, beginning? The best part is that it’s a true story. For real. You can ask her– Here.
One of my favorite queries happened to come from another North Carolina writer. Just one among the hundreds in our submissions inbox, the email caught my eye, the query caught my attention, and the book knocked my socks off. Coincidentally this query was from another Barbara – Barbara Claypole White.
The opening line of her letter was “DOGWOOD DAYS is a love story about dirt.“ How could anyone not read more? The book was as insightful, poignant, and quirky as she is. It took a little longer for us to find the perfect publisher for the book that became THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, but the journey and the relationship we built has been has been totally worth it.
Her story has been tweeted and re-tweeted a million times. Laura talks about the editor who introduced her to her perfect agent, and the flip side of that story is that I was the relatively new agent who received the phone call from that editor.
She knew I was taking on new clients and graciously said that while she doubted Laura’s book would work for her particular imprint it was too good not to be published. This was a lady who knew her stuff so I jumped at the chance. Not only had a wonderful, talented writer been dropped in my lap, but she’s a fabulous person to boot.
Over the past five years I’ve been able to build a healthy roster of talented and diverse authors and place their work with a wide range of publishers that includes the Big Six, indies and e-first imprints. The work is challenging and exciting, and the satisfaction is immense.
These days my biggest challenge is remembering that I can’t possibly represent every talented author that I come across and still do my job effectively. But it’s hard to remember that when I still get that gambler’s thrill every time a query catches my eye.
What stories do you have about agents and writers finding each other? What do you think makes a great query opener? What do you find most frustrating about querying?
When Nalini Akolekar was growing up her mother would frequently ask her in exasperation, “What are you going to do with your life? All you ever do is read romance novels!” Little did she know, her daughter was building a career for herself—one captivating page at a time.
Nalini joined Spencerhill Associates after a lengthy editorial career and several years in advertising sales. Agenting provided the perfect opportunity for combining her editorial instincts with her sales, marketing, and business experience.
Nalini specializes in romance and women’s fiction in the adult market, but she also loves thrillers. Many of the new authors she’s worked with have gone on to sell multiple books to major publishers.